This week, with the NFL Draft starting Thursday night, I thought it would be fun to ask three of my friends who used to run teams’ drafts to tell me how they’d approach the draft for one specific team. I asked them to look at the Saints, who are in an interesting position with plenty of needs and decent draft capital. After we led off the week with former Jets Director of College Scouting Jeff Bauer Tuesday, we continue with former Giants and Bears executive Greg Gabriel.
Before we even begin to look at what the Saints do, let’s look at the draft as a whole. I have been involved in the NFL Draft as a scout, scouting director, consultant or media member going back 40 years to 1982. I can honestly say that this is one of the most unique drafts I have ever seen. Why unique? Because there is no consensus anywhere in the draft, from the first pick on down.
We could go through every position and probably none of the 32 clubs would agree on even the order of the top five players in each group. I talk to people in the league daily and this is the one thing that stands out. Though it’s impossible, it would be fun to get the 32 NFL clubs to give us their top 32 players in order. I guarantee there would be about 42-45 different names, and it would be hilarious seeing the difference in how players are rated. That’s what makes the evaluation business so unique. We also have to look at the fact that each club has a different view as to what they look for at each position.
In my estimation, the Saints need to come away with a tackle, wide receiver and quarterback with their first three picks.
The Saints are in a good situation with two picks in the middle of the first (Nos. 16 and 19) and a pick in the middle of the second round (No. 49). In my opinion, after losing OT Terron Armstead in free agency, they have to select a left tackle early, i.e., either at 16 or 19. The first round-caliber offensive tackles are very good, led by Alabama’s Evan Neal and NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu. The others well worth being selected in the first round are Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning and Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann. Neal, Ekwonu and Cross will all be gone by the time the Saints pick at 16, but there is a chance Penning could still be there. If it was me, and Penning was available, it wouldn’t take me long to get the card turned in. Of course, it’s no sure thing Penning is available and the Saints may want to trade up a few slots to assure themselves of getting him. That scenario would be discussed in pre-draft meetings this week.
If Penning is gone, 16 may be a bit too high for Raimann, but 19 would be ideal. If that’s the case, what do the Saints do at 16? Well, wide receiver is also a need. The Saints have a great receiver in oft-injured Michael Thomas and a solid compliment in Tre’Quan Smith. What they don’t have is a receiver who can take the top off the defense, and this draft has several receivers who can do that. Many should be available at 16.
One of the top names is Alabama’s Jameson Williams, who is the “burner”-type receiver the Saints need. The problem with Williams is he’s coming off ACL surgery and probably won’t be ready to play until midseason at best. Do the Saints pull the trigger on Williams, knowing he will miss time? That is a decision that only GM Mickey Loomis can make. Luckily for the Saints, there are other speed receivers in this draft that could be there in the middle of the first round. They include two from Ohio State in Chris Olave, who is a 4.38 guy, and teammate Garrett Wilson, who has similar speed. The other speed receiver who could be available at that point of the draft is Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, a 4.43 guy. Any of these three would upgrade the Saints’ receiver corps dramatically.
The quarterback position is also a question mark. With future hall of fame Drew Brees retired, Jameis Winston is the heir apparent, but is Jameis really the guy? The Saints signed former Bear, Cowboy and Bengal Andy Dalton during free agency, but at this point of his career, Dalton is an ideal backup, not a starter.
The quarterback class in 2022 is not ideal. There are some good players, but no prospects like last year, when five quarterbacks were drafted in the top 15 picks. This year, like at every other position, there is no consensus No. 1 QB. Some may say the best quarterback prospect is Liberty’s Malik Willis, while others may say it’s Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and others Ole Miss’s Matt Corral or Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder. When there is no consensus, it’s hard to know who’s right. We won’t know the answer for several years, but each GM selecting a QB hopes that he got the right one, obviously.
While it may be risky for the Saints to select a QB in the opening round, it’s not out of the question. As I write this, the chances are very good that only one QB will be selected before the Saints pick at 16. The big question is, how highly rated are the top QBs in the eyes of Assistant GM Jeff Ireland and his staff? Is there one worthy of being selected in the middle of the first round?
If the Saints do in fact select a quarterback, and, say, an offensive tackle with their other first round pick, they could easily get a very good speed receiver in the second round. Burners like Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce, Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore, Memphis’ Calvin Austin and South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert may still be available come pick No. 49.
One thing is certain: regardless of what direction the Saints decided to go, it will make for drama and a fun viewing Thursday and Friday night.