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.