While the 2016 season is far from over, the 2017 NFL Draft is already on the front-burner for fan bases of certain NFL teams. The New Orleans Saints’ season is not over, but their chances of making the postseason are slim.
The Saints are an extremely interesting team. Drew Brees continues to lead one of the premier offensive attacks in football. His stable of receivers led by Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead is elite and Mark Ingram paces an impressive rushing attack as well.
As great as the Saints offensive attack is, though, their defense continues to hold them back. The Saints defense has performed better in recent weeks and that’s encouraging for the future. However, they still lack impact talent on that side of the ball. I do not expect the Saints to ignore their offense in the 2017 NFL Draft. However, adding potential impact defenders has to be their priority if they want to compete in the NFC South going forward.
If New Orleans does not figure out their defensive woes soon, they are going to waste the end of Brees’ career. Let’s see what a strong plan of attack would look like for the Saints in the 2017 NFL Draft with this complete seven-round mock draft.
This mock draft was completed using the FanSpeak On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator.
With the 11th-overall selection in this mock draft, I had one strategy for the Saints. Simply grab the best defensive player on the board, regardless of position. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Jamal Adams were also under consideration here, but Jabrill Peppers was the best overall player available.
Peppers is an absolute freak athlete who shows a wide-range of impressive skills on the field. He is a linebacker/safety hybrid who has also shown some ability to succeed at the cornerback position. While there is much debate about which position Peppers will play at the NFL level, he is simply a great football player. Peppers is an extremely fast, quick and athletic playmaker who excels both against the run and in pass coverage.
He shows the ability to handle tough matchups at tight end and in the slot while also flying around the field and making plays against the run. This guy is a true defensive playmaker who will have an impact no matter where his NFL team lines him up.
On top of that, Peppers is an elite-level kick/punt returner. He has the natural ability to make defenders miss and take it to the house from anywhere on the field. Peppers is a quick and elusive runner who also has legitimate game-breaking speed. Michigan also used Peppers in an offensive role. Typically lined up as a running back or wildcat quarterback, Peppers was a game-breaking athlete for the Wolverines in his limited offensive opportunities as well.
Those offensive opportunities only expect to become more limited at the next level, but there would not be a better team to take advantage of Peppers’ athleticism on offense than the Saints. A true weapon in all faucets of the game, Peppers can be a significant weapon at the next level. The Saints would be wise to consider him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The quickest and most efficient way to build a defense is by starting up front. Having dominant run defenders and productive pass rushers on the defensive line makes life easier on rest of the defense. With that in mind, Vita Vea seemed like a strong fit for the Saints in round two.
At 6-5, 332 pounds, Vea is an absolute force in the middle of the Washington defense. He is an extremely strong and powerful man who can single-handedly shut down the inside running game. Vea rarely gets moved backward at the point of attack and does an incredible job of crashing in and making plays.
While Vea is an elite run-stuffing defensive tackle, he is not just a big guy who cannot move. Vea moves extremely well for a man of his size, showing incredible explosiveness off of the snap and great athleticism and quickness. He can be a two-gap defensive tackle who simply clogs up the middle of the field, but Vea undoubtedly has the athleticism to shoot the gaps and make plays in the backfield as well.
An incredible run defender who can also generate a pass rush, Vea has big-time upside at the next level. Add him to the mix with Sheldon Rankins and Cameron Jordan, and the Saints all of a sudden have a strong corps of defensive linemen to build their defense around.
The 2017 NFL Draft class is absolutely loaded with talent at the cornerback position. While cornerback is undoubtedly a position of need for the Saints, I felt as if I could wait a bit on them, knowing there would be value to be had later. Here in the third round, I found that great value in the form of Ohio State’s Gareon Conley.
Conley is an extremely long, aggressive and fast player at the cornerback position. He shows high-level coverage skills on the field, seemingly never allowing his receiver an opportunity to make a play on the ball. He shows great natural instincts in coverage, sticking to his man on every snap. Conley is an extremely aware player who seems to know what the wide receiver is going to do before he does it.
Conley’s coverage ability is what is going to make him a strong NFL player, but his ability to hold the edge against the run is impressive as well. There are many times on tape where Conley squeezes down without a receiver on his side, maintains outside coverage and makes a play on a running back or wide receiver trying to get to the outside. A tough and willing run defender, that part of his game is a major plus.
His average ball skills and slight frame are a bit of a concern, but the positives heavily outweigh the negatives here. Conley is an impressive coverage corner who has major upside at the next level. Finding him in the third round of the draft would be incredible value for the Saints.
The Saints continue to address their defensive issues in the fourth-round, taking an extremely interesting defensive line prospect from the ultimate blue blood program in college football.
An extremely talented prospect out of high school, Da’Shawn Hand committed to Alabama after being named the top recruit in the entire 2014 class, according to Rivals.com. Hand was an extremely gifted defensive lineman showing an elite-level combination of power and athleticism up front.
Rivals had Hand ranked ahead of college football stars like Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers and Leonard Fournette. He appeared to have an incredible future at Alabama ahead of him. Unfortunately, Hand has never been a consistent impact player for Alabama. Nick Saban has had Alabama loaded with talent all over the field in recent years, with defensive line being the most obvious case of that. Hand has had up-and-down playing time the last three years, sitting behind future NFL stars.
That being said, when given an opportunity, Hand has routinely shined. He was fantastic in the National Championship against Clemson last year and has made the most out of his opportunity at advanced playing time this season.
Hand is an extremely strong and powerful defensive lineman who is an elite-level run defender in the making. He is probably best suited on the inside, but could certainly play defensive end as a run stopper on early downs. Getting talent up front helps the entire defense and Hand is a talented defensive lineman with massive upside.
After trading away their 2017 fifth-round selection to the Washington Redskins in a trade-up scenario last year, we skip ahead to the Saints’ sixth-round selection. After loading up on some much-needed defensive help in the first four rounds, we finally find an offensive prospect for the Saints here.
Drew Brees is still playing at an extremely high level in New Orleans, but at 37-years-old, who knows how much longer that will last. The Saints need to start thinking about life after Brees. They did draft quarterback Garrett Grayson in the third-round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but he has not seemed to grow into much at this point.
You never expect a sixth-round quarterback to be an NFL star, but it does not hurt to take a shot. With this selection, I like the Saints taking a chance on Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush. Rush does not have eye-popping numbers that will allow him to fly up draft boards. But he is a proven winner who shows great awareness on the field, is a strong leader and an incredibly tough player.
He does not show an incredibly strong throwing arm, but Rush is an accurate passer who shows nice touch on his throws. He is a smart player who always seems to make the right decision and is not afraid to sit in the pocket and take a shot if necessary.
Rush would not be drafted as Brees’ eventual replacement, but he is a solid player who could be a strong back-up for the team down the line. Plus, you never know what can happen. Rush has elite-level intangibles that should translate extremely well to the next level. Here in the sixth-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there is not any risk involved.
The Saints have a pretty strong situation at the running back position. Mark Ingram is playing at a high-level and so is Tim Hightower. Running back is far from an immediate need for this team, but there is not really anybody on the roster with true long-term upside.
Taking a running back early in the draft would be foolish by the Saints, but I would not mind seeing them take a late-round flyer on a talented guy. Here in the seventh-round, Baylor’s Shock Linwood stood out as the perfect flyer.
Linwood is an extremely quick and elusive back who put up some impressive numbers in college. He has legitimate game-breaking speed and can run between the tackles better than you would expect for a speed back. An explosive player who routinely makes defenders miss in open space, there is a ton of upside in Linwood’s game.
That being said, he is far from a perfect prospect. Linwood is unlikely to be a three-down back in the NFL. He simply does not have the size to take a consistent pounding at the next level. He undoubtedly has upside as a part-time player, but he is never going to be a 20+ carry a game back.
Also, there are some character concerns here. Linwood was suspended earlier in the season for “attitude issues” when Baylor’s star running back apparently pushed a grad assistant on the sideline during a game. These are the kind of things that are concerning to NFL teams and can cause a stock to plummet.
Honestly, this is a bit of a shot in the dark. If Linwood continues to have attitude problems, he is unlikely to see much of an NFL field. That being said, he has tremendous ability with the ball in his hands. Taking a shot on upside here in the seventh-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Saints find a player who can be a game-changer.
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