Final predictions for the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft
It’s finally here: the New Orleans Saints will have a chance to make their move in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, but what are they planning? We’ve had months to speculate and gather information to try and get an idea of what’s in the works. Let’s break it down with our final predictions.
Sure, I’m hedging my bets a little by presenting a scenario where the Saints trade up and another one where they stay put. But not even Mickey Loomis knows what he’s going to do until the first dozen or so picks are in. With a team this unpredictable, it’s important to consider all their options. Here are four scenarios we’re watching out for, from most- to least-likely:
Scenario 1: Saints trade up for Myles Murphy
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
There are three defensive ends who fit what the Saints look for projected to go in the first round, and it’s very unlikely that at least two of them make it to New Orleans’ pick at No. 29. Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness is expected to go off the board in the first dozen picks, maybe as early as No. 8 to the archrival Atlanta Falcons. The Saints value size at defensive end which other first-round pass rushers like Georgia’s Nolan Smith or Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV just don’t have.
That leaves Clemson’s Myles Murphy as their next-best option, and even he might be a top-15 pick. But if he makes it to some of the Saints’ common trade partners like the Washington Commanders at No. 16 or the Seattle Seahawks at No. 20, New Orleans would pounce on him. If he doesn’t fall that far, they could also try and trade up for Georgia Tech defensive end Keion White, who could be an option with the Seahawks pick or the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23.
Scenario 2: Saints stay put, pick Clemson DT Bryan Bresee
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One way or another, I’m confident the Saints are hoping to leave Round 1 with a Clemson defensive lineman. Bresee best fits the athletic prototype they value at 6-foot-5 and 298 pounds, with rare agility numbers for someone his size. He also has the kind of extensive injury history the Saints often overlook on early-round prospects. He’s a Saints-style pick through and through. He’ll likely be available at No. 29, so there shouldn’t be a need to trade up for him, but you never know with this team.
Bresee is one of the cleaner first-round system fits at defensive tackle. He’s not a heavyset run-stopper like Michigan’s Mazi Smith or a lightweight disruptor like Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey. He’s used to playing the three-technique for Clemson and lining up all over the place, just like he would expect to be deployed in New Orleans. He was just so inconsistent and missed so much time you have to wonder how much development he’ll need as a pro.
Scenario 3: Saints stay put, draft TCU guard Steve Avila
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There’s a lot of momentum building for the Jacksonville Jaguars to select Florida right guard O’Cyrus Torrence at No. 26, which would end any internal debate for New Orleans at No. 24 between Torrence and Avila. If no highly-graded defensive lineman is available and they aren’t able to trade up for one, the Saints would probably instead turn attention to their offensive line and look for a long-term Andrus Peat replacement.
Enter Avila, a highly capable blocker on the move who was near-perfect in pass protection in college. He’s also a rare athlete for someone his size. He may not start right away, but Peat’s durability issues and contract situation would put him in line to play often being being promoted to the starting role at left guard. It’s hard to get many fans excited for a guard after waiting all night for their team to get on the clock, but this would be a smart investment with a clear long-term vision for success.
Scenario 4: Saints figure out trading down isn't that bad after all
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Mickey Loomis shared his philosophy on draft-day trades on Wednesday, essentially describing a move down as, in his view, giving up and settling for lesser talent. That may be the case at times, but the makeup of this draft class suggests the Saints will see similarly-graded prospects available at No. 40 as at No. 29. They haven’t traded down since 2007 but that streak has to end eventually.
And trading down would make sense here given their needs. This team needs two defensive linemen (at tackle and end), a long-term linebacker to prepare to replace Demario Davis, an upgrade at the blocking tight end spot over Adam Trautman, and improved depth at guard, wide receiver, and in the secondary. To say nothing of the pressing need for a quality running back with fresh legs. They aren’t going to be able to address all those needs with the picks they have right now, so the plan is probably to sign some free agents after the draft.
But trading down would give them the means to check more of those items off their list. Moving out of the first round getting more picks later on makes for a more flexible strategy. If the big board levels off after the first 15 or 20 picks and there’s a big cloud of prospects available with comparable grades, it makes more sense to trade down and get several of them rather than picking just one. Unfortunately, that isn’t how Loomis does business, and we shouldn’t expect him to reverse course after so many years.
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My best guess: Scenario 1 will play out with Van Ness being picked early and Murphy sliding into the late teens, where the Saints would be comfortable trading their third-round pick and one of their fifth rounders to vault up the board and get their guy. As Loomis said Wednesday, they’ve got to find a prospect they love and go get them. Murphy checks all their boxes and is more pro-ready than other recent pass rushers they’ve taken early like Marcus Davenport and Payton Turner. If this pick works out, he’ll be the guy to take over from Cameron Jordan up front.
Don’t overlook Keion White (Georgia Tech) as another trade target for them, though he carries many of the same red flags for injuries and inexperience that burned the Saints when they picked Davenport and Turner. Murphy is a cleaner evaluation.