Fanspeak Mock Draft 2.3: What should New Orleans do with its late first-round draft pick?
Any parent with at least two children knows the drill: At least one of those kids’ rooms is always a disaster.
You try to explain to the child that if he or she just spent 5 minutes a day picking up, then they wouldn’t have such a big mess on their hands. But that never seems to sink in, and now cleaning that room is a five-hour, monster chore. And your kid is crying while your temperature continues to rise.
The New Orleans Saints is that crying child with the messy room.
Now that its Hall of Fame QB and former Super Bowl winning coach are gone, New Orleans finds itself in a terrible situation. No long-term answer at QB. An extremely challenging salary cap situation. And not enough young talent at key positions.
Like that messy child, you could say New Orleans could see this coming. For years, the team kept trading away draft picks and making splashy moves, only to see many of those acquisitions flame out. But they kept firing away, hoping to keep what was once a Super Bowl contending team remain intact.
Now they have a huge mess to clean up.
Ugly draft history since 2018
Maybe former coach Sean Payton could see the proverbial writing on the wall, and that’s the reason he called it quits. Not on coaching, mind you; just coaching the Saints.
Either way, New Orleans managed to wrangle a first-rounder out of Denver by letting go of their former coach, giving them a bit more ammo in the upcoming draft.
Sounds great, right?
Not if you look at the Saints’ recent draft history.
Between 2018 to 2021, a span covering four drafts, the Saints have had three first round picks: pass rusher Payton Turner (2021), center Cesar Ruiz (2020) and pass rusher Marcus Davenport (2018). Of those three, Davenport is coming off a disappointing season and has had his career derailed by injuries.
But even if the Saints wanted to sign the unrestricted free agent – which is debatable – New Orleans might not have the cap space, as the team finds itself in the most difficult salary cap situation in the league.
Then you have Turner. He should have spent his second year in the league as the bookend to Davenport. Instead, he was a healthy scratch for most of this past season.
Ruiz, on the other hand, is trending in the right direction. The only problem with the right guard is the cap number the team would face in 2024 if it picks up his fifth-year option: $14.75 million. While it’s true the team can eventually restructure that contract to ease the cap burden, that’s still a lot of money for a guard who plays for a team that needs to be extremely budget-conscious until they get out of salary cap purgatory.
Some good, a lot of bad …
The one time during that four-year span when New Orleans didn’t have a first-round pick was 2019, when center Erik McCoy of Texas A&M was selected with the 48th overall pick in the second round. He’s also been a good find and signed a five-year contract extension during the season.
But the lack of production out of the two pass rushers hurts, because that’s more of a premium position than guard or center due to the impact they have on the game.
And those two haven’t been New Orleans’ only recent draft failures.
First and foremost is the forgettable 2018 draft in which Davenport is arguably the best player the Saints selected that year. (Yikes). Third-round pick Tre’Quan Smith of Central Florida, meanwhile, remains a good-but-not-great receiver. As for the other five players New Orleans drafted in 2018? They’re either out of the league or with another team.
Then the 2019 draft gave the team McCoy and seventh-round linebacker Kaden Elliss, who just wrapped up a career-best season. But it also included safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, now a starter with Philadelphia following an in-season trade, and two players who are no longer in the league.
New Orleans only had four picks in 2020, including Ruiz with pick No. 24 overall. So that meant they really had to nail it with the other three picks. Unfortunately for the Saints, that didn’t happen. Third-round tight end Adam Trautman has been a big disappointment thus far, while linebacker Zack Baun remains a lightly-used backup. The other player from that draft is out of the league.
It may be a bit early to really digest the impact the 2021 draft will have on the team, but it’s not looking great so far, starting with the lightly used Turner. While New Orleans found two starters in cornerback Paulson Adebo (third round) and linebacker Pete Werner (second round), fourth-round QB Ian Book is likely a career backup, and the other two players from that draft are either a backup (OT Landon Young) or barely still in the league (WR Kawaan Baker).
So while going 2-for-6 at the plate might net a baseball player a multi-million dollar contract, it’s not going to help New Orleans rise above mediocrity.
Back on track?
The good news?
It looks like the Saints 2022 draft class is solid, led by a pair of first-round picks in receiver Chris Olave and offensive tackle Trevor Penning. Safety Alontae Taylor, a fourth-round rookie, started 13 games and finished with more snaps than Olave. The other two picks, fifth-round LB D’Marco Jackson and sixth-round DL Jordan Jackson haven’t made an impact, as D’Marco spent the year on injured reserve while the other Jackson is out of the league.
However, last year’s draft also underscores another problem the Saints have inflicted upon themselves: not enough draft picks due to trades. Hitting on three of five rookies is great, but the team essentially only added three young players – on more cost-effective rookie salaries – who are considered a part of the team’s future.
Here’s another problem when dealing with so few picks: It’s not as big of a deal to miss on a couple of prospects when you have at least seven draft picks. But when you miss on a few players with six or fewer draft picks?
That will eventually lead to disaster, as it will force the team to overpay for free agents because there’s no viable young, cheaper option waiting to take his place, or the team will have to make due with “bargain basement” free agent additions.
You know, the situation New Orleans finds itself in now.
2017 shows impact of a great draft class
The irony of it all is that the Saints should have learned how important the draft is from its historically great 2017 class that featured, among others, CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk and RB Alvin Kamara.
So the extra first-round pick the team acquired – after trading away what should have been the No. 10 pick with Philadelphia last year – definitely helps the rebuilding process. Could the team snag a QB with that pick? Not unless they reach for Stanford’s Tanner McKee, ranked No. 52 in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board, although it’s possible he falls to the Saints with their second-round pick, No. 41 overall.
Instead, with “only” eight picks in the draft, the team would be wise to avoid temptation by reaching for a player in any round, regardless of position. And the Saints have never been shy about trading away draft picks; for the time being, though, New Orleans might want to trade down instead of up in the draft in an effort to acquire more picks.
After all, the Saints just don’t have much wiggle room financially to upgrade its roster thanks to past moves and free agent signings.
1. Chicago Bears: Edge Will Anderson, Alabama
Potential bad news for Chicago fans who are hoping the Bears trade down with a QB-needy team to pick up extra picks. From the Thursday’s Senior Bowl rumors report from Walter Football: “… multiple sources from a number of teams say they do not think (Alabama QB Bryce) Young or (Ohio State QB C.J.) Stroud is worthy of giving up the farm for in future draft picks to move up high in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.” So, Anderson it is!
2. Houston Texans: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
A recent Fanspeak poll on Twitter showed that the vast majority of people think Robinson should go somewhere late in the first round. Less than 6 percent said they would draft him early on Day 1. A pick like this, however, comes with a bit of precedence for the Texans. Back in 2006, the entire NFL universe all-but-assumed that Houston would draft USC running back Reggie Bush or Texas quarterback Vince Young. Then, at the last minute, whispers that the team might select N.C. State defensive lineman Mario Williams instead grew louder, allegedly because his contract situation would be easier to deal with than the other two players. In the end, Williams wound up being the pick – and arguably the better player out of the trio.
3. Arizona Cardinals: DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
It’s either going to be Anderson or Georgia’s Jalen Carter.
4. Indianapolis Colts: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
Lots of great nuggets in Walter Football’s Senior Bowl coverage, including this report on Indianapolis targeting a QB in the first round.
5. Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
Wilson has surpassed Clemson’s Miles Murphy on many draft boards. Here’s what PFF’s Trevor Sikkema had to say about Wilson going to Seahawks in his latest mock draft: At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds and with an 86-inch wingspan, Wilson is “a mold of edge player they simply do not have on their roster.”
6. Detroit Lions (from LAR): CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
So, why is Witherspoon shooting up draft boards? How about these nifty stats from PFF: His elite 92.6 coverage grade was tops in FBS, and he allowed just 5 receptions for 23 yards and no touchdowns in 107 press coverage snaps.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
This just feels like a Raiders pick. Walter Football’s Thursday Senior Bowl rumors report says some teams worry that Stroud is scheme-specific, don’t like his demeanor and feel like he isn’t enough of a vocal leader. Therefore, it’s possible Stroud falls in this draft.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
Various media reports say the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Murphy is a candidate to fall in this draft, and, frankly, some of that could be attributed to recency bias. After all, Clemson doesn’t have a great record lately of producing quality pass rushers in the NFL. But Atlanta likes freaky athletes, and you don’t get much freakier than Murphy.
9. Carolina Panthers: QB Will Levis, Kentucky
New head coach Frank Reich reportedly wants stability at the QB position – who doesn’t? – and getting Levis here would be a coup for the Panthers.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from NO): S Brian Branch, Alabama
The best defense in the league could add one of the best defensive players in this draft at a position of potential need for the Eagles. And they’re in the Super Bowl. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
11. Tennessee Titans: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
It’s assumed left tackle Taylor Lewan will not be back with Tennessee in 2023, opening a glaring hole along the line. Skoronski might not have ideal size, but he was an elite pass protector last season with a PFF grade of 92.4. A receiver is a possibility here, too, but the Titans have to solidify its o-line after giving up 49 sacks this past season, tied for the fifth-most in the league.
12. Houston Texans (from CLE): QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
I mean, why not? It’s not like one of the other QBs will lead Houston to the playoffs this season (or next), and if the team is bad enough again – always a possibility with the Texans – then they may have a high-enough pick next season to draft a different QB if Richardson is gone by this point. The Florida QB is the ultimate “hit or miss” prospect. He could wind up as a top-5 QB by the time his rookie contract is up just as easily as he could be on his second or third team by then. One thing is certain, though: With Robinson at RB and Richardson at QB, Houston should finish in the top-5 in the league in total rushing yards.
13. NY Jets: OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State
Do you know what it means when you have a bunch of options at a position? It means you don’t have a clear-cut starter. Johnson would help plug some gaps along the Jets’ line, as he can play either guard or tackle.
14. New England Patriots: RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
I know, I know. Running backs in the first round: yuck. Know what’s not gross? Rookies who can finish in the top-10 in the league in rushing and total yards from scrimmage. Yeah, yeah, so Gibbs might be used-up physically by the time his rookie contract is up. So then go get another RB when the time comes. Otherwise, for an offense badly in need of speed and playmakers and with young, inexperienced QBs behind center, it would be criminal to pass up on a talent like Gibbs. And yet, there’s also a very good chance he winds up falling to the second round.
15. Green Bay Packers: OT Broderick Jones, Green Bay
Two constants regarding the Packers in recent years: No. 1, the team always seems to suffer injuries along the offensive line, and; No. 2, the team always manages to plug those holes with versatile linemen. Jones fits this mold perfectly, as he can play guard or tackle.
16. Washington Commanders: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Washington is said to be in the market for a cornerback and had pretty good luck last year when it drafted another player from University Park, receiver Jahan Dotson, with the 16th overall pick. But don’t count on the team taking Clemson DL Bryan Bresee if he’s still available, even if the team lets Daron Payne walk in free agency. That’s because last year’s second-round pick, Phidarian Mathis of Alabama, essentially took a medical redshirt year after injuring his foot in the season opener and missing the rest of the season. Washington also got good production out of former Arkansas DL John Ridgeway, a fifth-round pick by Dallas who was plucked off the Cowboys’ practice squad.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson
Don’t think of the Steelers as a team that went 9-8 and finished third in the AFC North this season. Instead, think of them as a brand. Is there a player still on the board who better fits the Steelers’ brand than Bresee?
18. Detroit Lions: Edge Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
You could write an entire article about why pass rusher isn’t a top priority for Detroit. Instead, go back to the branding argument: It just feels right to pair the prospect whose nickname is “Hercules” with Lions head coach Dan Campbell.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Cody Mauch, North Dakota State
Tampa led the league in fewest sacks last season despite a fairly leaky offensive line. Much of that credit goes to QB Tom Brady, who was great at manipulating the pocket. Now that Brady is gone – or is he? – the Buccaneers may have to continue upgrading the line as the Kyle Trask era begins. Mauch gives the team positional flexibility, as he can play either guard or tackle.
20. Seattle Seahawks: G O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
Seattle could save $6.5 million by cutting RG Gabe Jackson. Torrence, meanwhile, finished with a overall PFF grade of 87.5 and an 89.9 run-blocking grade in his first season against SEC competition – sounds like a match made in heaven. If Torrence is the pick, then former Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will probably wonder why the team didn’t focus on the OL when he was there.
21. LA Chargers: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
As mentioned previously, the Chargers need youth and speed at the receiver position. Johnston would be the logical pick.
22. Baltimore Ravens: WR Jordan Addison, USC
Addison, meet Baltimore, where good receivers’ careers die. Maybe the speedy Addison can finally be the receiver who sticks around long-term for the Ravens.
23. Minnesota Vikings: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
While Baltimore always seems to be in the market for a first-round receiver, it seems like Minnesota is always on the lookout for a cornerback. Gonzalez would be a terrific value pick this late in the first round.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia
This pick likely comes down to the best-available receiver or cornerback. Ringo has been compared to CB Tyson Campbell, another former Bulldog. He’s also one of the younger players in this draft at only 20 years old.
25. NY Giants: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
The Giants surprised everyone this season and made the playoffs with one of the worst receiver groups in the league.
26. Dallas Cowboys: CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
Thanks to injuries and uninspiring play from 2021 second rounder Kelvin Joseph and 2021 third-rounder Nahshon Wright, Dallas was down to playing street free agents, a rookie slot corner at outside corner and a 2021 sixth-round safety at nickleback. Yikes. Dallas would do somersaults if Smith was still on the clock.
27. Buffalo Bills: S Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
Buffalo desperately needs to improve the interior of its offensive line, but taking a center or guard here would be a huge reach. Same goes for a 1-tech defensive lineman and a receiver – all the top ones are picked over. Instead, the nod goes to Johnson, as starting safety Jordan Poyer will be an unrestricted free agent.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
One thing Cincinnati isn’t afraid of is continuing to add pieces to its offensive line until it finds permanent fixtures at the position.
29. New Orleans (from DEN): TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
New Orleans needs a new guard, but the best ones are already taken. The Saints need another receiver to pair with 2022 rookie Chris Olave, but the top WRs are picked over, too. Same goes for quarterback and safety. Mayer isn’t a sexy pick, but with an unsettled QB situation, he should serve as a much-needed “security blanket” for whoever the next signal-caller is. Don’t be surprised if Mayer sticks around for 10-plus years – which is exactly what you want out of a first-round pick.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Deonte Banks, Maryland
Cornerback has gone from an afterthought to a position of strength for Kansas City, and the addition of Banks should mean the Chiefs at settled at the position for the next half-decade, at least.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson
NFL draft experts estimate that between 15 to 20 prospects have first-round grades in this draft. That means, most of the remaining players likely have Day 2 grades. Sure enough, Notre Dame’s Mayer was the only player ranked in the top-20 in the Rigdon big board who was left. The next-highest ranked remaining prospects are Ohio State edge Zach Harrison (No. 24) and Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson (No. 25). Again, though, edge players take a little longer to develop, so even though Robert Quinn and Brandon Graham are unrestricted, the nod goes to Simpson, as LBs Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards are also set to hit free agency. Simply put, Simpson is more likely to have an impact a a rookie than the toolsy-but-still-developing Harrison.
Los Angeles Rams, second round: OT Anton Harrison, Oklahoma
Cleveland Browns, second round: DL Siaki Ika, Baylor
Miami Dolphins, second round: OT Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse
Denver Broncos, third round: OT Jaelyn Duncan, Maryland
San Francisco, third round: CB Julius Brents, Kansas State
* Draft order courtesy of Tankathon.
** Miami lost its first-round pick due to tampering charges.
Jake Rigdon (@jrigdon73) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak.com. He also covers the NFL draft from a Dallas Cowboys perspective in this subReddit. And his big board is updated at least once per week during the season and leading up to the draft.