7-round mock draft for the Saints, with a Cardinals-Sean Payton trade proposal

Last week we explored how a New Orleans Saints mock draft could be impacted by trading Sean Payton to the Denver Broncos. This time around we’re proposing a similar trade with the Arizona Cardinals, and then going through all seven rounds to explore various prospects who may be on the Saints’ radar.

We’re also trying to put an emphasis on players who will be competing at the Senior Bowl practices and all-star game this week, where multiple Saints coaches are going to be in attendance getting hands-on experience. That limited our player pool a bit, but it ended up highlighting some really interesting talents looking to go pro. Let’s get to it:

The Sean Payton trade

Here’s what we have the Saints getting back from Arizona in this scenario:

  • 2023 second round pick (No. 34)

  • 2023 third round pick (No. 66)

  • 2023 fourth round pick (No. 104)

That’s comparable to what we had the Broncos trading to New Orleans in last week’s mock draft, but the Cardinals are paying a slightly steeper price to keep Payton in the NFC by not getting the Saints’ fourth rounder like Denver did. This is a lot for Arizona to give up, sure, but they’ll still hold onto the third overall pick as well as the best compensatory pick after losing Christian Kirk last year — and they’ll have Payton at the helm.

Your updated picks for the Saints now include:

  • Round 2, pick 34 (via Arizona)

  • Round 2, pick 41

  • Round 3, pick 66 (via Arizona)

  • Round 3, pick 71

  • Round 4, pick 104 (via Arizona)

  • Round 4, pick 114

  • Round 5, pick 146

  • Round 5, pick 166 (via Philadelphia)

  • Round 7, pick 228

  • Round 7, pick 259 (compensatory)

Getting on the board six times in an 80-slot range would make the Saints one of the most powerful teams on the draft’s second day, giving them an ability to load up with instant-impact players at multiple positions while retaining the flexibility to make more trades while targeting specific prospects. With the Miami Dolphins forfeiting their first rounder, that No. 34 pick from the Cardinals should give the Saints a shot at a player who would probably go in the opening frame during a normal year.

Round 2, pick 34 (via Arizona): WR Rashee Rice, SMU

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I understand if you’re leery of SMU wide receivers, but Rice is productive enough to dismiss those fears. He’s a stronger player with a wider catch radius than Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed — Rice ranked among this year’s leaders in contested catches (16) and he excelled on targets traveling 20-plus yards downfield, catching 18 of them. He’s also a dynamic blocker with 887 reps as a run blocker over the last four years, so he can take that role from Tre’Quan Smith while remaining a very serious threat in the passing game. He’s playing on the American Team at the Senior Bowl.

Round 2, pick 41: Traded to the New York Giants

I received a very tempting trade offer in this spot from the New York Giants, who offered up their pick at the back end of this round (No. 57) and their 2024 second rounder in exchange for the No. 41 pick and our fifth rounder at No. 146. And I think this is a very rare case where the Saints would be willing to trade down. It’s only a 16-slot drop and they don’t have a second-round pick in 2024 after trading it to the Eagles last year. I’m not sweating a fifth rounder to add a potential top-50 pick in the next cycle.

For what it’s worth, if I had stayed put here the best prospects available included Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter, Georgia pass rusher Nolan Smith, and USC defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu. Any of them would be a nice addition to the Saints defensive front, but we don’t know how their preferences will change after losing Ryan Nielsen this offseason.

Round 2, pick 57 (via NY Giants): OL John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota

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Schmitz just has the look and feel of a Saints draft pick, doesn’t he? He’s a career center at Minnesota who has snapped the ball some 2,491 times as a Golden Gopher, but he could be a more-than-capable replacement for Andrus Peat at left guard in New Orleans if the Saints choose to move on from his bloated contract. Or they could ready him to take over at right guard if they don’t plan on re-signing Cesar Ruiz once his rookie contract is up in a year or two. Interior line depth has been an issue with Peat, Ruiz, and starting center Erik McCoy all missing multiple games the last two years. Look for Schmitz on the American Team at practice.

Round 3, pick 66 (via Arizona): S Ji'Ayir Brown, Penn State

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Marcus Maye’s lengthy injury history and looming suspension makes safety a priority (not to mention he and Tyrann Mathieu are both midway through three-year contracts), and Brown would bring the kind of range that’s been missing in the Saints pass defense. He’s got real ball skills with 10 interceptions over the last two years. After mainly playing in the box in 2021, he made a smooth transition to more alignments deep downfield in 2022. And he only rushed the passer 51 times but came away with 15 pressures and 5 sacks last season. Brown accepted his Senior Bowl invitation but his team assignment hasn’t been announced.

Round 3, pick 71: DL Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern

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Here’s a guy who looks just like what the Saints have valued at defensive end. Adebawore tips the scales at 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, and he’s coming off back-to-back seasons with 30-plus pressures (and 11 sacks), per PFF charting. He’s lined up inside at the three-technique spot and also slid out to the edge for Northwestern, and he’ll get to show off that versatility with the National Team roster this week.

Round 4, pick 104 (via Arizona): QB Jaren Hall, BYU

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Hall is older for a prospect and will be a 25-year old rookie, but he throws an accurate football and shows good decision-making by not putting it in harm’s way (just 20 interceptable passes on 718 career attempts, per PFF). Hall will be coached by National Team offensive coordinator Ronald Curry (the Saints’ passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach) and quarterbacks coach D.J. Williams (an offensive assistant for New Orleans) all week.

Round 4, pick 114: RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane

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The Saints need a change-of-pace back to spell Alvin Kamara, and I love Spears’ value at this point in the draft. He’s a home-run threat who forced 63 missed tackles on just 231 attempts last year, averaging a stunning 6.9 yards per carry. He needs to prove his size isn’t an issue at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. Spears will play for the American Team roster.

Round 5, pick 146: Traded to NY Giants

Recent fifth rounders for the Saints include linebacker D’Marco Jackson (missed his 2022 rookie season with an injury), safety Natrell Jamerson (only played 21 games with New Orleans before being released), linebacker Davis Tull (never got into a game), and nose tackle Tyeler Davison (who is still hanging around in the league, good for him). Trading this pick is worth it if it helps get a second rounder in 2024.

Round 5, pick 166 (via Philadelphia): DE Dylan Horton, TCU

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Horton is coming off of a wildly productive 2022 season with the Horned Frogs, where PFF credited him with 48 total pressures and 10 sacks. He’s a high school wide receiver who bulked up to 275 pounds and boasts 33-inch arms, which will serve him well in the pros. He has been assigned to the American Team roster at the Senior Bowl.

Round 7, pick 228: TE Will Mallory, Miami

AP Photo/John Raoux

Mallory only scored 3 touchdown catches last year, but he converted a first down on 25 of his 42 receptions and posted a catch rate of 71.2%. He isn’t much of a blocker but he brings a vertical element really only shared among the Saints tight ends by Juwan Johnson, who is a restricted free agent. He has been assigned to the American Team roster where he’ll work with Saints offensive assistant coach Declan Doyle.

Round 7, pick 259 (compensatory): CB Darrell Luter Jr., South Alabama

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Luter fits the Saints’ prototype really well, being listed at 6-foot-flat and 190 pounds with long arms. He has some ball skills with 5 career interceptions and 17 pass breakups, but he’s also a little penalty-prone with 6 flags in his career. He’s been an important special teams player for South Alabama and will get opportunities to show those skills on the Senior Bowl’s American Team roster.

Recapping our mock draft

  • Round 2, pick 34 (via Arizona): WR Rashee Rice, SMU

  • Round 2, pick 57 (via NY Giants): OL John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota

  • Round 3, pick 66 (via Arizona): S Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State

  • Round 3, pick 71: DL Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern

  • Round 4, pick 104 (via Arizona): QB Jaren Hall, BYU

  • Round 4, pick 114: RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane

  • Round 5, pick 146: Traded to NY Giants

  • Round 5, pick 166 (via Philadelphia): DE Dylan Horton, TCU

  • Round 7, pick 228: TE Will Mallory, Miami

  • Round 7, pick 259 (compensatory): CB Darrell Luter Jr., South Alabama

How’s that? We managed to flip Payton for a nice haul of picks and used them to further improve the receiving corps while reinforcing the trenches on both sides of the ball, and adding a quarterback who might be able to help out. We’ve gotten more explosive at running back and we’re deeper at tight end and in the secondary. The Saints haven’t traded down since 2007, but that streak has to end eventually, right? They need all the picks they can get to refit this roster and play competitive football again.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire