Complete Saints 7-Round Mock Draft for 2014
The New Orleans Saints are in a unique and enviable position heading into the 2014 draft in May. After an 11-5 finish and a road playoff win, the Saints were taken down by the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
New Orleans will return most of the core of that playoff team, and has the skill and experience in place to make another go at a deep playoff run. That’s the good news.
There is some bad news.
Financial woes could lie ahead in terms of the salary cap, and New Orleans’ all-world quarterback, Drew Brees, is nearing the age at which most football players settle into a comfortable recliner.
It’s win-now time in New Orleans and the Saints need to draft like the window is closing fast. There are still some holes to fill and positions of need, but for the most part the Saints aren’t going to be pigeonholed into taking particular positions in specific rounds. It may not exactly be taking the best player available, but general manager Mickey Loomis is going to have a number of directions he can take this team on May 8, and over the subsequent two days of the draft.
The Saints have seven total picks, but they aren’t spread out evenly. New Orleans doesn’t have a seventh-round pick, but has two fifth-rounders. Here’s how the Saints might use each pick.
Round 1, Pick 27 (27th Overall): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Cornerback Champ Bailey signed a two-year deal with New Orleans on April 4, and told Mike Klis of the Denver Post he's going to compete for a starting job opposite Keenan Lewis.
Champ Bailey will compete for a starting CB job with Saints. "That's where we're starting," he said. "That's all I wanted."— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) April 4, 2014
When that competition begins, it would be better for the Saints that it be against former TCU cornerback Jason Verrett instead of Corey White or Patrick Robinson. The Saints struck free-agent gold last year with the signing of Lewis, who turned out to be the sixth best cover corner in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). But White and Robinson were less-than-stellar options.
You can argue that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan would benefit from another pass-rusher in the first round. Quarterback Drew Brees and the offense could use a wide receiver too, but the biggest team-improving move might be adding a cornerback like Verrett.
Another solid cover corner will force opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball longer, allowing Ryan’s pass rush a few extra moments to wreak havoc.
Verrett picked off two passes last season and had 14 pass breakups, according to the TCU athletic department. At 5’9” and 189 pounds, he’s small, but quarterbacks avoided him when they could last season.
The Saints might be best served with Verrett inside to act as a nickel while Bailey works the outside. Verrett could develop into a solid No. 2 corner after a year of NFL experience behind Bailey and Lewis.
Round 2, Pick 26 (58th Overall): Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
When people think of former Clemson wide receivers in the 2014 draft, Sammy Watkins is getting all the attention. That’s unfortunate because Martavis Bryant has the build and skills to be an impressive NFL pass-catching option. Should he land with a team that offers a great situation to grow quickly, he could have similar upside to his old Tigers teammate.
Catching passes from Drew Brees and functioning in the Saints offense could be exactly that perfect situation for Bryant.
Bryant has an awesome frame for a receiver at 6’4” and 211 pounds. When he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the combine and followed that with 39” vertical jump, it had to open the eyes of most NFL executives to him as a potential deep threat plus an enviable red-zone target.
Watkins was definitely the No. 1 option for quarterback Tajh Boyd in Clemson last season, but Bryant still caught 42 passes for 828 yards. And Bryant had almost as many receptions of 20 or more yards (17) as Watkins (19), according to CFBStats.com.
If Bryant landed in New Orleans, he’s got some tweaking to do to his game. He’ll have to become a more refined route-runner to stay in Brees’ good graces, and he’ll have to make sure his dropped pass issues are a college anomaly. But with his ability to take the top off a defense, his obvious size, leaping ability and skills as a red-zone target, he could instantly shine with the Saints.
Round 3, Pick 27 (91st Overall): Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
It’s no secret that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wants another pass-rusher. After the Saints filled needs at corner and wide receiver, he can have his wish with former Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith.
The first thing that will need to happen with Smith once he gets to New Orleans is for the Saints to move him from defensive end to outside linebacker. At 6’1”, Smith doesn’t have optimal size for an NFL defensive end, and he can get tangled up in bigger blockers and double-teams too easily.
Moving him to linebacker will allow him to use his speed and agility to get a moving start at the quarterback, and give him a better look at picking the right pass-rush lanes to attack.
Smith recorded 36 tackles last season for the Razorbacks, including 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. He can get moving quickly and get after a quarterback or ball-carrier. He also may find success—and this is something that will make Ryan happy—rushing from either side or from the middle after the pocket has been established.
After a strong Senior Bowl where he stood out as one of the better pass-rushers, Smith had a good combine, too. He’s fighting a size issue that he’ll not overcome, but effort and heart, along with the skill set he’s already put on tape should get him selected on the draft’s second day.
If Smith was taller he’d be a much higher pick, but the Saints will benefit from getting him here.
Round 4, Pick 26 (126th Overall): Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State
When the New Orleans Saints lost center Brian de la Puente to the Chicago Bears via free agency, it marked the only starter along the Saints’ offensive line from 2013 that won’t be coming back in 2014.
Four out of five coming back is great, but losing de la Puente is going to take some getting used to.
In 2013, de la Puente was one of two players that saw every offensive snap for the Saints (Ben Grubbs was the other). And he played well. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was the sixth-ranked pass-blocking center in the league. He allowed three sacks, three hits and nine quarterback hurries.
Second-year, undrafted center Tim Lelito is likely not the answer for the Saints to take over at center. New Orleans is going to have to look to the draft.
Someone who may get a long look is former Utah State center Tyler Larsen, who started climbing draft boards and showing up on draft radars after a very impressive Senior Bowl.
Center Tyler Larsen is stonewalling all the top DTs. He's having a really impressive practice— Steve Shoup (@Steveospeak) January 21, 2014
Building on that impressive week at the Senior Bowl, Larsen went to the combine and pushed up 225 pounds 36 times. Only one player pushed up the weight more.
@AllbrightNFL: Russell Bodine of UNC with 42 reps of 225 on bench. Tyler Larsen Utah State with 36 Wow. Wonder what his arm length is.— Thomas Melton (@TMeltonScouting) February 21, 2014
Larsen is a 6’4”, 311-pound behemoth, who is obviously ox-like strong. He’s also built to anchor well and very resilient. He played in all 52 games while he was at Utah State and started all four years.
Bringing Larsen in to compete with Lelito, and eventually take the starting center job, will be a good move for the Saints.
Round 5, Pick 27 (167th Overall): Michael Schofield, OT, Michigan
With two close picks in the fifth round (the Saints own picks No. 167 and No. 169), New Orleans should think about depth at very important positions.
Quarterback Drew Brees’ safety, and remember he was hit more than normal last season, should be of paramount importance. Bringing back four starters on the offensive line is a good start, as is finding a new starter at center earlier in the draft. But grabbing some depth here at the tackle position is also important.
Former Michigan offensive tackle Michael Schofield has the proper amount of talent and upside for the Saints to consider here in the fifth round.
Schofield’s workouts at the Senior Bowl were impressive, and he was even bestowed a high award after one of the sessions.
Michael Schofield was named "Player of the Day" at the Senior Bowl on Wednesday http://t.co/JYX9qTrOt8— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) January 23, 2014
And even though Schofield might not be starter material from Day 1 in the NFL, his maturation period might not be as long as most fifth-round picks.
RT @FinsUp1972 your thoughts on Michael Schofield??? > I'm a fan. I think he's a starting RT AFTER 1 year of development.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) April 6, 2014
Schofield has been Michigan’s starter at right tackle for the last two seasons, but he also has starting experience at the guard position. Versatility like that will make him valuable in the NFL.
If the Saints can get depth for the offensive line in the fifth round, and also find someone that could rise to a starting position in just one short season, they had better pull the trigger.
Round 5, Pick 29 (169th Overall): Shaq Evans, WR, UCLA
Two picks after the Saints grab some offensive line depth in Michael Schofield, New Orleans should add another receiving threat for quarterback Drew Brees.
The team did well with its fifth-round pick in wide receiver Kenny Stills last year, why not try to strike gold again.
Former UCLA receiver Shaq Evans could be a great fit with the Saints, in a system that cares little about where you were drafted and more about what you do when you step on the practice field and run routes for head coach Sean Payton and Brees.
Scouts were intrigued by Shaq Evans at the Senior Bowl. 4.50, good hands, very good route runner. Nice end of the roster WR.— Shane P. Hallam (@ShanePHallam) February 23, 2014
Evans led the Bruins with 47 receptions for 709 yards and caught nine touchdown passes. He’s not only a good route-runner, but he can get vertical in a hurry. Ask Brees if he likes guys who run sound routes and can take the top off a defense, and he’ll just smile. If the Saints could get a guy like that in the fifth round, of course they would take the opportunity.
Round 6, Pick 26 (202nd Overall): David Fales, QB, San Jose State
A question that gets asked just about every year of late, and one of growing concern, should be answered in 2014. Should the New Orleans Saints draft Drew Brees’ heir apparent?
It’s finally time to answer, yes.
Just as important as if the Saints should draft a quarterback to eventually replace Brees when he’s ready to retire, is who it should be. Why not a guy who reminds people of Brees? How about former San Jose State quarterback David Fales.
I like David Fales more than I should. Every throw is on the money. Love the accuracy. Drew Brees cover band.— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) March 25, 2014
Fales threw for over 4,000 yards in each of his last two seasons (4,193 in 2012 and then 4,189 last season) and completed 68.1 percent of his passes. He’s a rock in the pocket, meaning he makes sound decisions and doesn’t get flustered or rushed. And unlike a rock, he’s very quick on his feet and smooth in traffic.
He still does have some footwork issues to fix, and he’s going to have to work on balance as he releases the ball. But otherwise, Fales is incredibly smart, has a strong work ethic and hates to lose. Does that sound like the current Saints quarterback?
Brees could impart a lot of wisdom on a guy like Fales, and Fales could benefit from a few years of working under one of the elite passers in the NFL today.