2023 NFL draft: Updated 7-round Saints mock draft

That first round pick the New Orleans Saints traded to the Philadelphia Eagles next year is looking like a worse gamble each week, with the black and gold continuing to lose football games and boosting that pick’s projected draft slot higher and higher. So we’re just not going to talk it much further today. The New Orleans Saints have multiple picks to work with in the 2023 NFL draft, and we’re at a good spot to look ahead, ignore the team’s bleak present, and consider how they could improve with a strong rookie crop in 2023. Here’s a quick seven-round mock draft reflecting our take on the Saints’ top team needs:

Round 1: LT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

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The Saints traded their 2023 first rounder so they could get a second first-round pick in 2022, which was spent on Penning. He’s missed most of his rookie season recovering from a serious turf toe injury so only time will tell if adding him was worth what the Saints paid to do it. But, functionally, Penning is their 2023 first rounder. There’s a lot of pressure on him to succeed.

Round 2: QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

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Hooker is making a strong case to go in the first round, but his experience in Tennessee’s high-paced offense might not appeal to all teams. He would also be the oldest first-round quarterback since Brandon Weeden after turning 25 in January, and that matters to front offices around the NFL. But the Saints aren’t in a position to be picky, and if he’s available they’d be smart to give him a shot. He’s played well enough at the college level to deserve that opportunity. He’s got a live arm, he can move, and most crucially he doesn’t turn the ball over.

Round 3: RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

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Charbonnet transferred from Michigan to play in Chip Kelly’s offense at UCLA, and it’s been transformative for his career. He’s scored 26 touchdown runs and averaged 6.4 yards per carry across 20 games with the Bruins while totaling 53 receptions in the passing game. He’s exactly the sort of consistent threat to break a tackle and make a play that the Saints could use as a backup for Alvin Kamara — and maybe an eventual successor.

Round 4: DT Mazi Smith, Michigan

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A rare athlete for his size (listed at 6-foot-3 and 326 pounds), Smith moves extremely well laterally and might be the best run defender in the upcoming rookie class. He’s not making much of an impact as a pass rusher, but that hasn’t been his job, and he’s got a ton of untapped potential in that role given his physical tools and natural agility. He’d be an ideal player to rebuild the middle of the Saints defensive line around.

Round 5: WR Dontay Demus Jr., Maryland

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Davis was looking like a top-100 pick before last season’s knee injury, and he’s struggled to regain that lost momentum. But he’s one of the nation’s best deep threats when healthy and has No. 1 receiver-quality physical tools with his size (6-foot-3 and 215 pounds) and speed. He’d be a good get for a Saints receiving corps that hasn’t met expectations in 2022, and is likely losing players like Jarvis Landry, Deonte Harty, and maybe Marquez Callaway and Michael Thomas in 2023.

Round 5 (via Philadelphia Eagles): LB Deshawn Pace, Cincinnati

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The Saints will be getting a fifth rounder back from the Eagles as part of their C.J. Gardner-Johnson trade, and we have them using it to invest in their defense. Pace is a little undersized for the Saints (listed at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds) but he’s very active at the line of scrimmage with 14.5 tackles for loss over the last two years. He’s also intercepted 5 passes, broken up 3 others, forced a fumble and recovered a pair of loose balls. Demario Davis isn’t getting any younger, Kaden Elliss will be a free agent in 2023, and Pete Werner has missed time with injuries early on in his pro career. Pace is a talented defender in coverage who could help them.

Round 6 (168): CB Bradley Roby

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This pick was traded to the Houston Texans in 2022 to help the Saints acquire Roby, who has played well in a reserve role but struggled as a starter before going down with an injury. He’ll turn 31 next May and could be a salary cap casualty in the offseason, but he’s under contract for three more years at an affordable rate and should be part of the team’s plans moving forward.

Round 7: DB Jammie Robinson, Florida State

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Robinson has led the Seminoles defense in tackles in each of the last two years after transferring over from South Carolina, and he just looks like a Saints defensive back. He can line up in the slot or over the top of the defense and plays with a lot of urgency and aggression. He’s intercepted 7 passes (breaking up 14 of them in total) and forced 3 fumbles in his 44-game college career. Pre-draft athletic testing will be big for him, but he fits the Saints’ prototype at a listed 5-foot-11 and 199 pounds.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire