The wild lead-up to the NFL draft could be setting a more favorable table for the New Orleans Saints.
With the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles trading up for the first two picks, it seems safe to assume that California quarterback Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz will be the first players selected Thursday night.
It always seemed safe to presume those players would be selected before the Saints come on the clock at the 12th pick. What those trades might have changed is which players are selected next.
Before the Rams and Eagles jumped up the board, there was a chance that Wentz or Goff would slip to other quarterback-needy teams, like the San Francisco 49ers or the Eagles, who previously picked eighth. The Browns now have that pick — and could also be in the market for a quarterback.
What that means is if one of the teams picking before the Saints feels like it has to select a quarterback, it could pull Paxton Lynch into the top of the draft. And considering New Orleans has met with the former Memphis standout three times during the predraft process, if some team feels like it has to get Lynch, it might feel the need to jump the Saints to land their guy.
This is all very good news for New Orleans, especially if it has been bluffing about Lynch and is instead interested in drafting a defensive player in the first round. Why? Each time an offensive player is selected, it pushes a defensive player closer to the 12th pick.
It’s unlikely everything breaks in New Orleans’ favor and it walks out of the draft with one of the top defensive players — Ohio State pass rusher Joey Bosa, Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack — but the possibility of one of those guys slipping is greater than it was a week ago.
While wildly optimistic and bordering on insanity, there’s a scenario where it’s now at least a tiny bit feasible for one of those guys to fall into the Saints’ lap.
How could that happen? Glad you asked. Let’s walk through it.
It seems safe to assume Goff, Wentz, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley will go within the first 11 picks.
If Lynch and Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott sneak in there, that’s seven guys off the board. All the Saints would need is one surprise pick — Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin or a wide receiver — to push one of Bosa, Buckner or Jack down to them.
How likely is this to happen? Slim. Very slim. I’d bet against it happening. The more likely best-case scenario is that one of those guys slips far enough for the Saints to be able to affordably trade up to nab one, if it so chooses.
Opinions on where Lynch and Elliott are projected to be drafted are wildly varied. Same goes for Lynch. Some people have him going seventh to San Francisco, while others have him dropping to the bottom half of the first round.
Chances are that Bosa, Buckner and Jack are all gone by the 10th pick, and the Saints will be left choosing from the names that everyone has been discussing for months if they stay put. If someone slips, the better bet is that it will be someone like Hargreaves, who could be enticing to New Orleans.
But if teams are scared off by Jack’s knee and New Orleans is one of the teams comfortable with it, maybe things are setting up for an unexpected slide. Again, it’s unlikely, but the odds of that happening are better than they were a few weeks ago.
So, to some degree, things are working in New Orleans’ favor. Things that seemed wildly outlandish to consider April 1 are now merely crazy.
Unexpected things happen in the draft every year. It probably won’t lead to New Orleans getting a huge payoff. But if the goal is to get the best defensive player available, the environment for that to happen could now be more favorable.
That’s better than the alternative.