New Orleans Saints Mock Draft: Instant Contributors in Every Round
The Saints have been highly active this offseason, as they’ve managed to free up salary cap space by releasing a host of long-time veteran starters, while also executing a number of important free-agent signings.
There are still some positions in dire need of attention, and the Saints’ recent draft record suggests they’re capable of finding gems in any round.
Following is a New Orleans Saints mock draft with a twist: This latest mock features players who have the ability to come in and immediately contribute.
Round 1: Kyle Fuller; Cornerback, Virginia Tech
Thanks in large to an extremely tight salary cap, New Orleans cut starting cornerback Jabari Greer in February. While 2013 free agent signee Keenan Lewis proved his worth with a fine season, Greer’s release created a void at one of the two outside corner spots.
Greer went down with an injury midway through the 2013 season. Second-year corner Corey White was serviceable in his stead, but it became apparent in the latter half of the season that White is probably best suited for the nickel or dime spot. New Orleans needs another starting corner on the outside, and Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller would be a great choice for the role.
Fuller has ideal size and length, and he’s perhaps the most physical corner in this year’s draft. He plays both the pass and the run extremely well, and he possesses the instincts needed to be a highly successful cover man in the NFL.
By drafting Fuller, the Saints could acquire a reliable No. 2 corner to pair with Lewis, and the duo would make a fantastic compliment to the safety tandem of Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro.
Round 2: Jordan Matthews; Wide Receiver, Vanderbilt
In 2013, the New Orleans wide receivers struggled as a unit. Quarterback Drew Brees enjoyed another 5,000-yard season through the air, but only one of his top four receivers (Marques Colston) was a wideout.
Following a drop-off in production last season, veteran receiver Lance Moore became a cap casualty and was released in early March. Meanwhile, 2013 draft pick Kenny Stills established himself as a capable deep threat who can stretch the field, and he'll likely have an increased role this coming season.
The 6’0” Brees has always been highly efficient when throwing to sizeable possession receivers, however, and the Saints are in need of another wideout that fits the bill.
At 6’3", Matthews is a large target who could immediately step in and produce. He set numerous receiving records in the talent-rich SEC, and he has a reputation for being a heady player, which makes him a great fit for coach Sean Payton’s complex passing attack.
There were questions about Matthews’ speed, or lack thereof, but he somewhat quieted that criticism at the combine with a 4.46 40-yard dash time.
The wide receiver talent in this year’s draft is very deep, and there is no shortage of enticing options with second-round grades. They include Penn State’s Allen Robinson, Fresno State’s Davante Adams, LSU’s Jarvis Landry, and Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief.
Matthews appears to be as well-rounded as any of them, and his size and physicality make him a prime candidate for New Orleans to snatch him up in Round 2.
Round 3: Marcus Smith; Outside Linebacker, Louisville
The third round has traditionally been very kind to the Saints. This spot in the draft has delivered a number of current key players to New Orleans, including offensive tackle Terron Armstead, defensive end Akiem Hicks and nose guard John Jenkins. The third round was also the draft position of a former collegiate basketball-player-turned-tight-end named Jimmy Graham.
Can this year’s third-round selection become another solid contributor?
If the Saints select Marcus Smith of Louisville, the answer could very well be “Yes.” Smith is a pass-rushing specialist who terrorized opposing quarterbacks in 2013 to the tune of 14.5 sacks.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Junior Galette totaled 24.5 sacks for New Orleans this past season, but there’s room on Rob Ryan’s defense for another playmaker who can wreak havoc on passing downs. With formidable signal-callers in the NFC South such as Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Carolina’s Cam Newton, Smith would be a welcomed acquisition.
Round 4: Travis Swanson; Center, Arkansas
The starting center position for 2014 is still up in the air.
New Orleans has yet to re-sign free-agent starter Brian de la Puente, and this suggests that the Saints may be ready to give 2013 backup Tim Lelito a shot to earn the job. Lelito has minimal game experience, however, and there’s a good chance New Orleans could bring in one of the draft’s top centers to compete with him.
While there are some exceptions, the better center prospects usually don’t come off of the board in the early rounds.
Travis Swanson is one of the draft's most highly rated centers, along with USC’s Marcus Martin and Colorado State’s Weston Richburg. Draft analysts have varied rankings as to who is the best, but the Arkansas product is consistently ranked in the top three.
While Swanson’s pass protection is his defining strength, his run-blocking could also prove to be serviceable for the Saints. He would be flanked by two Pro Bowl guards in Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, which would obviously be a favorable spot for a rookie center.
There's a good chance Swanson could come in and take over the starting role, thus solidifying the position for the immediate future.
Round 5 (First Pick): James Hurst; Offensive Tackle, North Carolina
With 2013 draft pick Terron Armstead on the left side and recently re-signed free-agent starter Zach Strief on the right, New Orleans appears to have two solid starters at offensive tackle.
The position is very demanding from a physical standpoint, however, and injuries are always a risk. Behind Armstead and Strief, the Saints have the unproven Bryce Harris. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring in another tackle with the potential to step in and play if need be.
North Carolina’s James Hurst was highly successful at the collegiate level, and he has great size and technique. He also turned in an impressive performance against South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney in the 2013 season opener.
Hurst’s major drawback is that he’s coming off of a serious injury, which makes him a bit of an unknown at this point. Were it not for the broken leg he suffered in the Tar Heels’ bowl game, he would likely be projected as an early-round pick.
His recovery is coming along nicely, however, and he worked out extensively at North Carolina’s pro day on March 25. If Armstead or Strief go down, Hurst could prove to be well worth the risk.
Round 5 (Second Pick): De'Anthony Thomas; Running Back, Oregon
De’Anthony Thomas may not be a true running back, but he possesses electrifying athleticism, and his talents would be best utilized in a wide-open offense such as the one run in New Orleans.
Thomas is widely projected as a fifth- to seventh-round pick. His 4.5 40-yard dash time at the combine caused his stock to fall like a rock, but he ran faster at Oregon’s pro day, clocking an unofficial 4.39. His small frame won’t allow for him to receive a high number of touches, but he would undoubtedly provide an added dimension to the New Orleans offense. He could also challenge Travaris Cadet for kickoff and punt return duties.
Not only does Thomas have top-end speed and acceleration, he’s extremely slippery in the open field. This can cause nightmares for defensive coordinators, despite the fact that he doesn’t have a clearly defined offensive position.
When the Saints make their second fifth-round selection, Thomas will be awfully tempting if he’s still on the board.
Round 6: Avery Williamson; Inside Linebacker, Kentucky
The inside linebacker position is another spot in need of attention, and the sixth-round presents an opportune time to reel in a talented athlete such as Kentucky’s Avery Williamson.
Current Saints starters David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton are solid against the run, but they both had their difficulties in coverage last season. While Williamson isn't particularly explosive, he is a technically sound tackler and quite capable in pass coverage.
A highly versatile defender, he should be able to spell either Lofton or Hawthorne on third downs when necessary, and he would make for a solid backup. Williamson ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at the combine, which was the sixth-fastest time for any linebacker.
The 2014 NFL draft is now just over a month away. The players mentioned above could all come in and fill a role for New Orleans in the coming season, as the Saints position themselves for another run at the Super Bowl.