By the time draft day arrives, hundreds of mock drafts have been released, and the best might get only nine picks right. Rather than trying to predict the whims of 32 teams, Advocate sportswriters Nick Underhill and Joel A. Erickson decided to play the role of the Saints’ top two decision-makers instead, reacting in the moment to the options given them at each selection by a mock draft simulator. With that in mind, here’s a look at the options the Saints might be facing in the first three rounds.
1. Los Angeles Rams: QB Jared Goff; 2. Philadelphia Eagles: QB Carson Wentz; 3. San Diego Chargers: DB Jalen Ramsey; 4. Dallas Cowboys: RB Ezekiel Elliott; 5. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Joey Bosa; 6. Baltimore Ravens: LB Myles Jack; 7. San Francisco 49ers: DE DeForest Buckner; 8. Cleveland Browns: OT Laremy Tunsil; 9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DT A’Shawn Robinson; 10. New York Giants: OT Ronnie Stanley; 11. Chicago Bears: DE Shaq Lawson
Underhill: For the Saints, the ideal scenario would be for Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch to go in the top 10 and push an elite defensive player down. But in this scenario, Bosa, Buckner and Jack are all gone. That means we have to have a discussion about Lynch. The Saints have met with him a number of times. It might be a smokescreen. It also might be serious.
Erickson: For me, taking a quarterback this high anoints him as Drew Brees’ successor, and that means he has to be a sure thing. Without the Saints’ scouting report on my desk, I’ll have to go with what I’ve read: Lynch has a lot of tools but is far from a finished product.
Underhill: Brees is 37. The end is closer than the beginning. If the Saints think Lynch is their next franchise quarterback, then I’d have no issue with them pulling the trigger, but they have to be absolutely positive he’s the guy. I’m not ready to stand on a table for Lynch, so I’m open to going in another direction.
Erickson: We’ve got options. Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins might be the draft’s best interior pass rusher; Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves is considered a top-10 talent; a segment of the fan base loves Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.
Underhill: To me, the best player available is probably Hargreaves, and then Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence. Spence might not be an option this high due to drug issues when he was at Ohio State. New Orleans nearly signed former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, but I don’t think it’s a sign of dire need the Saints would have to fill with Hargreaves. That was more the result of trying to capitalize on an unexpected opportunity. Rankins is intriguing. He would give the Saints needed interior pass rush and a future at three-technique defensive tackle after Nick Fairley’s one-year deal expires. All anyone has to do is watch the Super Bowl to see how valuable an interior rush can prove to be.
Erickson: The argument for taking Hargreaves here is that a team can never have enough good corners; the Saints are already at least five deep at the position, led by Delvin Breaux and Keenan Lewis. Rankins, on the other hand, provides something the defense has been sorely lacking.
Underhill: Let’s go Rankins. While I generally support taking the best player available, I don’t think the gap here is large enough to trump need.
13. Miami Dolphins: CB Vernon Hargreaves; 14. Oakland Raiders: CB Eli Apple; 15. Tennessee Titans: OT Jack Conklin; 16. Detroit Lions: DT Kenny Clark; 17. Atlanta Falcons: DT Robert Nkemdiche; 18. Indianapolis Colts: DT Andrew Billings; 19. Buffalo Bills: OLB Darron Lee; 20. New York Jets: QB Paxton Lynch; 21. Washington Redskins: DE Chris Jones; 22. Houston Texans: Reggie Ragland; 23. Minnesota Vikings: OG Cody Whitehair; 24. Cincinnati Bengals: WR LaQuon Treadwell; 25. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Mackensie Alexander; 26. Seattle Seahawks: OT Germain Ifedi; 27. Green Bay Packers: DT Jarran Reed; 28. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Taylor Decker; 29. Arizona Cardinals: DE Noah Spence; 30. Carolina Panthers: WR Corey Coleman; 31. Denver Broncos: CB William Jackson III
32. Cleveland Browns: QB Connor Cook; 33. Tennessee Titans: DE Kevin Dodd; 34. Dallas Cowboys: DT Vernon Butler; 35. San Diego Chargers: DE Emmanuel Ogbah; 36. Baltimore Ravens: OT Jason Spriggs; 37. San Francisco 49ers: CB Kendall Fuller; 38. Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Leonard Floyd; 39. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Jonathan Bullard; 40. New York Giants: S Keanu Neal; 41. Chicago Bears: S Darian Thompson; 42. Miami Dolphins: OT Le’Raven Clark; 43. Tennessee Titans: WR Will Fuller; 44. Oakland Raiders: CB Artie Burns; 45. Tennessee Titans: CB Sean Davis; 46. Detroit Lions: WR Josh Doctson
Underhill: I’m ready to stand on a table for Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas. The Saints need to add someone behind Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman. I think there was some artificial inflation in the passing statistics last year. The offense never came off the field, and the Saints played some arcade games like the 52-49 shootout against the New York Giants. This is an offense that was held under 275 passing yards by the Buccaneers, Colts, Washington, Texans and Panthers.
Erickson: A run on edge rushers and defensive backs has taken away a lot of our other options. Thomas represents good value at this spot. What about USC cover linebacker Su’a Cravens or a guard to replace Jahri Evans?
Underhill: I’d consider Cravens, and I think we can get a guard in the third round, but I’ll admit to being biased toward Thomas. New Orleans has been looking for a deep threat for quite a while. That’s why Joe Morgan and T.J. Graham were given plenty of opportunities in the offense last season. Thomas can fill that role, plus he can run every other route on the tree. New tight end Coby Fleener demands safety attention with his speed, and if C.J. Spiller returns to form, Thomas’s presence as a deep threat makes this offense very difficult to defend.
Erickson: Call Chicago. Send in the card for Thomas.
48. Indianapolis Colts: DE Bronson Kaufusi; 49. Buffalo Bills: DE Shilique Calhoun; 50. Atlanta Falcons: OT Shon Coleman; 51. New York Jets: LB Kamalei Correa; 52. Houston Texans: C Ryan Kelly; 53. Washington Redskins: RB Derrick Henry; 54. Minnesota Vikings: WR Rashard Higgins; 55. Cincinnati Bengals: S Vonn Bell; 56. Seattle Seahawks: RB Jordan Howard; 57. Green Bay Packers: TE Hunter Henry; 58. Pittsburgh Steelers: S Karl Joseph; 59. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Tyler Boyd; 60. New England Patriots: CB Xavien Howard; 61. New England Patriots: WR Sterling Shepard; 62. Carolina Panthers: OT Jerald Hawkins; 63. Denver Broncos: QB Christian Hackenberg
64. Tennessee Titans: DT Austin Johnson; 65. Cleveland Browns: DE Carl Nassib; 66. San Diego Chargers: LB Su’a Cravens; 67. Dallas Cowboys: LB Kyler Fackrell; 68. San Francisco 49ers: LB Kentrell Brothers; 69. Jacksonville Jaguars: S T.J. Green; 70. Baltimore Ravens: S Jalen Mills; 71. New York Giants: RB Devontae Booker; 72. Chicago Bears: DE Charles Tapper; 73. Miami Dolphins: RB Kenneth Dixon; 74. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LB Deion Jones; 75. Oakland Raiders: RB C.J. Prosise; 76. Tennessee Titans: RB Paul Perkins; 77. Cleveland Browns: WR Braxton Miller
Erickson: You were right about the guards. Linebackers, edge rushers and secondary help have all been picked pretty clean by the rest of the league, but the options are wide-open at guard.
Underhill: Stanford’s Joshua Garnett is my top choice. I watched about a dozen of his games. He gave up about one pressure per game, and as a bonus, he has chemistry with Andrus Peat, last year’s first-round pick. I don’t think the Saints can go into the season with Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete locked in as the starters at guard. They need to compete for those jobs.
Erickson: Garnett’s a favorite of mine, too. Teammates at the Senior Bowl told me he’s got a nasty streak, and that’s the kind of attitude that can help the Saints’ running game. I’d love to throw out more options here, but the way the board fell is begging us to take a guard.
Underhill: Lock it in. We still have three more picks to address the defense (in rounds four through seven Saturday).
79. Philadelphia Eagles: DT Sheldon Day; 80. Buffalo Bills: OT Willie Beavers; 81. Atlanta Falcons: G Christian Westerman; 82. Indianapolis Colts: OT Caleb Benenoch; 83. New York Jets: G Isaac Seumalo; 84. Washington Redskins: C Nick Martin; 85. Houston Texans: LB Joshua Perry; 86. Minnesota Vikings: S Justin Simmons; 87. Cincinnati Bengals: LB Tyler Matakevich; 88. Green Bay Packers: LB B.J. Goodson; 89. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Pharoh Cooper; 90. Seattle Seahawks CB Ryan Smith; New England Patriots: 91. DE Dean Lowry; 92. Arizona Cardinals: G Joe Dahl; 93. Carolina Panthers: CB Will Redmond; 94. Denver Broncos: OT Kyle Murphy; 95. Detroit Lions: S Miles Killebrew; 96. New England Patriots: RB Kenyan Drake; 97. Seattle Seahawks: DT Hassan Ridgeway; 98. Denver Broncos: TE Austin Hooper.