Which players should be in the Saints’ cloud at the 28th pick?

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Maddy Hudak
·6 min read
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There’s no consensus on what the New Orleans Saints will do with their first-round pick as the 2021 NFL draft quickly approaches. Unprecedented salary cap constraints precluded them from retaining key talent; those vacant roster spots are now glaring positions of need. And there are so many holes that everyone has a different take on where to start first.

New Orleans may have eyes on an early target, but it’s about finding the best player available for the Saints — not best player on the board or at a position of need. It’s a tough balancing act, but New Orleans is particularly adept at striking it. The main factors are prototype guidelines per position with exceptions for special traits, football intelligence, and character.

A look back at the team’s 2020 draft might help forecast this year’s strategy. The loss of minicamps and preseason games saw New Orleans hone in on mentally sharp rookies, valuing quality over quantity; they can’t fully ignore positional need, but shouldn’t . Particularly with sparse film, if any, from the 2020 season; just as last year, they are hindered by the loss of the scouting combine to assess certain measurables.

Weighing this all together, the positional needs rank as follows: cornerback, linebacker, and wide receiver. How players rank within those positions will be the deciding factor at No. 28 (unless the Saints choose to trade up, of course). Let’s survey players in the Saints first-round cloud and rank prospects accordingly. To get an idea of who may be available, I ran 20 mock draft simulators on several sites, tallying each prospect’s availability below. And then I filtered our options down even further.

Cornerback

  • Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech (9)

  • Greg Newsome, Northwestern (6)

Linebacker

  • Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame (3)

  • Zaven Collins, Tulsa (9)

  • Jabril Cox, LSU (20)

Wide Receiver

  • Terrace Marshall Jr., Purdue (17)

  • Rondale Moore, Purdue (17)

  • Elijah Moore, Mississippi (17)

  • Kadarius Toney, Florida (16)

Wild Cards:

  • S Trevon Moehrig, TCU (8)

  • RB Travis Ettienne, Clemson (14)

  • OT Teven Jenkins (13)

Best Player Available at No. 28: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

While unlikely, there’s a scenario where Farley and Newsome are available at 28. It’s almost impossible to rank here with so much unknown on Farley’s medicals. If New Orleans is confident in their evaluations, Farley is the clear best player available at any position at 28. Drafting Farley comes with risk; teams trended towards Newsome quite often as the safer option. But prototype-wise, Farley is the optimal prospect with the highest upside. At 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, Farley’s imposing presence jumps out on tape. Newsome’s physicality is impressive for his size, but the size is greater with Farley – and he has 4.3 speed. Players with Farley’s length, athleticism, and disruptive balls skills are rarely available at 28. Not only is he the best fit at their paramount positional need; if durable, Farley has potential to be a top corner out of this year’s draft.

Choice No. 2: CB Greg Newsome, Northwestern

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Newsome isn’t exactly a consolation prize at 28. Often linked to the Tennessee Titans – including my most recent mock, Newsome fits alongside Janoris Jenkins just as he would Lattimore. He plays aggressively to lock up receivers and fluid feet allow him to mirror targets with ease. Despite weighing in smaller than Farley at 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, his speed and physicality overcome size concerns. Similar to Farley, Newsome has traits reminiscent of Lattimore; that aggressive nature comes with downside, which is penalties. Most of, if not all of Newsome’s weaknesses are easily teachable, including timing and tackling technique. Newsome still fits as best player available when accounting for fit and need over any available linebackers.

Choice No. 3: LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa

Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

This exercise made clear corner is much thinner in this year's class with a much steeper drop-off than linebacker. The choice here is whether New Orleans views Farley or Newsome as paramount targets; in this case, expect a trade-up around No. 20. But if the team remains patient at 28, and those two players are off the board, the Saints should select Kwon Alexander’s replacement at linebacker. Past corner, this is the biggest question mark on the roster. Micah Parsons is not going to slide to 28. Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could be there, though unlikely (only available 3 out of 20). Even if JOK is there, if Zaven Collins is still left, he’s the pick. Either linebacker is a slight exception at prototype: JOK with weight and hand size, Collins with speed. None of these are teachable, but Collins’ short-burst quickness makes up the deficit. A combination of rare size and athleticism, Collins’ awareness and abilities in pass coverage are a rare, invaluable asset at linebacker. His upside as a potential blitzer with imposing size tips the scales over JOK.

Choice No. 4: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

While less viable at No. 28 than Collins in most simulators, the draft is ultimately unpredictable. Should Farley, Newsome, and Collins be off the board, said exceptions above for JOK are minute enough to stick with targeting need. His versatility and athleticism opposite Davis would make for an explosive tandem. He still is too outside the size parameters with much smaller hands than Collins. Jabril Cox’s availability in every single mock was telling; while a strong prospect, trends suggest Cox as a second-round trade-up target if all corners and linebackers are off the board. And I refuse to be swayed by Jamin Davis’ pro day; of all years, prioritizing measurables is too superficial.

Choice No. 5: Best Player Available at 28

Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

If Farley, Newsome, Collins, and JOK are all off the board, New Orleans should abandon targeting cornerback or linebacker with their No. 28 pick. Selecting 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds Asante Samuel Jr. with a RAS score of 7.46 is slightly ludicrous; while there’s a case for Melifonwu here, I’m not sure he’s the best available player for the Saints at 28. He and Stokes are viable options, but likely to be targeted in the second round – which may require a trade-up for insurance at the position. Past that, I personally am strongly against a wide receiver pick here; I weigh them equally with other best players available at any position. I identified a few wild cards: Trevon Moehrig, Travis Ettienne, Teven Jenkins, and likely-unavailable Alijah Vera-Tucker. Frankly, I’d go TCU's Moehrig over any receiver left here. The Saints pass on Moehrig if a top prospect at corner or linebacker remains, but he’s easily the best player available in this scenario. New Orleans would then need to look to trade up for Melifonwu, Stokes, or Jabril Cox to fill a position of need early in the second-round. In this “worst-case scenario,” the team can adjust by signing Kwon Alexander, Richard Sherman, or both at the right price.

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