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LSU CB Jalen Collins: Saints ‘said they’re highly interested’

The Saints are taking a look at one of the draft’s fastest climbers.

LSU cornerback Jalen Collins spent some time with New Orleans’ defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff at Friday’s pro day and left with the impression that the team has a good amount of interest in him.

“They said they’re highly interested,” Collins said. “Talked to (McGriff), he said he likes big corners and he likes what he saw from the combine.”

Collins did not take part in any drills on Friday. It was discovered at the combine that he had the start of a Jones fracture and he recently had to have a screw inserted into his foot. He does not believe the injury will hurt his draft stock and expects to be sidelined for only a few weeks.

Even though Collins ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine with the injury, he missed the opportunity to further impress the Saints, who had most of the members of their staff in attendance Friday. The only notable absences were coach Sean Payton and linebackers coach Joe Vitt, who were working out players at Texas Christian University.

If the Saints were to select Collins, he would be behind Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner on the depth and would have to win a job as the third cornerback, serving in nickel packages. He said he covered the slot often in practice and believes he could do the job at the next level.

But he did admit that there are some differences from playing on the outside.

“Major difference on the outside to the inside, is you don’t really get to use your hands as much,” Collins said. “Slot receivers are usually off the ball. You kind of got to be more aware of the intermediate routes because they got more space.”

Collins said he has upcoming visits scheduled with the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Saints draft prospects: Devin Funchess could be a matchup problem in the NFL

By Christoper Jason

Devin Funchess

Position: Wide receiver
School: Michigan
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 232 pounds

Coming off of a breakout season from the tight end position in 2013, Devin Funchess was thrust into a positional change to wide receiver in 2014. Scouts were enamored with his mixture of size and athleticism after the 2013 season and they saw him in the Kelvin Benjamin mold; a physical and athletic mismatch on the outside. Although he was hampered by injury, anemic quarterback play and inconsistency in his own game last season, the former Wolverine still oozes with potential.

After underperforming at the NFL Combine by running a pedestrian 4.70 40-yard dash, Funchess bounced back in Ann Arbor at his pro day, posting 40 times of 4.47 and 4.53 seconds. The latter is closer to what Funchess looks like on tape compared to his time he posted in Indianapolis, which may have saved his draft stock.

I wrote a more extensive breakdown on Funchess here,  but the Michigan product has a monster upside with a few noticeable, yet fixable flaws. The first thing that stands out with Funchess is his size and length. One would hope that he would do more damage in the red zone but to tell the truth, Michigan’s offense was a disaster last season and he was never given a consistent, accurate passer under center during his three year career. He has a lengthy catch radius, along with a 38.5 inch vertical jump that helps him win jump balls, which will be very attractive to his future quarterback. But he does sometimes lack focus and can drop easy passes that are thrown his way.

As a ball carrier, he is a physical and athletic runner that is hard to bring down after the catch. I believe that his size was underutilized at Michigan, as he was consistently used on screens and quick passes but not very often in the seam or down the sidelines. He flashed and made big plays when he was used downfield but Michigan’s (now former) offensive coordinator liked to get the ball in his hands quickly to let him make plays in space.

Even with his size, Funchess sometimes disengaged when he was pressed at the line of scrimmage and he sometimes mentally checked out of games. This could be because of his frustration of how the Wolverine offense was playing in 2014 or some other problem he was dealing with, including injuries.

Overall, Funchess flashed dominance at times and at other times he was invisible. He still put up good numbers in a lackluster offense but Wolverine fans probably wished that he would have reached his full potential in Ann Arbor. Funchess seems to be a classic case of being born with excellent size and skills but his potential currently remains untapped. Better coaching and/or being injected into a strong locker room at the next level could do wonders for Funchess. Personally, I think that he will be able to reach his lofty potential in the NFL and he should be drafted in the early to mid-second round of the draft.

Where would he fit in New Orleans?

It will not be easy to replace Jimmy Graham’s red-zone production but the Michigan product would give quarterback Drew Brees a big target, who lined up everywhere during his time in Ann Arbor. Funchess would be a size mismatch on the outside versus cornerbacks and even though he underperformed at the NFL combine, he displays good game speed. He is a chess piece that can be lined him up on the outside, the slot or at flex tight end. Funchess is by no means Graham or will replace his production, but he possesses a good combination of size and speed that cannot be taught. If the Saints draft the 6-foot-4, 232 pounder, he could pair up with Josh Hill to lessen the void in the red zone and in the middle of the field left by Graham.

Where could the Saints draft him?

Once projected as a possible first round prospect, Funchess will most likely be available in the second round. The Saints could select the former Wolverine with their second-round pick.

Saints preseason games to move to WVUE in New Orleans and WAFB in Baton Rouge

The New Orleans Saints announced that Raycom Media will produce and broadcast the organization’s preseason games throughout the Gulf South.

The multi-year agreement begins with the 2015 preseason and will be broadcast on Raycom Media stations throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In New Orleans, this will put the games on WVUE FOX 8, which is owned by Saints owner Tom Benson. Raycom Media operates WAFB in Baton Rouge.

“I am very pleased to make this announcement today. We have a very good working relationship with Raycom Media,” Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement released by the team. “Our preseason games are the first real introduction of our team to our fans and we are very pleased that Raycom Media will provide us an opportunity to reach so many of our fans not only in Louisiana but also throughout the Gulf South including Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.”

In addition to WVUE and WAFB, other Raycom Media stations in the Gulf South Region that will carry the games are KSLA in Shreveport, KPLC in Lake Charles, WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi, WDAM in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, WLOX in Biloxi, Mississippi and WPGX in Panama City, Florida.

More details on the Saints’ television plans, as well as the dates and times of all preseason games, will be announced at a later date.



Nick Underhill’s mock draft: Projecting the first two rounds for the Saints

After hearing Sean Payton speaking in Arizona this week and the first wave of free agency in the past, we’re finally in a position to start taking a look at the draft.

The Saints have several areas of need to address, but there isn’t an issue that stands out above the rest. They need pass rushers, linebackers, help on the defensive line, offensive line depth and wide receivers. Any of these areas could be addressed at any spot, making it difficult to get a strong read on how things will play out.

It also doesn’t help that there isn’t much of a consensus on any of the top players in the draft. There are a lot of guys who could be the fifth pick or the fifteenth pick. So, in reality, New Orleans’ first pick will likely be determined by how the draft shakes out.

With that in mind, here’s a guess at how the first two rounds might play out for New Orleans. I’ll circle back at a later date to fill this out through some of the other rounds, but we’ll keep it to the first two at this point. I don’t have strong enough opinions or deep enough knowledge on the necessary 300-plus players to offer anything more than wild guesses in the deeper rounds.

Round 1, Pick 13: Bud Dupree, LB, Kentucky

I like a lot of players that could be available in this range. I’m not in love with any of them. There’s a batch of players  I could see going here, depending on how the draft shakes out. In this scenario, I’m assuming the other top pass rushers are gone. I don’t see offensive line as a pressing need, so I’m passing on players like Brandon Scherff and La’el Collins. Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes could be an option, but I see Dupree having more of an immediate impact than a third cornerback. I also don’t see wide receiver being an early option. That could, however, change if Amari Cooper or Kevin White slip.

I’ve spent some time watching Dupree. I like his upside. He’s still raw, and it’s possible he doesn’t develop as one might hope, but he has the raw talent and athleticism to become a really good player in the NFL. And if he develops, his ceiling could be really high.

Round 1, Pick 31: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

The best available cornerback at this spot might be Washington’s Marcus Peters. The question is whether or not the the Saints would be willing to overlook enough red flags to bet on Peters’ upside and talent. The guess here is no, especially after hearing coach Sean Payton say bringing someone like Greg Hardy into the fold would not not make sense “philosophically.”

So, that leads the Saints to Johnson. He shouldn’t be considered a consolation prize. Johnson has great technique, can flip his hips, and has the speed and quickness that might allow him to cover the slot. He also appears to have the ability to play in any coverage. If New Orleans is looking for a third cornerback to pair with Brandon Browner and Keenan Lewis, they could do much worse than Johnson.

Round 2, Pick 44: Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson

The Saints could use this pick as a trade chip if they call in love with a player in the first round. But in a draft that is deep with good, not great, talent and so many holes to fill on the roster, the best bet might be the stand pat and take the best available players.

Sean Payton did not recently list inside linebacker as an area of need and said David Hawthorne will be moving to that position to fill in for the loss of Curtis Lofton, but Anthony might be too good to pass up here.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and linebackers coach Joe Vitt recently took a look at Anthony and chances are they like what they saw. Anthony can move sideline-to-sideline,  tackles well, and can cover a little bit — all traits New Orleans could use on its defense.

Seahawks hire former Saints assistant Andre Curtis

Andre Curtis has found a landing spot.

The former Saints assistant secondary coach has been hired by the Seattle Seahawks in the same capacity, the team announced.

Curtis was fired following the season after spending the previous three seasons in New Orleans.

Tight ends coach Terry Malone and receivers coach Henry Ellard were also let go by the Saints following their 7-9 finish.

Leftovers from Sean Payton’s meeting with the media

PHOENIX — Some leftover thoughts and quotes from Sean Payton’s meeting with the media on Wednesday:

On Marques Colston returning: “With every decision, there’s gotta be some vision. So Marques Colston, the vision coming up for ’15, he’s a guy that plays all three spots, there’s a toughness about him. There’s a size factor that obviously is a big plus for us. ”

On Travaris Cadet signing with the New England Patriots: “He’s exceptional as a receiver. His ability to run routes other than just from the running back route tree, he’s someone that can jump in the receiver line and run out routes and run cutbacks and actually has experience doing that. When he came to us as a free agent in ’12, the first week or two he was in receiver meetings, receiver drills. He’s exceptionally smart, he’s a great teammate. He’s someone we would have wanted to have back, were we not able to sign C.J. Spiller. I would say his hands and his football IQ are exceptional.”

On if Jimmy Graham being traded had anything to do with hurt feelings from last year’s negotiations: “No, no, that really had nothing to do with it. Zero.”

On former Cowboys defensive lineman visiting the Saints: “He was in on Monday. He’s someone we’re very familiar with, obviously. we played against him, Rob (Ryan) has worked with him. I don’t know if there’s anything to announce but he did take a visit.”

On keeping Jahri Evans instead of Ben Grubbs: “I think it started when we were kinda in discussion with a number of teams. We knew we were going to be able to afford one of the guards. Both guys we have great respect for, we graded very closely. It happened in a period of a few days. We were at kind of a threshold in regards to our salary cap.”

On Jairus Byrd’s health: “He’s fully recovered. He’s training right now and he’s been training with Spiller. … He’s healthy, though. I think having a full offseason will be important certainly in regards with what we’re doing. There’s going to be some changes structurally. We’ll look closely at the corner we just acquired and some of the talent (they will acquire). We’re not just going to turn the page and give it another try. We’ve got to be better at it. We have to be better in a lot of areas. …Some of the stuff we went through in tape study, it’s not a lot of good tape. There’s a lot of involvement when you finish 31st in the league in one area.”

On Drew Brees’ reaction to trading Jimmy Graham: ““Drew understands the challenges of winning. He also understands it would be nice for us to get to 26 points and win by seven instead of being down 10. There’s a lot that goes into that. It’s our job as coaches to put a plan together to allow him to have success. You don’t take any of the seven, eight, nine years for granted and throw the ball out there and say hey. We need to find unique ways to get C.J. Spiller the ball and maybe throw it to him eight yards on a wide route and watch him run for 60. We’ve got to say hey these are the guys we’ve got.”

On Josh Hill: “This Josh Hill is another player that I love. I love. When you look at his runs, jumps, height, weight, speed, you look at his measureables and he didn’t go to the combine. Thank god. We were doing this study last year with the draft class talking about some of the top picks at tight end. … Let’s throw the numbers up on the board and compare them. … Comparing him to the top guys in the draft, this guy is better. … If I told you this guy was our third-round draft pick you’d be excited now. We’ve just got to get this jersey off his back that says I cam here as a free agent. I think we feel like he has a bright future.”​

Sean Payton on Tom Benson: ‘His mind is sharp as ever’

PHOENIX — There have been questions about whether the ownership saga that is playing out in New Orleans would impact other aspects of the organization.

It hasn’t. Saints coach Sean Payton said he has seen no changes in Tom Benson in recent months and that he and the coaching staff do not put much thought on what is and will play out in court rooms over the coming months.

“It’s two fold. One, we see Tom everyday. So when I have interaction and I’m able to go down with him, we’ll talk about a lot of different topics,” Payton said.”You know that that’s all going to take care of itself. His mind is as sharp as ever.

“So when he asking me why we haven’t cleaned the mail room and the coffee cups don’t have lids on them. You’re afraid. You go to your assistant coaches and say let’s get this squared away. The worst thing you could do is park in the wrong spot or not have a lid on your coffee. Some young new guy will end up in a wrong parking spot and I’m like ‘Uh oh. Here it goes.'”

Payton said he speaks with Benson daily after lunch when he goes down to the owner’s office to steal candy out of his dish.

“His leadership starts with his on hands approach,” Payton said. “I think it’s hard to be an owner and lead the organization if you’re not in the building. He’s there daily.

“I would speak to him at least daily or every other day. Walk down and visit with him. It might be about the mail room or it might be about the team or something about these meetings. He’s been outstanding. That’s from nine years ago to now to me. I’ve been fortunate to have that consistency and someone who’s good at it. He loves being at work.”

Sean Payton on CB Delvin Breaux: ‘I like him’

PHOENIX — Delvin Breaux still remains a mystery to most.

We know the CFL import has talent and drew interest from more than half the league this offseason when he became available. But we won’t get a glimpse of him until the offseason program begins.

So, what should we expect from Breaux? Here’s Sean Payton’s assessment of his new cornerback:

“Kind of an interesting story. A lot of you guys won’t be familiar with it. but we signed a corner from the CFL this offseason. And of course he’s from New Orleans so it’s spelled B-R-E-A-U-X. But he was a high school player, recruited heavily, signed a scholarship with LSU and sustained an injury his senior year, he actually fractured his neck, went through an extensive rehab, wasn’t able to pass a physical three years at LSU, still can’t get an opportunity, then finally he’s cleared and he plays in a semi-pro league, I think locally. Then he’s picked up by the arena team, plays for the Voodoo, gets picked up by a CFL team, goes up, plays in the CFL for two seasons. So he had 15 or 16 tryouts, he had a great workout with us. He has great size, great hands. Just kind of an unusual journey as to how he got where he’s at now. … I like him.

“He, too, is another big corner that I think can play at the line. Of course Stanley Jean-Baptiste we drafted last year. We like this prospect. We knew when we drafted him it was gonna be a developmental player. Am I missing someone now? ‘Twin.’ (Brian Dixon) Yeah, another corner who played quite a bit last year actually, who can run. So we’ve got a good balance of young players and yet some veteran experience. Brandon (Browner is) someone, though, that definitely is gonna be playing at the line of scrimmage. He and Keenan (Lewis) both.”

Will Breaux or someone else within the team’s group of cornerbacks serve as the nickel next season?

“I think, I don’t know, look, when you study Browner last year in New England there’s three cornres on the field in their traditional nickel and they’re just going to their matchups,” Payton said. “Sometimes it might bring him inside, sometimes it brought them outside. It was just how they were going to deploy. But, yeah, I think so. In that group, yes.”

Sean Payton: Changes on offense do not indicate a philosophical change

PHOENIX — It’s been suggested that the Saints are in the process of undergoing a philosophical transformation.

The team signed C.J. Spiller and re-signed Mark Ingram to a pair of four-year, $16 million contracts and traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks for a package that included center Max Unger.

More running backs. A stronger interior offensive line. It all added up to New Orleans becoming more committed to the ground game — or so it appeared. But speaking in a ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore resort on Wednesday morning, Saints coach Sean Payton called that opinion a mirage.

“This was more about two hits at must positions and then losing one player,” Payton said. “You get the first-round pick, you get a starting center, we’re trying to address defensive needs. It was more about that than it was a change in how we’re gonna (operate on offense).”

But that doesn’t mean the offense won’t change to a certain degree. It has to and it would be foolish for Payton to try to run the 2014 offensive in 2015 without the same personnel. The strengths of the roster have changed and he will adjust to that, as he always does.

This is something he’s done every year he’s been in the building, dating back to 2006. Each year the roster evolves and Payton will adapt to his offense to it. Will this mean more emphasis on the ground game? If it does, it will only be because the personnel dictates those changes.

“The style of how we play has varied and it can week to week with guys that are inactive,” Payton said. “To answer your question, I know this for certain this wasn’t about philosophically we’re going in a different direction. This was I think we’ll move the football in 2015 but let’s find a way we don’t have to score 35 points to win the game.”

Sean Payton: Keeping Curtis Lofton at $9 million cap charge did not make financial sense

PHOENIX — Before releasing Curtis Lofton, the Saints sat down with him and let him know they needed improved play at lesser pay at the inside linebacker position.

Lofton led the team in tackles in 2014, but was due to count $9.25 million against the salary cap in 2015.

It’s unclear if Lofton was specifically asked to reduce his salary and balked, but coach Sean Payton said he did not think it made sense to pay Lofton so much money when asked why the linebacker was released.

“Every offseason at some point your boss calls you in and says, ‘Look, we feel like you need to improve in this area, this area and this area,” Payton said. “And you need to be better here, here and here. And by the way, we want to pay you 70 percent of what you made last year.’

“Essentially to some degree the market fluctuates within our game with contracts. We felt like an inside linebacker was going to be someone we definitely had as a must. We didn’t know if it would be a Mike or a Will. I do feel like Dannell Ellerbe has played both and has that flexibility. I do see him playing the Will and having us put (David) Hawthorne back at Mike. With Curtis, there was obviously ‘X’ amount of dollars due to be made. We felt that was going to be the best way to go.”