Saints improve but neglect their top need in Mel Kiper’s two-round mock draft

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John Sigler
·3 min read
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The 2021 NFL draft is just two weeks away, so ESPN’s Mel Kiper released an updated two-round mock draft to share his latest guess at how the opening picks might shake out. And while the Saints get better on each side of the ball, this projection has them exiting the first two rounds without addressing their most important need: cornerback.

Instead, Kiper has the Saints spending their first pick at No. 28 overall on Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins. Here’s what he wrote of the match:

“The Saints haven’t been able to add players this offseason because of their salary-cap constraints, so this is their best chance to get a player who can make an immediate impact. They have to hit on their pick if they want to extend their championship window with Drew Brees retired. Collins is a versatile linebacker who was the only FBS player to have at least four sacks and four interceptions last season. He wasn’t asked to rush the passer much, but he still got four sacks. He could play outside or middle linebacker for New Orleans. He’s a fun defender to watch.”

Collins could slot into the Saints starting defense next to Demario Davis right away, injecting a much-needed boost of athleticism and playmaking ability to a vulnerable position group. But that would be quite an indictment of Zack Baun, a linebacker the Saints drafted last year and couldn’t find snaps for behind Davis, Alex Anzalone, and midseason trade pickup Kwon Alexander. New Orleans doesn’t own its third rounder this year after trading that pick to help acquire Baun in the first place; investing so much in him and drafting his replacement so soon would be tough to explain.

But let’s move on to the second round, where Kiper has linked the Saints to Purdue slot receiver Rondale Moore. Moore is a stronger version of Deonte Harris who produced against better competition, but he comes with his own injury history much like the undrafted returns specialist. Here’s Kiper’s vision for how Moore could fit in:

“With Emmanuel Sanders gone in free agency, I have to believe the Saints will use one of their first two picks on a receiver. And since I went with a versatile front-seven piece in Round 1, I’ll add Moore here for Sean Payton & Co. Purdue ran its entire offense through Moore, who’s 5-foot-7 but extremely explosive with the ball in his hands. He forced 30 missed tackles as a freshman in 2018. Payton will be able to get the most out of Moore, using him on jet sweeps and screens and getting him the ball in creative ways.”

It’s easy to see the appeal in both of these picks, but it leaves the Saints without a challenger to compete with Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams for the starting job across from Marshon Lattimore. Tossing two career backups and some practice squad holdovers into that battle, maybe along with a rookie picked in the middle rounds, is a steep regression from the level Janoris Jenkins played at last year. Maybe the Saints could find a veteran free agent willing to sign at an affordable price to make up for it, but that’s still a glaring weakness.