NFL Draft 2013: Constructing a Saints 'Fantasy' Roster from This Draft Class

Will OsgoodAnalyst IJanuary 23, 2013

NFL Draft 2013: Constructing a Saints 'Fantasy' Roster from This Draft Class

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    Assume with me for one second that we live in a world where fantasy football was actually the way teams operated. If true, it would mean a new team would be drafted each season. 

    Now stretch your assumption a little further to include this detail: a team can select any player from this year’s draft with no concern of that player being taken from them by another franchise.

    Now assume that team is the New Orleans Saints. With Sean Payton officially reinstated Tuesday, it is safe to assume that this fantasy team would be made in the image of its head coach. 

    As Payton regularly speaks of, it is important to "have a vision for the player." Each player on this list is selected to fit a certain role. It is assumed if he were taken out of that role and placed in another, he would be unsuccessful. In other words, though this mock draft is restricted to one player at each position, exceptions will be made as it fits the Saints' system.

    To fit the system, two running backs can be taken—an every-down back, a la Mark Ingram, and a “flex back,” a la Darren Sproles.

    Two tight ends—one elite receiving tight end and another a tremendous blocker—will be allowed. Three wide receivers will be allowed. Finally, an extra safety and corner will be allowed for sub-package defenses.

    This idea consummated for me while watching college film this season and finding myself uttering, "I'd take that whole defense." Or in some cases, it would be offense. 

    Teams that were included in that were Georgia, South Carolina, LSU, Alabama, Florida, Stanford and a few others from the offensive side of the ball.

    What if the Saints actually could just take an entire college defense and offense and start over? What if they could allow a bunch of young kids to develop from day one together? This is simply intended to be that thought played out with the added caveat of being able to pick the actual group of players. 

    This is the perfect 30-man New Orleans Saints team built from the 2013 NFL Draft. 

QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

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    Though I myself once was a huge Geno Smith supporter, film observation of the Syracuse senior revealed a new No. 1 QB in this year’s draft. His name is Ryan Nassib.

    Nassib is not only the obvious guy because of the Doug Marrone connection, though it certainly helps.

    Rather it is because Nassib is remarkably polished for a college quarterback. He is the best quarterback I have ever observed—in my seven-plus years of college scouting—in terms of throwing accurately in the face of pressure.

    He has a gun to make every NFL throw. He has touch and accuracy on every throw. He makes outstanding decisions. In fact, his interceptions are due to inaccuracy, rather than bad decision making. In that sense he’s ahead of Drew Brees.

    Most impressively, he moves extremely well within the pocket to avoid pressure. And his ability to throw accurately on the run is a rather unique trait that he possesses. Sean Payton would love this kid. Too bad there’s almost no way he’ll be able to get his hands on him.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: One Percent Chance (If he were to fall to fifth round somehow).

Running Backs

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    RB Mike Gilislee, Florida

    Gilislee gets the spot for every-down running back. Injured South Carolina junior Marcus Lattimore was given strong consideration (I still believe he will be the best back from this year’s class) but was passed over due to the nature of what Sean Payton likes to do with his running game—that is run in between the tackles.

    Gilislee is the most powerful runner in this class, and a guy who gets better as the game progresses and he amasses carries. Mark Ingram was drafted using the same logic.

    Gilislee is close to a complete back, as he also catches the ball out of the backfield with relative ease and can handle pass protection duties.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: Zero Percent Chance

     


    RB Jonathan Franklin, UCLA

    The Saints love a “flex back”—a guy who can stretch the field horizontally as an outside runner, while also lining up as a receiver and catching 75-plus passes per season. Few running backs in this draft can do all of that. Franklin can.

    Franklin is also similar to Pierre Thomas, in that he’s actually a better inside runner than outside runner. He has amazing balance, and promises to become one of the league’s finest screen backs.  

    As a result, the Saints would essentially be getting a two-for-one by substituting Franklin for Thomas and Sproles.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: Two Percent Chance

Fullback Trey Millard, Oklahoma

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    Trey Millard is not a big name. Then again, fullbacks in today's NFL are rare. In the college game, it is even more difficult to find one who truly fits the mold. 

    At Oklahoma, Millard was used on roughly 40 percent of Oklahoma's snaps. His efforts as a blocker earned him opportunities to get the ball in the passing game, where he excelled. 

    He runs routes like a tight end. He catches the ball equally well. 

    He is a bit stiff and lacks a great burst. But he is a guy Drew Brees, or Ryan Nassib, would feel comfortable using in the passing game from time to time. 

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 10 Percent Chance

Wide Receivers

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    Slot Receiver Tavon Austin, West Virginia

    After reviewing West Virginia film, it became readily apparent that Geno Smith was significantly aided by his tremendous play-making receivers (that is not to say that Smith is not talented—he is still my second quarterback in this draft).

    Tavon Austin was the prominent player among that incredible group. Austin is most akin to the Lance Moore character in this new Saints’ fantasy thriller. He also has a bit of Darren Sproles in him, in that he can line up in the backfield and carry the ball if necessary.

    Notice also, that since Pete Carmichael took control of the Saints’ offense, the Saints have utilized some college concepts—once or twice playing with the “Pistol,” the league’s newest craze—and often using “Jet” motion in 2012.

    Austin is the perfect player to be used in such packages and play concepts. He also would give the team options as a return man. He possesses elite burst and speed. Imagine him on the field turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Defensive coordinators would hate their lives.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 0 Percent Chance

     


    WR Robert Woods, Southern California

    After several years in which the NFL draft featured a Marques Colston clone, the 2013 draft is bereft of one. It is a sad day indeed.

    Robert Woods is nearly the closest thing. Woods is approximately 6’2” and comes with a thick body and willingness to high point the ball in traffic. He is outstanding with the football in his hands as well.

    While not a model of Colston, he is the next best thing. We know the Saints love drafting players from Southern California. Why not add another?

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: Two Percent Chance

     


    WR/Slot Ryan Swope, Texas A&M

    While Austin fits the Lance Moore role in terms of being used in the slot and with screen passes, it is Ryan Swope who better fits the role Moore took on in 2012—that of a down-the-field threat who excels on third down conversion opportunities.

    Swope has amazing hands and body control. He is not afraid to go over the middle to make a key catch. And his balance to caress the sideline and maintain control of the football is second to none in this draft among wide receivers.

    Though an ideal slot for a team such as New England, Sean Payton would not hesitate to have Swope line up all over the football field.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: Five Percent Chance

     


    WR/Returner Ace Sanders, South Carolina

    Make no mistake about it, Ace Sanders is a favorite of mine in this draft. Despite diminutive size, Sanders plays big. He is the equal to Tavon Austin in terms of explosiveness.

    The Saints could throw either out in the return game and scare the bejeezus out of every opposing special teams coordinator in the NFL. Sanders is a dynamic player the Saints should acquire in the not-fantasy NFL draft, as they are a team that desperately lacks an elite return man.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 15 Percent Chance

Tight Ends

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    Y Tight End Gavin Escobar, San Diego State

    Gavin Escobar is a clone of Jimmy Graham. The body types are the same. The way they high point the ball in traffic is the same.

    Frankly, there is little to differentiate the two. Escobar might be a better yards-after-catch guy. That seems to be about it. 

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: Five Percent Chance

     


    H Tight End Dion Sims, Michigan State

    Dion Sims would actually make sense for the Saints in the real NFL draft this season. Alongside Escobar, or Jimmy Graham, Sims would excel in a role that features him as a run blocker and pass protector.

    His abilities to run good routes and catch the football make him an enticing prospect, too.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 40 Percent Chance

Offensive Tackles

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    LT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan

    Eric Fisher began his ascension up draft boards immediately following the announced decisions of Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M junior Jake Matthews to remain in school for their senior seasons. Prior to the first two practices in Mobile this week at the Senior Bowl, Fisher was considered a top-10 player.

    With his performance through two full days of practices, he is now likely a top-five pick. He has been absolutely dominant. Only one player, Datone Jones, has even remotely held his own against Fisher.

    The MAC product has taken his opportunity and more than made the most of it. Fisher now seems like a lock to fly off the board prior to Detroit’s pick at No. 5.

    In our fantasy world, Fisher would probably the No. 1 pick for the Saints. He does everything well. Sean Payton and his offensive staff would LOVE Fisher.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 10 Percent Chance

     


    RT Jordan Pugh, Syracuse

    Jordan Pugh is the rare junior allowed to play in the Senior Bowl (he was a senior in the classroom, but junior on the field). Like every Syracuse player, Pugh is well-coached. He uses proper technique at all times.

    He is remarkably strong, which allows him to anchor block as a pass protector. But he’s also able to move his feet to corral pass-rushers well past Nassib.

    In the run game he is active with great quickness and agility to get to the second level to handle linebackers. His ability to move in space would be adored by Sean Payton, who loves to use his tackles down the field on swing screens and toss sweeps.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 25 Percent Chance

Offensive Guards

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    LG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

    Jonathan Cooper represents everything the New Orleans Saints require in their starting offensive guards. He is a player who is excellent “in a phone booth,” meaning that in tight spaces he uses his strength and lower body strength to move defenders with ease.

    The Saints do not demand their interior line move a ton. Instead, those guys are asked to down block and slide one gap at the most to help in pass protection.  Cooper adds the ability to get to the second level and trample a linebacker—which is something the Saints look to do on occasion.

    Cooper is the best guard (in my opinion) in this draft for a reason. And in this “fantasy” scenario he’d be an ideal fit for the Saints offense.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: Zero Percent Chance

     


    RG Brian Winters, Kent State

    Brian Winters played left tackle at Kent State. But most draft analysts project Winters as a guard in the NFL. The projection would work out perfectly for the Saints in this fantasy draft.

    Winters was asked to perform the same functions of Saints interior linemen as a tackle at Kent State. He would occasionally get to the second level, but also pulled on a few plays (which is fairly unusual for tackles in college).

    Still, he was at his best in the “phone booth.” His ability to down block, get his guy on the ground and redirect is a replica of what Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans were asked to do on a majority of snaps last season. 

    At 6’4”, 310 pounds, Winters is a tad bit light for the guard spot. He figures to add 10-15 pounds upon entering the NFL and its intensive weight training and conditioning programs.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 15 Percent Chance

Center Mario Benavides, Louisville

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    Not much more can be said on Benavides at this point, after praising him since the Saints’ season ended on December 30. A quick recap, though:

    He is remarkable working in the “phone booth,” which is what the Saints desire in an interior lineman. He anchors well in pass protection. He is also able to get out and move when asked to do so.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 50 Percent Chance

Defensive Ends

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    Defensive End Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

    Damontre Moore is nearly a clone of Saints standout defensive end Cameron Jordan. Like Jordan, Moore is best suited for a 3-4 defensive end spot in the NFL, but possesses the versatility and requisite abilities to excel in a pass-rushing 4-3 role as well.

    He will hold the point of attack against the run and chase plays down with tremendous sideline-to-sideline range. The question is just how explosive of a pass-rusher Moore can be at the NFL level.

    If he is as explosive a pass-rusher as Cam Jordan, he’d be a perfect fit for this fantasy team. He is a potential Saints draft pick in 2013, if he were to fall from his currently projected top-10 perch.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 25 Percent Chance 

     


    Defensive End Alex Okafor, Texas

    Barkevious Mingo was strongly considered for this second spot, but given the nature of Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, Okafor as the more natural defensive end made more sense. He is almost as explosive as Mingo (if that is even possible).

    Okafor’s production actually went up when fellow stud DE Jackson Jeffcoat was lost for the season with a major knee injury.  He tore up his bowl game against Oregon State with a gawdy 4.5 sacks.

    Though run defense isn’t the strength of his game, he can certainly get the job done in that department. Plus Moore and the rest of the defensive line would be around to help him out a bit.

    Okafor’s actual stock is as up in the air at this point as any prospect in the draft. If available at 15, the Saints would have to at least consider him, one would think.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 45 Percent Chance

Defensive Tackles

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    One-Technique Defensive Tackle Star Lotulelei, Utah

    Star Lotulelei is an absolute beast. He is one of the few players in this year’s draft who figures to excel regardless of scheme. That said, he would undoubtedly excel in the Saints’ 4-3 scheme. He can shoot gaps when asked to do so.

    He’ll also be able command double teams from the offensive line in the run game. Though not an elite pass-rusher, he’ll be able to command more attention and still make more of an impact than the departing Sedrick Ellis this past season (though they technically would be playing different spots, it is still relevant).

    He is a top-five talent who may or may not be selected as such. If he somehow fell to New Orleans at 15 this season, the choice would be beyond obvious.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 5 Percent Chance

     


    Three-Technique Defensive Tackle Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

    Sheldon Richardson appears to be everything that Ellis was supposed to be when he was drafted out of Southern California in 2007. Richardson is an explosive pass-rusher who plays with an attitude.

    While defending the run wouldn’t be considered his strength, it is something he is far more than capable of doing well. In fact, he improved each year at Missouri in that regard. He would not be a liability for the Saints.

    In the real NFL draft, Richardson is a top-10 talent. Like Lotulelei, if he were to somehow fall to 15, he’d be an obvious selection for Mickey Loomis.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 10 Percent Chance

Linebackers

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    Middle Linebacker Kevin Minter, LSU

    Against my own better judgment I cautiously place LSU middle linebacker Kevin Minter in the black and gold as the fantasy middle linebacker for the Saints. I have legitimate reservations about Minter as an overall prospect.

    That said, if he were to make it in the NFL, it would almost have to happen in a Saints style of attack. His ability to move laterally and get deep makes him a nice coverage linebacker. And everyone knows he is as solid a tackler as one can find in football. If flanked by these two outside linebackers, Minter would probably make a good pro.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 15 Percent

     

     

    Outside Linebacker Manti Te’o, Notre Dame

    Manti Te’o is a player who fits in a 4-3 as one of the guys on the outside. He is an elite coverage linebacker, which is one of the primary traits desired in Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme.

    Though he struggled to wrap up in the national championship game, extenuating circumstances may help explain that to some degree. Overall, he was a good tackler this season and a thumper who will jar the ball loose a few times a season.

    The Saints would be lucky to have this guy roaming one of the curl-to-flat areas of their zone defensive scheme.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 25 Percent Chance

     


    Outside LB Siriki Diabate, Syracuse

    Siriki Diabate is far from a hot name in the draft process. In fact, he is nowhere to be found on most draft websites. But the senior seems to be just the sort of player that Mickey Loomis and his talent evaluation staff love to uncover. (It’s not as if Loomis has never found a gem in the late rounds or as college free agents...right?!)

    Though this is a “fantasy draft,” the Saints would still be required to adhere to the NFL cap rules. As such they would need players who fit the roster while not costing an arm and a leg. Diabate would do that, while filling out the linebacker starting depth chart.

    He will always be more productive than his 5’10” stature would suggest. He is a ball hawk and guy who is always around the football. And he wraps guys up. That would be a welcome sight for Saints fans who saw more missed tackles from its defense this season than Manti Te’o jokes on Twitter.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 10 Percent Chance

Cornerbacks

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    No. 1 Corner Desmond Trufant, Washington

    Two quick things to consider here: First, most NFL teams do not excel with “elite” or “shutdown corners.” Seattle is the only team in recent memory who rode an elite secondary to significant regular season and postseason success. That said, it is important to have guys in the secondary who compete and avoid regularly turning to toast from being burned all the time.

    Second, Desmond Trufant may not be the finest corner in the upcoming draft, but his confident—sometimes borders on cocky—attitude is the most important attribute to being a good NFL cornerback.

    It is not physical traits—elite speed, burst, quick hips or ball skills, though all important—but confidence that separates a good corner from an average, or worse than average NFL corner.

    For this reason, Corey White promises to become the Saints’ No. 1 corner next season. And it is the reason I’d take Trufant over any corner in this draft, especially for the Saints.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 25 Percent Chance

     


    No. 2 Corner Leon McFadden, San Diego State

    Leon McFadden is a player who had great film, yet many draft analysts were not convinced he had a great NFL future coming into the week at the Senior Bowl.

    McFadden, though, has had one of the best weeks among all players. Only Trufant could conceivably be considered to be having a better week among corners.

    It is notable that the Saints have already spoken to McFadden multiple times in Mobile. Though teams will speak to just about every prospect at an event such as the Senior Bowl, multiple discussions may indicate real interest.

    Whether the fantasy version or the real version, McFadden figures to be a prospect of interest for the New Orleans Saints.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 40 Percent Chance

     


    No. 3 Corner Jordan Poyer, Oregon State

    Scouts love Jordan Poyer’s versatility. He has played safety in his career at Oregon State. He has also seen snaps as a nickel corner. It is that role he would likely fill in New Orleans—regardless of whether we’re talking fantasy or actual NFL draft.

    Poyer is a bit small for a safety, so corner appears to be the position he is set to fill in the NFL. His coverage skills will oblige. His safety instincts will remain with him. That will allow him to be one of the best run-defending corners in the league.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 20 Percent Chance

Safeties

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    Safety Kenny Vaccaro, Texas

    It is crucial to understand that most NFL defenses today do not differentiate a “strong safety” from a “free safety.” It is a misnomer that analysts use because it’s easier to understand. The Saints are among the mass majority—though in Gregg Williams’ outdated defensive system it did—in not differentiating the two positions.

    Safeties in today’s NFL are expected to do everything well. Kenny Vaccaro is a guy who does everything well. He is one of the few safeties who can be trusted in man-to-man coverage. He plays the run adequately.

    And his deep safety coverage skills are the best in this draft. He won’t actually be a Saint, but it’s fun to pretend for now.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: Zero Percent Chance

     


    Safety T.J. McDonald, Southern California

    Say what you want about Lane Kiffin and the Trojans, but he and his staff developed the talent they possessed into NFL-caliber draft prospects. T.J. McDonald is yet another example of a player who projects nicely to become a starting NFL safety.

    Some teams may shy away due to the lack of success of a similar player—Taylor Mays. In my estimation, it would be an unwise decision. McDonald does many things well and brings a physicality that Vaccaro lacks.

    The combination of the two would make for a well-rounded defense, especially in the secondary.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 5 Percent Chance

     


    Nickel Safety Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

    If you’re Steve Spagnuolo, what's not to love about Shamarko Thomas? The guy is a ball hawk in the same mold of 49ers’ safety Dashon Goldson.

    Like Goldson, he is rather diminutive. But Thomas can actually cover receivers man-to-man while still maintaining his primary safety responsibilities to come up for run support and not get beat deep when operating as a center fielder.

    Spagnuolo regularly plays three safeties in his nickel package, making Thomas an ideal fit for the Spagnuolo defense.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 30 Percent Chance

Kickers

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    Kicker Cairo Santos, Tulane

    What would a fantasy team be without some hometown love? Cairo Santos did not miss in 20 field goal attempts in 2012. That’s certainly better than his hometown dome counterpart—Garrett Hartley did.

    He hit a 57-yarder, so the range exists in his right leg. Because of the guy who will be hired as the punter—in our fantasy world—Santos will not be responsible for kickoffs.

    Though very unlikely, Santos could be in play for the Saints, if for some reason they determined Hartley was no longer wanted and that Santos was the better option. The team traded up a few short years ago to select Thomas Morstead.

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: 10 Percent Chance

     


    Punter Brad Wing, LSU

    Maybe it’s a little too late to make up for the lack of local folk in the prior rhetoric. Wing is an elite talent at the punter position, though. His work at LSU speaks for itself.

    His off-field issues are not large enough to preclude him as a punter from being drafted. At another position they may be, but punters do not need to be brainiacs or “students of the game.”

    Odds of Being Selected by New Orleans in 2013 Draft: Zero Percent Chance