Don't get too excited about the NFL draft yet because believe it or not it's still a good 60 days away. Long before we'll ever get to REALLY discussing that stuff a number of things will happen. The combine is already going on right now, then you'll have Pro Day workouts at some of the big school campuses, restructures and cuts are looming (for Loomis) in an attempt to get below the salary cap, and free agency starts on March 1st (which could change the need of a lot of teams including the Saints).
That said, I'm starting this process for the simple reason that I feel confident the Saints need help EVERYWHERE on defense. There is no position I would say they couldn't use help at, and based on that I'm creating this draft board ranking the prospects for the Saints at the 15th pick. For this exercise I am not including any offensive players. Yes, it's possible they will draft a tackle to replace Jermon Bushrod if he leaves in free agency, but at this point I'm refusing to accept that because I had to sit through an entire season fo the worst defense in NFL history and I want a defensive player dammit. Bushrod isn't gone yet, either, so we'll worry about the available offensive tackles and if they make more sense than a defensive player at a later date.
Saints' Current Draft Board:
1. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: I guess the combine will dictate where this guy is going to go because it really is all over the place with the mock drafts currently. I have literally see him as high as #1 overall, which I'm not sure I buy, or as low as #14. I haven't seen him drop to 15, though. So odds of him being available are extremely low. That said, the Saints are moving to a 3-4 and if you're going to do it right the key is to have a good nose tackle that can anchor that middle. Lotulelei is a can't miss from that standpoint and he's a mammoth in size at almost 330lbs. This guy is the real deal and does everything well.
[note – since this post, Lotulelei has dropped down boards for not participating at combine due to heart abnormalities and thus his draft stock has dropped a bit]
2. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida St: This guy is big enough to be a DE in a 3-4 system. While with Lotulelei there's a lot of disagreement about where he'll go, Werner is a consensus top 5 pick. There is no chance he will be available at #15 unless something crazy happens. I'd love to get him, but it's not going to happen.
3. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Like Lotulelei projections are all over the map with this guy. He is an athletic freak pass rusher in a draft that's extremely deep with them. I've seen him go as high as #2 or as low as #13 in these mocks. Either way, he's probably gone by 15 as well.
[note – Moore had a poor combine in terms of both speed and strength, which could push him to the bottom of round 1]
4. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: This is the first guy on this list that I wouldn't say is a "can't miss" prospect. He's so raw and lean I'm unsure how he'll pan out. He's also probably the fastest and best athlete of all the defensive players and the combine results will probably dictate his draft placement more than most. I'm not sure I want Mingo, but he's probably got the highest ceiling of anyone. High risk, high reward. If you watched him play at LSU, though, you know he takes plays off. I've seen him go as high as #2 and drop below 15, so his status is probably most in limbo of the top prospects. If he drops to 15, which is possible, the Saints will have to think long and hard about him. If he goes to the Saints, he'd be an OLB rusher in a 3-4 system.
5. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: The only question with Jones is a checkered health and the rumors that he's a poor work out guy. There is no denying he is an elite football talent and a guy that could transform any team's pass rush. He could come in in year one and start immediately, but the question is how long will he last? Jones I've seen go as high as #3 in some mocks and drop into the 20's in others because of the concerns. I've also seen him going to the Saints at 15 in some mocks. Jones does have a "clean bill of health" but many are still worried about the very serious neck injury he had in 2009 that kept him out of the 2010 season entirely. He's a rusher in a 3-4 OLB system, and he'd be an extremely good one if he doesn't get hurt (which applies to every player on this list to an extent).
6. Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon: Jordan would be an OLB in the 3-4 system and more mocks than not have him going to the Saints at 15, so there's a realistic shot he will be there. I think this is a terrific fit for the Saints if they take him. He's scary coming off the edge because he's 6'6" yet so fast and athletic. He does need to add some size to his frame but that will be less of an issue as an outside backer in the 3-4 system. Some mocks have him going much earlier and some have him as low at the bottom of the 1st round. He'll need to add bulk to get better against the run at the pro level, though.
7. Ezekial Ansah, DE, BYU: Ansah is even more raw than Mingo, and possibly an even more of an athletic specimen. He's from African and has only been playing football for 3 years. Ansah is bordering on 6'7" and has the weight to go with it (unlike Jordan). He just needs experience. His ceiling may be highest of all, though, and many have the Saints taking him at 15. Another high risk high reward, though his work ethic seems better than Mingo's.
8. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: I think long and hard about this one if he is available. Conventional wisdom says you should never take a safety in the 1st round, but I think the Steelers (Polamalu) and Chiefs (Berry) are pretty glad they did. Vaccaro is as good of a safety as there is and he would represent a huge upgrade over the garbage the Saints have been trotting out there. I think a back end playmaker for years to come would be a massive addition. I'm tempted to draft Vaccaro regardless of who is available, but some mocks have him going in the top 10 so we'll see.
9. Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida: He's a versatile player that can rush and stop the run, and I think he'll be a very good interior lineman in the league. There only question is whether he's big enough to handle the nose. I'm not sure. It's 50-50 whether he'll be available at 15. Talent wise it's indeniable he's very good.
10. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: He will likely be available at 15 and while he's nowhere near as explosive as all the other pass rushers on this list, he's still very good and more polished. Montgomery is a really well rounded player and plays the run/pass well. He reminds me of a young Will Smith and I do think he'll be a better player than Cam Jordan. I wouldn't hate this pick because he's a good player, but I don't think he has the difference making potential of some of the others on this list. He does come with less question marks, though. He could handle defensive end in a 3-4 no problem.
11. Jonathan Jenkins, NT, Georgia: This guy is a nose through and through. He's below Floyd and Montgomery because he'll likely be drafted in the late first round, but honestly, I could see the Saints either reaching for him or trading down for him. At 6'3" 350lbs he is an absolute mammoth in size. If you want a nose in the 3-4 he is your guy. He's a one trick pony: a space eater. He's not going to provide any pass rush but maybe that's ok. But like I said, if you want to do the 3-4 right you really need that beast of a nose tackle and Jenkins qualifies without the fraction of a doubt. While size wise he is ideal, the big question is his durability, but he's very strong and fairly quick for his size.
12. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio St.: He's a consensus early to late 20's pick for the most part, but like with Jenkins there is zero doubt he can handle being the nose in a 3-4 system. People question if he is an every down defender, though, and he can be pushed around a little more than Jenkins.
13. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: I've watched this guy play a couple times and he is very impressive. I'm honestly surprised most drafts have him going in the mid 20's. He's big and fast like most of the edge rushers in the draft. If the Saints identify they want a fast and big edge rusher, this draft is incredibly deep at that and there is no doubt they will get it at 15. He's 6'5", long and has a nice size. He's maybe slightly more powerful but less explosive than some of the others on this list, though.
14. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: He's the highest rated corner in the draft and it's a crapshoot if he's available at 15. If he is and the Saints want a corner, though, this isn't a bad pick. I have him lower down the list because the players I listed above are a better fit for the Saints' needs at the moment. He is scheduled to have labrum surgery after the combine which in my opinion isn't a big deal but could hurt his draft status. He's a great cover man, has good balls skills and is a true thumper that can punish receivers. He does lack elite speed, though, which is another reason I'd shy away. He is a similar prospect to what Malcolm Jenkins was with better cover skills maybe.
15. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: At 320lbs he also has the size needed to be a nose tackle in the 3-4. He's unbelievably strong and could take on two blockers no problem and still be extremely tough to move. He would offer almost no help in pass rushing, though.
Which of these guys would you most like to see in a Saints uniform?