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Saints draft: 10 early candidates to be New Orleans’ first-round pick in 2024

Top prospects in the 2024 NFL draft are already making the tough decision whether to stay in school or turn pro, and the New Orleans Saints could be in a good position to add a difference-maker after losing their last two games — so it’s a great time to brush up on which players might be available.

With the Saints projected to be picking at No. 12 overall after their recent losses, they’ll have their pick of some high-end talent coming up out of the college ranks. And they’ll need the help. They need upgrades along the offensive and defensive lines, at the skills positions, and at quarterback. Derek Carr hasn’t played well enough to keep the Saints from evaluating all of their options.

QB Jayden Daniels, LSU

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Daniels has been the most exciting player in college football this season, breaking out in a big way with 40 touchdown passes in just a dozen games. He’s thrown for 3,812 yards and turned the ball over just seven times (four interceptions). He brings a spark to the field that the Saints have been missing.

DE Jared Verse, Florida State

Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Verse fits the prototype the Saints look for at defensive end (6-foot-4 and 260 pounds) but he brings real speed off the edge that nobody on their roster can match. He’s an effective pressure player with 16 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss in two years at Florida State. The Saints badly need more juice in their pass rush off the edge.

DT Jer'Zhan Newton, Illinois

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Newton would be a great tag-team partner for Bryan Bresee; he consistently brings pressure up the middle (22.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks the last two years) and is a reliable defender against the run, which is a major weakness for the Saints defense. They haven’t gotten enough out of veteran free agents Nathan Shepherd and Khalen Saunders and it’s important to keep getting younger at the position.

TE Brock Bowers, Georgia

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Saints invested a lot of dollars in their tight ends by extending Juwan Johnson and signing Foster Moreau, but those two players have combined for just 29 catches, 257 yards, and two touchdown receptions. That’s not good enough. Bowers isn’t particularly known for his blocking but he’s competent enough to stay on the field in that role. He’s averaged an impressive 63.7 receiving yards per game in three years at Georgia.

OL Graham Barton, Duke

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Who are the Saints’ starters at left tackle and left guard next year? Barton could help solve one of those questions. He brings the size the Saints value (6-foot-5, 314 pounds) with positional flexibility after starting his career at center and moving to left tackle. He could be a great fit at guard. Andrus Peat is a free agent, Trevor Penning isn’t able to hold down a starting job, and James Hurst has lost a step.

DE Laiatu Latu, UCLA

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Latu needs to nail his pre-draft weigh-ins (he looks thin at a listed 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, but that might just mean he can add more muscle) but he can play. He’s generated 23.5 sacks and 34 tackles for loss, plus five forced fumbles and two interceptions, in two years at UCLA. He adds playmaking ability the Saints lack on the edge.

LT Patrick Paul, Houston

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Paul has logged  nearly 3,000 snaps at left tackle in his five-year career with Houston, improving each season in pass protection while cutting down on penalties. If the Saints aren’t confident Trevor Penning will rebound to resume his starting role at left tackle, Paul could make sense in the first round.

DE Bralen Trice, Washington

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Trice is a heavyset defensive end built more like Cameron Jordan than anyone else in this class at 6-foot-4 and 274 pounds, which will put him on the Saints’ radar by itself. That he’s put together some impressive games the last few years just makes him more appealing with 14 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss in his last 25 games.

LT Jordan Morgan, Arizona

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Morgan has the size (6-foot-6 and 320 pounds) to kick inside to guard if the Saints want to keep Penning outside at left tackle, but Morgan’s greater experience at a higher level of college competition could serve him well. The Saints must improve in the trenches especially on the left side of their line.

DT Leonard Taylor, Miami

Andy Lewis-USA TODAY Sports
Andy Lewis-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor has put up modest numbers (6 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss in 28 games) but his best production might be ahead of him. He’s built for the NFL at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds with a lightning-quick first step. He’s a similar prospect to Sheldon Rankins coming out of Louisville back in the day.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire