With the May 8-10 draft a little more than a week away, below is an unofficial guide to players who the Saints have either hosted for visits or worked out and who could be taken in the first two days (or first three rounds) of the event.
The Saints have been unsurprisingly tight-lipped about which prospects they covet and at what portions of the draft they believe they can get them. But this gives the public a slight hint about which players the Saints might think stand out from the rest.
On Wednesday, the Black and Gold Blog will publish an unofficial guide to players the Saints have either hosted for visits or worked out and who are expected to be available on the third day of the draft or in undrafted free agency.
More pre-draft coverage — including requisite mock drafts from The Advocate’s writers — will follow that.
+Name, Pos., School (Projected round) (* = confirmed by The Advocate or player himself on social media or in interview; ** = media report)
+Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (1)*
-The 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert posted the fastest 40-yard dash (4.37 seconds) and put up some of the most reps on the 225-pound bench press (20) among cornerbacks who participated in those events at the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February. He was a Second-Team All-American and First-Team All-Big 12 selection as a senior in 2013, when Oklahoma State went 10-3 and appeared in the Cotton Bowl. He was tied for third in the country with seven interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
According to NFL.com, Gilbert is a top 15 pick in the draft. The Saints will pick 27th if they keep the first-round selection they have.
+Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville (1)*
-The 5-foot-11, 207-pound Pryor attracted round one projections after amassing 69 tackles (5.5 behind the line of scrimmage), three interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2013, good enough to land him on the All-American Athletic Conference’s First Team, according to CBSSports.com’s draft profile of him.
He anticipates plays well and has explosive closing speed, but he might be “almost too physical in an era in which heavy hitters often draw penalty flags,” CBSSports.com said in its evaluation of Pryor, who the site compared to the Giants’ Antrel Rolle.
+Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California (1)*
-The 6-foot, 192-pound Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012 and won the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver in the nation. His quarterback was Matt Barkley.
But his numbers were significantly less impressive his junior year with the Trojans: 57 grabs, 791 yards and four scores during a campaign in which coach Lane Kiffin was fired after five games.
Lee blamed his drop in production on leg injuries that kept him out of three games. “I didn’t have my full on season from that end,” he had said to the program Pro Football Talk Live.
He has also mentioned the battle for starting quarterback at the beginning of the 2013 campaign between Cody Kessler (who won) and Max Wittek (the backup) as a negative factor.
+Dee Ford, pass rusher, Auburn (1-2)**
-The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Ford became a starter at defensive end for Auburn in 2012, but it was in 2013 that he established himself as a star for the Tigers. He posted 12.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year, 8.5 of which were quarterback sacks, in the process bagging First-Team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press and coaches.
Pundits expect Ford would play outside linebacker in the pros.
The Saints have good pass rushers in defensive end Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks in 2013 and a Pro Bowl appearance) and outside linebacker Junior Galette (12 sacks last year). Other solid defensive linemen on the roster are Glenn Foster and Akiem Hicks.
New Orleans’ pass-rushing depth should be helped with the expected return of outside linebacker Victor Butler, who missed the 2013 season with a knee injury.
However, 2014 is the last season in Butler’s two-year deal. Another outside linebacker, Parys Haralson, is also only under contract through 2014.
+Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois (1-2)**
-The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Ward proved to be a sound hitter in 2013, leading his team in tackles with 92 (62 of which were solo). He also showed he was a ball hawk, picking off seven passes and breaking up 10 throws en route to a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist nod.
Some have said his height is less than ideal.
The Saints have recently invested heavily in the position of safety. Jairus Byrd in March was signed to a free-agent contract worth up to $54 million ($28 million of which is guaranteed) over six years. The Saints chose safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first-round of the 2013 draft, and this offseason they signed restricted free-agent safety Rafael Bush to a two-year deal with a maximum value of about $4.5 million.
+Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (1-2)*
The 5-foot-11, 194-pound Roby dazzled at the combine by clocking a 40-yard dash of 4.39 seconds, one of the fastest among players at his position group. He had 70 tackles, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions in 11 starts in 2013, scoring touchdowns off a blocked punt and a 63-yard pickoff return before missing Ohio State’s defeat to Clemson in the Orange Bowl with a knee bone bruise.
Roby will be surrounded with questions about his character wherever he’s selected. He was arrested in July 2013 after a fight outside a bar in Bloomington, Ind., in a case that was ultimately dismissed but resulted in his suspension for Ohio State’s season opener. Then, on Tuesday, he pleaded guilty in Columbus, Ohio, to physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol after an arrest several days earlier.
The court gave him a jail sentence of about six months but suspended it on the condition that he take a three-day driver intervention program, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
+Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State (1-2)*
-The 6-foot-3, 251-pound Lawrence has drawn late first- to second-round draft projections after leading the Mountain West conference with 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2013. He is relatively quick for a defensive end, having clocked a 4.8-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine and another one of 4.69 seconds in another workout, per CBSSports.com.
+Marcus Martin, C, Southern California (2-3)**
-The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Martin played two seasons at guard and one at center for USC prior to declaring for the draft. He suffered ankle and knee injuries in the Trojans’ regular season finale and missed their victory in the Las Vegas Bowl, but he’s since posted 23 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
He’s also run the 40-yard dash (5.22 seconds) and a 4.93-second shuttle run in another workout, per CBSSports.com.
CBSSports.com’s draft analysts believe Martin can develop into a player that’s comparable to Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack.
Brian de la Puente had started at center for the Saints from 2011 to 2013 but left for the Chicago Bears in free agency. The first-string center on the Saints at the moment is Tim Lelito, who started two games in 2013 as a rookie at guard in place of an injured Jahri Evans. The Saints have said he would be given the chance to win the starting job at that position in camp but would have competition either from an NFL free agent or player coming out of college.
+Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska (2-3)*
-The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jean-Baptiste has second- to third-round projections after tying for the most interceptions on the Cornhuskers with four and leading his team in pass breakups with 12. The Second-Team All-Big Ten selection had the best vertical jump (41.5 inches) at this year’s combine and has drawn comparisons to the Patriots’ Brandon Browner.
+Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood (2-3)*
-The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Desir spent two seasons each at Washburn (2009-10) and Lindenwood (2012-13), both schools that compete in NCAA Division II’s Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. By the time his career was over, he was the MIAA’s all-time leader in passes broken up with 52 and was No. 2 in career interceptions with 25.
He won an award recognizing him as the best small-school defensive player in the country last year. He then logged the combine’s best broad jump (11 feet, 1 inch), cementing him as a dominant small-school player who many believe has what it takes to contribute and succeed in the NFL.
–The Saints made plans to have dinner with LSU receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry after their on-campus pro days earlier in April. Beckham is a consensus first-round pick, and Landry could go anywhere between the early second and fourth rounds.
–At LSU’s Pro Day, other first- to third-round prospects the Saints got a close look at were defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, running back Jeremy Hill and quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
–The Saints reportedly attended Towson University’s Pro Day in Maryland and got a close peek at the school’s highest profile draft prospect, running back Terrance West. The 5-foot-9, 225-pound West set Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) records for rushing yards (2,509) and rushing touchdowns (41) to help Towson reach the national title game last year, and he could be taken in the third round.
–Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt and defensive line coach Bill Johnson reportedly attended Louisiana Tech’s Pro Day to watch defensive tackle Justin Ellis, a third-round prospect, work out.