[Editor’s Note: Version 1.0 below originally published on February 22]
The New Orleans Saints were a favorite to go the distance in the 2019 NFL post-season, and earn a second Super Bowl ring under Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Instead, they fell in the wild card round at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings, and now, they must do what they can, with limited resources, to extend their championship window at least another year. With this 7-round mock draft, the Saints can maximize the five selections they still possess and continue to compete in 2020.
The Saints are an interesting team. They’re well-equipped to maintain their playoff contender status in 2020, but with several aging assets and contracts due to expire in the near future, a major transition could soon be in store for New Orleans.
Below, the primary and secondary needs for the Saints have been laid out. With a limited selection of draft assets, the Saints need to be strategic in their 7-round mock draft. Some positions of need will be set aside for the time being, as the team looks to find a way to best balance their current contention window and their approaching reset.
- Cornerback: Marshon Lattimore is the only starter set to return for the Saints at cornerback. Eli Apple is a free agent, and while he could be brought back, depending on his asking price, the Saints still need more depth and starting potential there.
- Wide Receiver: It’s essential to have a diverse allotment of wide receivers in today’s NFL, and the Saints currently… don’t. Michael Thomas is one of the best pass-catchers in the league, and Tre’Quan Smith is solid rotational depth, but there’s no one behind them to warrant confidence in increased roles. Addressing this position not only helps Brees in 2020 but sets up a solid supporting cast for his eventual successor at quarterback.
- Offensive Guard: The Saints risk losing starting left guard Andrus Peat in free agency this year; the Pro Bowl guard should command a hefty payday, which the Saints likely won’t be able to match, given their desire to lock down Drew Brees for another year. If Peat leaves, the Saints need a new starter, and their development history indicates that they could look to the 2020 NFL Draft.
- Linebacker: Demario Davis is legit, but the Saints are hurting around him. With players both aging and returning from injuries that may dilute their upside, the Saints can afford to add talent on the second level.
- Quarterback: Drew Brees and the Saints appear to be motivated to renew their marriage for one more fateful season. Brees was one of the most efficient passers in the NFL last season, and while the Saints need to have a transition plan in place, they might be able to wait until 2021 to use draft capital on a signal-caller.
- Tight End: Jared Cook is playing like he’s ten years younger, but the Saints can’t let that fool them in the long-term picture. Adding a young, developmental weapon to groom for a year or two isn’t a bad idea.
- Safety: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a catch (no surprise there), and Marcus Williams still has untapped playmaking potential to capitalize on. The Saints have their starters at safety, but they can add depth there if they have the resources to do so.
With these needs in mind, let’s tackle the Saints 7-round mock draft!
New Orleans Saints 7-round mock draft
Round 1, Pick 24: Laviska Shenault, WR Colorado
If the Saints can’t get a quarterback for the future with their five selections in the 2020 NFL Draft, the least they can do is work to make the job easier for the rookie quarterback they’re sure to acquire in 2021.
Laviska Shenault projects well as a weapon at the next level, and his profile matches the Saints’ needs. The Saints are ultimately short-staffed at wide receiver, but they have enough competent options, such as Michael Thomas and TreQuan Smith, to allow a lesser-developed prospect like Shenault to learn on the job.
The future yields from that kind of setup could ultimately facilitate a steady transition into the next era for the Saints. Shenault is raw, but he’s an electric athlete after the catch with flashes of elite burst, contact balance, and physicality. For Sean Payton’s offense, he would provide that coveted versatility, with the foundation to develop into a dangerous weapon opposite the defending receptions leader.
Other picks considered: LB Kenneth Murray, CB Jeff Gladney, OL Lloyd Cushenberry, QB Jacob Eason
Round 3, Pick 88: Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB Appalachian State
The Saints have an All-Pro player in Demario Davis at linebacker, but aside from him, the position is relatively uninspiring. Craig Robertson is 32 and clearly on the decline. Alex Anzalone is coming off a season-ending injury and might not be able to reprise his starting role from 2018. All other options present provide depth, but little starting utility. The Saints could use a young linebacker with the athletic upside to adopt a premier role, and that’s the kind of prospect Akeem Davis-Gaither is.
Davis-Gaither was one of the most productive linebackers in the NCAA last season, accumulating 101 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, an interception, and eight pass deflections in fourteen games. Davis-Gaither is a fluid mover with a 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame, which he should be able to add healthy weight to in the NFL. Once he adds more power to his game, Davis-Gaither has the movement freedom, instincts, and the motor to be a complete, quality starter, at the very least.
Other picks considered: OL Nick Harris, TE Brycen Hopkins, CB Michael Ojemudia, QB Jalen Hurts
Round 4, Pick 127: Jonah Jackson, OG Ohio State
The Saints are a bit strapped in terms of cap resources, so there’s no guarantee starting guard Andrus Peat returns in 2020. If Peat ultimately leaves in free agency, then the Saints need a new starter at left guard, and at the very least, they need depth to compensate for the uncertainty on the line.
Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson provides a great deal of utility in this sense, as he can function as high-level depth right away with his floor, as well as serve as an early starter with his combination of size, nuance, and heavy-handedness. The Saints have been proficient at developing offensive linemen early with Ryan Ramczyk and Erik McCoy, and Jackson has a chance to carry on that trend.
Round 5, Pick 169: AJ Green, CB Oklahoma State
Ideally, with just one surefire starter returning to the cornerback group in 2020, the New Orleans Saints would like to add a cornerback earlier in this 7-round mock draft. But sometimes, it just doesn’t play out that way. With only five picks, the Saints have to make some choices, and that could involve pushing back primary needs in favor of heightened value.
Still, in Round 5, Oklahoma State’s AJ Green, not formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, provides a good amount of upside. He has a 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame, and while he’s not long for his frame, he’s a fluid mover with good closing speed, and if he can add power to his game, he can pack a punch at the line of scrimmage, and develop into a potential starter.
Round 6, Pick 203: Jeff Thomas, WR Miami
The Saints would be best-served to try and recoup a late-round pick or two, to add depth in other areas, because with just five selections, making the final pick becomes a surprisingly challenging and subjective endeavor.
This pick, in particular, came down to Miami WR Jeff Thomas, LSU TE Stephen Sullivan, and UCLA TE Devin Asiasi. The Saints should look into adding a tight end with upside, as Jared Cook turns 33 years old in April. But given the Saints’ relatively low usage of tight ends in 2019, I prioritized adding more depth and dynamic ability at wide receiver instead.
With Ted Ginn Jr. unlikely to be retained by the Saints, adding more sheer speed and explosiveness to the offense is imperative, and this late, few players give better value than Miami’s Jeff Thomas. Thomas’ collegiate production will scare some people away. Still, in an inconsistent Miami offense, Thomas managed to flash his breakaway speed in open field, as well as his impressive lateral quickness at the line of scrimmage. He’s an excellent complementary option this late, with the potential to provide rotational value across the field.
New Orleans Saints 7-round mock draft recap
The Saints 7-round mock draft concludes a round early! Let’s take a look at the returns, in regards to the team’s top needs. None of the Saints’ secondary needs were addressed, most notably quarterback. Aside from Cole McDonald (whom I already mocked to the Buccaneers), I didn’t like the options that the mid-to-late rounds had to offer. In 2021, the Saints will have another opportunity to nab their franchise quarterback of the future, and they’ll have much more flexibility as well.
- CB: Oklahoma State CB AJ Green
- WR: Colorado WR Laviska Shenault, Miami WR Jeff Thomas
- OG: Ohio State OG Jonah Jackson
- LB: Appalachian State LB Akeem Davis-Gaither