US Sports Veteran
The New Orleans Saints bid farewell to legendary quarterback Drew Brees this offseason. Sean Payton’s team enters its post-Brees stage without a defined course. New Orleans sold out for a Super Bowl over the past several years and came up empty-handed. It’s time to deal with the consequences and begin picking up the pieces as a new era dawns in New Orleans.
The Saints don’t have an easy path back to the postseason in 2021. Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston could split time at quarterback, and the roster is still hurting from several costly cuts because of salary cap restrictions. Payton must replace expensive veteran talent with promising rookie labor if his team wants a shot at making the playoffs.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed picks over several simulations. I didn’t create any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.
Despite picking toward the bottom of the first-round, New Orleans has options. Outside of Marshall, the Saints could have their pick of Zaven Collins, Elijah Moore, and Jayson Oweh. Injury concerns could push Caleb Farley and Jaelan Phillips into that range as well. The Saints end up with an elite prospect no matter which selection they make.
New Orleans parted ways with Jared Cook and Emmanuel Sanders this offseason. Those veterans finished second and third on the Saints in receiving yards last year as Michael Thomas battled injuries. Unless Payton plans on giving Tre’Quan Smith over 100 targets per year, his offense needs a new pass catcher.
Marshall is 6-3 and weighs 205 lbs. He had a standout pro day, running a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash and jumping 39 inches in the broad. The LSU product’s junior year production puts him in the first-round conversation. In seven appearances, Marshall recorded 731 receiving yards and ten touchdowns. LSU only had 24 passing touchdowns all season.
Marshall suffered from some concentration drops in 2020, but his rare physical traits, catch radius, and ability to generate YAC outshine any concerns.
The Saints have a strange linebacker room. Demario Davis is a star that split time between weakside and middle linebacker last year. His move to the middle could become permanent if New Orleans doesn’t replace Alex Anzalone. If the Saints transition Davis inside, Cox can step in as a plug-and-play option on the weakside.
At 6-3, 232 lbs., Cox is one of the lighter linebackers in this class. He’s a coverage specialist that transferred from North Dakota St. to LSU last year and thrived. LSU played Cox in the slot, zones, and man-to-man situations against tight ends. No coverage assignment proved too difficult for the agile linebacker.
Cox’s weight might lead to some struggles against the run, but teams will live with that considering the league’s preference for pass-happy offenses.
Ideal pick: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE Miami
On paper, the Saints had one of the league’s best defenses last season. Losing several starters, including Janoris Jenkins, severely weakened Dennis Allen’s unit. At 6-1, 198 lbs. Adebo has good size for his position, and the Stanford product dominated his speed and agility testing. He had great collegiate ball production too, intercepting eight passes and breaking up 27 in two seasons.
There are drawbacks with Adebo. He’s a playmaker, meaning he’s willing to take risks. Sometimes, he whiffs and gives up big plays. He’s also not as fluid when mirroring routes as you’d hope. The tackling aspect isn’t there either.
Opting out of the 2020 season put Adebo in a weird place for this draft. However, teams like the Saints can’t get too picky when searching for players at premier positions in the third-round and beyond.
Ideal pick: Hunter Long, TE Boston College
There’s not a lot of middle ground with Washington. Either you love him, or you can’t understand why a team would draft him. The TCU product intercepted five passes in 2019 but had a quiet 2020 campaign. He’s only 5-8 and weighs 178 lbs. For an extremely light safety, Washington didn’t test well either. He ran a 4.61 40-time at TCU’s pro day and a 7.06 three-cone.
On the positive side, Washington is one of the smartest, most instinctual players in this year’s class. He has high-end change of direction skills and fluid hips to flick quickly and go. Despite his stature, Washington is a hard hitter that seeks contact.
Washington saw snaps at safety, slot corner, and in the box during his time with the Horned Frogs. He’s probably too small for a box role in the NFL but could see time in the slot. Washington could replace Malcolm Jenkins in the long run if everything goes well in the early years of his career.
Ideal pick: Hamsah Nasirildeen, S Florida St.
Three years ago, the Saints traded two first-round picks and a fifth-rounder to Green Bay for the 14th overall pick. Payton drafted Marcus Davenport, which was an egregious reach at the time. The deal still looks like a wasted opportunity years later. Davenport has 12 career sacks and 74 tackles in 37 games. He’s never played more than 550 snaps in a season.
Sample won’t replace Davenport, but he’ll provide some competition for the 24-year-old as New Orleans tries to replace Trey Hendrickson’s production. Sample successfully produced outside and inside for Tulane. His upper body strength demolished lesser opponents, but that bull rush won’t work as well in the NFL.
Ideal pick: Marvin Wilson, IDL Florida St.
Williams won’t find himself on every team’s board after a domestic violence incident in December of 2018. The shifty running back never improved on his fantastic freshman season and might even go undrafted. However, the 5-9, 175 lb. running back is a playmaker with 4.38 40-yard speed. If the Saints are alright with his checkered past, and I’m not sure they will be, they could find ways for Williams to contribute as a rookie.
While Williams doesn’t understand or utilize blocking schemes well yet, he’s a bullet after cutting upfield. Good footwork makes him hard to bring down. Williams also offers upside as a pass catcher and kick returner.
Ideal pick: Rachad Wildgoose Jr., CB Wisconsin
We’ve already discussed that the Saints are thin at wide receiver. Grimes is 6-4 and 220 lbs. with average speed and agility for a receiver his size. While he never had outstanding production at Florida, Grimes caught 38 passes for 589 yards and nine touchdowns this past season. He’s tough to tackle and is a plus run blocker.
Unfortunately, Grimes suffers from the same issues as other large, lumbering receivers. His releases aren’t clean, and press coverage removes him from plays. Heavy feet limit Grimes’ agility and route tree.
Ideal pick: Tre’ McKitty, TE Georgia
New Orleans could use Johnson as a developmental middle linebacker. The former Aggie amassed 162 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and five sacks during his final two years with the program. Johnson is a physical, downhill linebacker that is still showing signs of improvement at the position. Unfortunately, he’s a liability in coverage.
Ideal pick: Avery Williams, CB Boise St.
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