Free agency is winding down for the New Orleans Saints and with that it's almost time to focus solely on the NFL draft. The signing of Keenan Lewis, Benjamin Watons, and Victor Butler helped fill three of the most glaring needs on the team but depth and competition is still needed at most positions. As it stands, the most significant hole on the team is also one of the most important in left tackle.
The departure of Jermon Bushrod has left Zach Strief, Charles Brown, and Marcel Jones, an untried rookie who was on IR all last season, as the only tackles left on the roster. If the season started today, Strief and Brown would be the likely starters and while the former is a capable right tackle, the latter protecting Drew Brees’ blind side is certainly questionable.
The need for playmakers (plural) on defense is obvious but luckily for the Saints, there are several playmakers that can be found with all five of their draft picks.
Round 1 – Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Others considered: Barkevious Mingo, Jarvis Jones, Tavon Austin
This pick all comes down to best player available (BPA). Tavon Austin would be close to a luxury pick for the Saints but it would make sense in providing a playmaker and depth at a position that needs it. However, outside linebacker still remains a position that needs to be addressed despite the addition of Victor Butler to pair with Junior Galette and Martez Wilson. Previously I wrote about Werner's comparison to Paul Kruger and that comparison is still apt. The signing of Butler would allow time for Werner to ease into learning how to be a 3-4 outside linebacker much like how the Ravens groomed Kruger. On NFL Network's Path to the Draft, former Houston Texans GM Charley Casserly believes Werner would thrive in Rob Ryan's new 3-4 defense since the outside linebackers in Ryan’s scheme aren't asked to fall back into coverage that much. Werner’s coverage ability, while raw, is serviceable as evidenced on his tape vs Miami this past year. His average combine may have been enough to bump him down to the Saints pick at #15.
Round 3 – Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
Others considered: Tavares King, Brandon Williams, Terron Armstead
Ideally, Arkansas-Pine Bluff OT Terron Armstead would be the pick here but chances are he will be long gone by the Saints pick in the 3rd round. Despite the obvious need for left tackle, there aren’t many that warrant a 3rd round selection, however, there are several wide receivers that should be available that fit the Saints offensive scheme quite well. Georgia’s Tavarres King and Kansas State’s Chris Harper are two that immediately come to mind but if Aaron Dobson is available he should warrant considerable thought from the Saints’ brain trust. Dobson is widely regarded as a Top 100 selection due to his size/speed ratio to go along with his offensive prowess. Injured for the NFL combine, Dobson opted instead to run his 40 at his pro day in Huntington, WV and did not disappoint after posting two times of 4.42 and 4.40. Those speeds are remarkable considering he is 6’3” and weighs 210lbs. He is a savvy route-runner with a significant height advantage against opposing defensive backs while also being willing to work the middle. The Saints offense worked best when they possessed two receivers that were able to knock the top off the coverage and Dobson’s skill set would allow for him to do just that while providing depth at a position where the two starters (Moore and Colston) are aging (both turn 30 this year).
Round 4 – Montori Hughes, DT, Tennessee-Martin
Others considered: Xavier Nixon, Cornelius Washington
Right now Broderick Bunkley is the lone player capable of playing nose tackle in the Saints new 3-4 scheme. While Bunkley has graded out to be a capable NT in the past, the chances of him lasting a season without a sub are slim to none. Hughes passes the eye-test for a nose tackle (6’4”, 329lbs) and impressed scouts in Mobile at the Senior Bowl with his fiery demeanor and playing style. He can effectively use his hands when battling for position and possesses an explosive first step to get past would-be blockers. He has a few off-the-field incidents that would need to be investigated but assuming these issues are in the past, Hughes would be a tremendous developmental nose tackle prospect.
Round 5 – Reid Fragel, OT, Ohio State
Others considered: Ty Powell, A.J. Klein, Terry Hawthorne
My boy, Jason Bernos, over at Canal Street Chronicles brought Fragel to my attention and I was almost immediately impressed. A former TE converted to OT, Fragel has the athleticism necessary to transition over from a college RT to a NFL LT. His combine numbers speak for themselves as he was the top performer in the bench press (33 reps), vertical jump (30”) and broad jump (113”) amongst offensive linemen. While he is still learning the position and is still honing the skills necessary to become a standout at the position, Fragel does possess the potential to become a quite serviceable, if not more, left tackle in the NFL.
Round 6 – Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane
Others considered: Vince Williams, Jake Knott
The Saints could be in the market for another inside linebacker considering their two back-ups, Vilma and Humber, are on one year deals, however, an heir apparent and back-up for Brees takes precedence. Griffin has already been brought in by the Saints for a private workout most likely due to his impressive performance in the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game and him having previously ran the Saints offense while at Tulane under former Saints wide receiver coach Curtis Johnson. Griffin passes for over 9,000 yards and 56 touchdowns during his Green Wave career and has been praised for his accuracy (60% career completion percentage). His ties to the Saints could be what connects them in this upcoming draft.
Potential Priority Undrafted Free Agents:
LB Meshak Williams, Kansas St.
CB Nigel Malone, Kansas St.
WR La'Rod King, Kentucky
It's really anyone's guess as to what the Saints will do come draft day but a draft like this would go a long way to filling all the holes on the roster and providing depth and competition at the areas that need it most.