The Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be swinging for the fences in 2020, but it’s not up to them who takes home the NFC South crown. The New Orleans Saints have been the division champions for three consecutive years, effectively establishing themselves as gatekeepers. Anyone who wants to win the NFC South has to go through the Saints, and with this updated 7-round mock draft, Sean Payton and company can make that task even more challenging.
In our pre-free agency New Orleans Saints 7-round mock draft that can be found on page 2 below, we listed the Saints’ team needs in the following arrangement:
Pre-Free Agency Primary Needs: CB, WR, OG, LB
Pre-Free Agency Secondary Needs: QB, TE, S
Free agency always changes things for teams, and for New Orleans, it was no different. The Saints could still use help at cornerback and linebacker on defense. But on offense, they managed to solidify projected holes at wide receiver and offensive guard by signing veteran Emmanuel Sanders and re-signing Pro Bowl guard Andrus Peat.
As for secondary needs, the Saints lost Teddy Bridgewater to the Carolina Panthers, a concession which places an added emphasis on the need to find a successor for Drew Brees, who is taking things year-by-year and could retire after 2020. They could also use more youth at tight end, where long-time veterans Jared Cook and Josh Hill are carrying the baton. At safety, the Saints did bring back three-time Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins, and with just five selections, Jenkins’ presence could be enough for them to table that position.
With all this in mind, here’s a look at how the Saints’ needs stack up after the developments of free agency.
Post-Free Agency Primary Needs: CB, LB
Post-Free Agency Secondary Needs: QB, TE, WR
Five needs, five picks. Can we cover each one? Let’s get to business!
Round 1, Pick 24: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Look, I love Taysom Hill as much as the next guy, but it’s still a little early to view him as the unequivocal successor to Brees in New Orleans. Yes, the Saints made it a priority to retain him, and yes, he’s a stellar athlete with remarkable competitive toughness. But there’s a lot more that goes into the quarterback position, and while he could theoretically still learn, he turns 30 years old in August. The Saints may benefit more from adding an asset with long-term viability at the quarterback position.
That’s why, if Jordan Love drops to them at #24, as he did in this simulation, they can’t hesitate to pick him. It’s possible that one of the top quarterbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft could slip on draft day, and Love, with his polarizing production profile, best fits that prediction. Because Brees is back for 2020, the Saints aren’t in a position where they need to trade up, but if the board plays out to their advantage, they can’t pass up the opportunity to capitalize.
The Patriots are a significant barrier at #23, as our draft department has noted. Still, as the simulation shows, anything is possible, and New England could ultimately roll with an in-house option, leaving Love to fall to New Orleans.
Love’s production, as mentioned earlier, will raise some red flags, as his passing efficiency significantly decreased from 2018 to 2019. That said, Love has all the traits a franchise quarterback needs in the modern NFL: Functional athleticism, arm talent, leadership ability, and a willingness to take the chance.
Love responded positively to his mistakes when pressed at the NFL Combine, calling each interception an opportunity to learn. That’s a mentality that would thrive under Payton’s tutelage in New Orleans, and if Payton wants to extend his Super Bowl window past the tenure of Brees, picking Love is one of the few moves that make sense.
Other picks considered: CB Jeff Gladney, LB Patrick Queen, CB Noah Igbinoghene
Round 3, Pick 88: Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
The Saints declined to retain cornerback Eli Apple in free agency. It was a move bred out of his lacking production in 2019, but it only compounds the need for more starting utility at cornerback in the 2020 season.
Luckily for New Orleans, the 2020 NFL Draft is full of upper-echelon cornerback prospects, but their third-round pick is awkwardly situated, in this sense. Most of the long, athletic cornerbacks in the top-tier were gone at this point, but Virginia’s Bryce Hall was the saving grace.
Hall isn’t as athletic as some of the top cornerbacks in the class, but he compensates for what he lacks athletically with excellent length, play urgency, and physicality. He’s also very fluid and mechanically sound with his feet and lower body technique, and he uses these traits to minimize ground lost at the line. Hall’s instincts and ability in press coverage will allow him to take on a starting role early with the Saints.
Other picks considered: LB Troy Dye, TE Brycen Hopkins, CB Michael Ojemudia
Round 4, Pick 130: Davion Taylor, LB, Colorado
The Saints made sure they were able to retain a good core of veterans at linebacker, thus limiting the immediacy of their need at the position. That said, the team is still sorely lacking talent outside of Demario Davis, and they could use more youth to develop in the coming years. One linebacker who provides starting upside at this point in the draft is Colorado’s Davion Taylor.
Taylor, standing at around 6-foot-0, 230, is a pure upside pick for the Saints at this stage, as he shows noticeable room for improvement with his instincts and reactionary quickness on tape. With that being said, Taylor has serious jets (4.39 at his Pro Day), and he brings aggression and physicality to the field. He has the playmaking ability to provide immediate utility as a rotational linebacker.
While he may never develop enough to take on a pure MIKE role, the Saints have a good group of veterans to lead him along, with decorated players like Craig Robertson, Kiko Alonso, and the aforementioned Davis in the building.
Round 5, Pick 169: Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty
The Saints gave themselves flexibility at the wide receiver position by signing Sanders in free agency, but they could still do more to improve the position, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Behind the supposed starting trio of Sanders, Michael Thomas, and Tre’Quan Smith, there exists a prevailing need for depth and young upside. At this juncture, Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden is a player who can provide what they seek.
Gandy-Golden’s 4.6 40-yard dash time from the NFL Combine is sure to sour some teams on his potential. However, the Liberty product still brings high upside with his vertical receiving ability, his twitchiness as a route runner, and his agility in the open field after the catch. He brings great flexibility for his 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame, and he has the traits to be a lock at the catch point. The Saints, who saw past Michael Thomas’ 40-time in 2016, know how valuable that can be.
Round 6, Pick 203: Sewo Olonilua, RB, TCU
It’s not necessarily a team need, but the Saints do need to think about potential turnover at the running back position in the future. Alvin Kamara is set to be a free agent in 2021 and will command a large contract, and Latavius Murray turned 30 years old earlier this offseason. The Saints, at the very least, should add a running back with solid all-around utility, and this late in the draft, TCU’s Sewo Olonilua is a good selection.
Olonilua is a bit of a projection, as he can still improve as a pass blocker and add a more creational aspect to his game as a runner, but he offers good physical traits. He’s not a burner by any stretch of the imagination, but he has solid vision, very good burst and acceleration in the open field, and an imposing 6-foot-3, 232-pound frame.
Olonilua also offers a good amount of ability as a pass-catcher, and he’s been working with renowned trainer Rischad Whitfield to maximize his physical traits and his quickness ahead of his transition to the next level. He’s a running back that brings a lot of tools to the table, and that’s something the Saints should be looking to invest in.
New Orleans Saints 7-round mock draft recap
That’s a wrap on the Saints mock 2.0! Let’s take a look at how New Orleans was able to supplement their areas of need with the draft capital available. The only need that wasn’t addressed was tight end. It could have been addressed with the sixth-round selection, but at that point, the value didn’t seem satisfactory, relative to the potential gains at other positions. Here’s a breakdown of the additions:
- CB: Virginia CB Bryce Hall
- LB: Colorado LB Davion Taylor
- QB: Utah State QB Jordan Love
- WR: Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden
- RB: TCU RB Sewo Olonilua