The Saints should be drafting DEFENSE DEFENSE DEFENSE in this draft. They need a running back, they need a tackle, maybe even a quarterback, sure, but let’s remember that they’ve been in the cellar statistically on the defensive side of the ball the last three years and that’s primarily responsible for the 27 losses during that span. So who are the best defensive players anyway? I’ve listed the top 20 below, many of which we should be considering for the Saints at both 11th overall and 32nd if they fall that far. I used ESPN (insider needed), PFF and NFL.com to settle on these rankings. The rule was simple, you had to be a top 20 defender in one of the three site rankings to be eligible for my composite ranking. Assuming you were, you make the cut. From there, I combine all three rankings on each site and then sorted them by highest average. Now as I think about “fit” for the Saints I think it’s important to think about a player’s skillset. The Saints are evaluating a number of things, but I think character, speed and how NFL ready they are (Payton mentioned this as another important factor) are the most important characteristics for the team right now. Here are the rankings:
1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M (#1 ESPN, #1 PFF, #1 NFL.com) – He’s listed #1 on all three boards and the Saints won’t sniff a chance at him without trading way up.
2. Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama (#2 ESPN, #2 PFF, #3 NFL.com) – There’s little wavering between the three sites on Allen. DT might be the Saints deepest position, though, so I’m glad he’ll be taken before the Saints pick.
3. Jamal Adams, S, LSU (#4 ESPN, #4 PFF, #5 NFL.com) – If he falls to 11 the Saints have to seriously consider, even though safety isn’t as big of a need as other positions.
4. Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford (#3 ESPN, #10 PFF, #2 NFL.com) – PFF didn’t like him as much as the other two sites. There is a slim chance he’ll fall to 11 and he fits a major need for the Saints if he does.
5. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State (#5 ESPN, #5 PFF, #6 NFL.com) – He’ll probably be gone before the Saints pick but he’s widely viewed as the best corner in the draft and the Saints would likely take him if he was available at 11.
6. Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State (#6 ESPN, #7 PFF, #4 NFL.com) He’s probably gone at 11 but could fall due to a current injury. I’m not sure how much sense he makes with Vonn Bell on the roster.
7. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama (#7 ESPN, #6 PFF, #7 NFL.com) – A lot of Saints fans want him and he’d represent an upgrade at MLB. His shoulder injury and combine meltdown are concerns, though. There’s a decent chance he’ll be available at 11 and he’s squarely on the team’s radar.
8. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee (#8 ESPN, #3 PFF, #12 NFL.com) – A very realistic selection for the Saints at 11 and a great fit. Definitely on their radar. PFF is ridiculously high on him.
9. Haason Reddick, LB, Temple (#10 ESPN, #15 PFF, #9 NFL.com) – Unless one of the top 6 guys fall, particularly Lattimore, I’d say Reddick is a top 3 candidate at 11 along with Foster and Barnett. The vision for him would be handling the Dannell Ellerbe role.
10. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State (#14 ESPN, #12 PFF, #10 NFL.com) – not a great fit for the Saints based on scheme and needs.
11. Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan (#13 ESPN, #23 PFF, #8 NFL.com) – It’s possible the Saints reach for him at 11. It’s unlikely he’d fall to 32. Ultimately the composites of these three sites rate him lower than Barnett.
12. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU (#18 ESPN, #9 PFF, #19 NFL.com) – Excellent player but his 5’11” height could drop him to 32 or even 42 just because there are so many big corners in this draft that run fast. In terms of skills, though, he’s one of the best. I hope the Saints get him.
13. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri (#15 ESPN, #17 PFF, #18 NFL.com) – Terrific speed edge guy, but he might be a little small as a 4-3 end. That begs the question of whether or not he can play on run downs. Would certainly be a great element to have but limitations might make 11 feel too high. If he miraculously falls to 32 the value is tremendous.
14. Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA (#11 ESPN, #32 PFF, #11 NFL.com) – PFF rated him much lower than the other two sites. His write up is quite similar to Harris, actually.
15. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama (#20 ESPN, #20 PFF, #15 NFL.com) – He’s a top notch prospect at this position but some worry he benefited from ridiculous talent around him.
16. Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State (#12 ESPN, #28 PFF, #17 NFL.com) – Some mocks have the Saints reaching for him at 11. At 32 he’s a no brainer. We know Sean Payton loves players from this program and Conley has the versatility to play inside and outside.
17. Tim Williams, DE/OLB, Alabama (#29 ESPN, #13 PFF, #16 NFL.com) – He’s a bit of a polarizing pick due to a gun charge and a drop in production last year. I’m not sure he’s a clear fit for the Saints.
18. Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida (#16 ESPN, #25 PFF, #20 NFL.com) – If he falls to the Saints at 42 in the 2nd round, it’s worthy of consideration if they haven’t already selected a linebacker.
19. Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan (#28 ESPN, #27 PFF, #13 NFL.com) – NFL.com seems to like him a lot better than the other two sites. Part of the issue with him is that while the talent is undeniable, where he fits in any defense isn’t clear. A true tweener, and I don’t trust the Saints to figure him out like some teams would.
20. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt (#31 ESPN, #16 PFF, #21 NFL.com) – A good player that could make sense in round 2.
21. T. J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin (#23 ESPN, #19 PFF, #26 NFL.com) – A motor guy that wins with effort and hustle more than clear size, speed or skills. A true gamer that reminds me a bit of Kikaha. I think the Saints would prefer someone more explosive opposite Cam Jordan.
22. Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida (#26 ESPN, #29 PFF, #14 NFL.com) – The Saints don’t need another interior defensive player.
23. Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State (#30 ESPN, #11 PFF, #43 NFL.com) – Fast rising complete player that is a great scheme fit for the Saints. I think he enters consideration at 42 if a pass rusher wasn’t acquired in the 1st round. If he’s still available in round 3, I’m turning in the card for the team now.
24. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan (#27 ESPN, #14 PFF, #46 NFL.com) – Red flags make me sense the Saints will pass on him unless he’s available later in the draft where the value is too good to pass up.
25. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida (#17 ESPN, #33 PFF, #38 NFL.com) – I was surprised to see him grade out this low on aggregate because some analysts I respect think he’s the best corner in the draft. Regardless of this ranking, I think the Saints consider him at 32. His size and speed combo are tough to ignore.
26. Budda Baker, S, Washington (#19 ESPN, #49 PFF, #22 NFL.com) – A true leader and playmaker. I would love for the Saints to draft him. Only issue is size which could see him drop. Does he make it to the 3rd round? That feels like a good place for the Saints to pick him.
27. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida (#38 ESPN, #18 PFF, #42 NFL.com) See Jourdan Lewis’s write up. I feel similarly.
28. Kevin King, CB, Washington (#9 ESPN, #42 PFF, #48 NFL.com) He’s fast and he’s 6’3″. So his evals are all over the place. Is he the next Richard Sherman or the next Stanley Jean-Baptiste? The SJB thing scares me, but I’m also very intrigued by his potential. I do feel like Aaron Glenn would do a better job developing the young corner.
29. Carl Dawson, DE, Auburn (#51 ESPN, #9 PFF, #50 NFL.com) Disappointing production dropped the ranking of what was once considered to likely be the best pass rusher in the class. I think the Saints start considering in rounds 2/3 if they still need a pass rusher.