Full 7-round Saints 2023 mock draft: Pre-NFL Scouting Combine

It’s finally here. The NFL Scouting Combine is set to kick off, and we managed to squeeze in one last 2023 mock draft for the New Orleans Saints before days of athletic testing, private meetings, and rumormongering throw it all into disarray.

And we’ve got it all. This time we’re making some free agency predictions to help set the board, and considering a couple of trades with help from the Pro Football Network mock draft simulator. At the end you’ll find a recap of our draft-day haul, our future picks in 2024, and an updated depth chart reflecting all of the new additions. Let’s get it:

Free agency projection

Here’s the scenario we’re working with:

  • Free agents re-signed: TE Juwan Johnson (restricted), DT David Onyemata, DT Kentavius Street, DT Malcolm Roach. WR Michael Thomas returns on an incentive-laden one-year contract to try and reestablish himself with a proven passer.

  • Free agents added: QB Derek Carr, RB Alexander Mattison, DE Rasheem Green, and WR Darius Slayton.

  • Free agents lost: DE Marcus Davenport, LB Kaden Elliss, DT Shy Tuttle, and QB Andy Dalton.

  • Salary cap casualties: QB Jameis Winston.

The Saints get the veteran quarterback they coveted most and improved the depth at the skills positions, but at a cost of young talent in the defensive front seven. Green is a steady veteran who can line up inside or out. Both Winston and Dalton join new teams for 2023 as backups hoping to compete for a Week 1 starting gig.

So we’re going into the draft with these priorities in mind:

  • Musts: DT, RB

  • Needs: DE, S, TE

  • Wants: OG, WR, LB

Remaining picks: 29, 71, 115, 148, 167, 229, 260

Round 1, Pick 29: Trade down

Would the Saints actually trade down? Probably not with Ohio State Buckeyes star wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Florida Gators guard O’Cyrus Torrence staring them in the face. But the Arizona Cardinals called offering next year’s second-round pick in exchange for our fourth rounder at No. 115, if we’ll move back five spots from Nos. 29 to 34. We’ll take the pick and move down, thank you.

Remaining picks: 34, 40, 71, 148, 167, 229, 260

Round 2, Pick 34: Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer

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The player we wanted all along was still available, and now we’ve addressed a second-tier need while getting an instant upgrade over Adam Trautman as our primary blocking tight end. Mayer is the best run-blocking end in the draft class, and he’s also dynamite on contested catches (having caught 33 of 55 such targets). If he runs as well as hoped at the combine, he’ll secure his status as the draft’s best tight end prospect. He and Juwan Johnson could be dangerous together.

  • Musts: DT, RB

  • Needs: DE, S, TE

  • Wants: OG, WR, LB

Remaining picks: 40, 71, 148, 167, 229, 260

Round 2, Pick 40: Florida DT Gervon Dexter Sr.

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Dexter makes a lot of sense here. He’s been a team leader for the Gators who led by example in playing in their bowl game, and the Saints know him well after hiring his old coach Todd Grantham. He hits the size archetype they value at the position. He was a consistent pressure player on passing downs and holds his own well against the run, and he should be a solid building-block for New Orleans up front in the rotation with Onyemata, Street, and Roach.

  • Musts: DT, RB

  • Needs: DE, S, TE

  • Wants: OG, WR, LB

Remaining picks: 71, 148, 167, 229, 260

Round 3, Pick 67: Another trade, this time moving up

There was a cloud of three players I really liked at this point: UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet, and Tennessee prospects Hendon Hooker (a quarterback) and Cedric Tillman (a receiver). The issue is that I didn’t see all three of them making it to No. 71, so I started calling teams at the front of the third round offering that pick and our fifth rounder at No. 167 to try and move up.

The Chicago Bears turned us down at No. 64. So did the Houston Texans at No. 65. The Cardinals, maybe regretting our earlier deal, didn’t pick up the phone at No. 66. But the Denver Broncos picked back-to-back at Nos. 67 and 68, and they were willing to talk shop — and Sean Payton convinced George Paton to cut us some slack and send back the 67th pick rather than the 68th.

Remaining picks: 67, 148, 229, 260

Round 3, Pick 67: UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet

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This wasn’t an easy decision to make. I’m a huge believer in Hendon Hooker and he could be a nice fallback plan if Carr is a bust. But Charbonnet is ready to help the team today. Alvin Kamara may miss time with a suspension, and Alexander Mattison has never led a backfield on his own, so adding a rookie running back with a ton of big-play ability is the smart move. I like Cedric Tillman a lot too but Charbonnet is the cleaner prospect with less of an injury history, and a shorter path to playing-time given the state of the depth chart.

  • Musts: DT, RB

  • Needs: DE, S, TE

  • Wants: OG, WR, LB

Remaining picks: 148, 229, 260

Round 5, Pick 148: Ohio State S Ronnie Hickman

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Hickman was one of the fastest players measured in practices at the Senior Bowl, and he offers a ton of flexibility as someone with extensive snaps played in the slot, over the top, and in the box. He throttles down hard in run support and doesn’t panic on high-arcing vertical passes. I like him as someone who can help out right away on special teams and in covering the slot, while giving the Saints an option to start in 2024 should they move on from Marcus Maye or Tyrann Mathieu in the final year of their contracts.

  • Musts: DT, RB

  • Needs: DE, S, TE

  • Wants: OG, WR, LB

Remaining picks: 229, 260

Round 7, Pick 220: Another trade, moving up again

The last thing left on our draft-day to-do list was add another pass rusher, and the seventh round offers slim pickings. These final-round prospects are graded similarly to the many undrafted free agents the Saints will sign after the draft, so we aren’t going to fret too much about packaging our two seventh rounders in one last move up to get the best edge rusher available.

But the San Francisco 49ers didn’t play ball at No. 216; moving down to No. 229 and only getting the 260th pick in return wasn’t to their liking (which is odd, seeing as they got Brock Purdy in that slot a year ago). The Kansas City Chiefs picked twice at Nos. 217 and 219 but wouldn’t budge. Neither would the New York Giants at No. 218.

Finally, someone bit. The Chicago Bears only had one pick left at No. 220, so they were happy to slide down nine slots and get the final pick of the draft for their trouble. That put us on the clock one last time.

Remaining picks: 220

Round 7, Pick 220: Central Michigan DE Thomas Incoom

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Incoom is a little short for the Saints’ standards at 6-foot-2, but he makes up for it with 33-inch arms and a 79-inch wingspan. He’s also tipping the scales at a well-built 265 pounds. More importantly, though, he pops off the screen every time you check in on the Chippewas — Incoom bagged 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks last year, flashing past slow-footed blockers with his speed off the edge. That speed element has been missing in New Orleans for quite a while, and it gives him a quality other backups on the roster can’t offer while competing for snaps.

  • Musts: DT, RB

  • Needs: DE, S, TE

  • Wants: OG, WR, LB

Reviewing our draft

  • Round 2, Pick 34: Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer

  • Round 2, Pick 40: Florida DT Gervon Dexter Sr.

  • Round 3, Pick 67: UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet

  • Round 5, Pick 148: Ohio State S Ronnie Hickman

  • Round 7, Pick 220: Central Michigan DE Thomas Incoom

There’s your typical Saints draft haul, going for a quality-over-quantity approach with plenty of college team captains and high-upside athletes. We hit our top priorities and should be able to touch on other areas of concern (adding another backup guard, and more depth at wide receiver and linebacker; maybe going after an unpicked rookie quarterback) after the draft. Plus, here’s our growing stockpile of picks for 2024:

  • Round 1 (own)

  • Round 2 (Broncos)

  • Round 2 (Cardinals)

  • Round 4 (own)

  • Round 5 (own)

  • Round 6 (own)

  • Round 6 (Eagles)

Offense (post-draft)

  • Quarterback: Derek Carr, Jake Luton

  • Running back: Alvin Kamara, Alexander Mattison, Zach Charbonnet, Eno Benjamin, Derrick Gore

  • Fullback: Adam Prentice

  • Tight end: Juwan Johnson, Michael Mayer, Adam Trautman, Taysom Hill, Lucas Krull, Miller Forristall

  • Offensive tackle: Ryan Ramczyk, James Hurst, Trevor Penning, Landon Young

  • Center/guard:: Erik McCoy, Andrus Peat, Cesar Ruiz, Calvin Throckmorton, Lewis Kidd, Yasir Durant, Koda Martin

  • Wide receiver: Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, Michael Thomas, Darius Slayton, Tre’Quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Kirk Merritt, Kawaan Baker

Defense (post-draft)

  • Defensive end: Cameron Jordan, Carl Granderson, Rasheem Green, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Payton Turner, Thomas Incoom, Jabari Zuniga

  • Defensive tackle: David Onyemata, Gervon Dexter Sr., Kentavius Street, Malcolm Roach, Prince Emili

  • Inside linebacker: Demario Davis, D’Marco Jackson

  • Outside linebacker: Pete Werner, Zack Baun, Nephi Sewell, Ryan Connelly

  • Safety: Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, Ronnie Hickman, Smoke Monday

  • Cornerback: Marshon Lattimore, Alontae Taylor, Paulson Adebo, Bradley Roby, Vincent Taylor, Troy Pride Jr.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire