It’s a rainy Saturday in November with tons of 2024 NFL draft prospects competing in their college matchups, so we’ll take a spin on the Pro Football Focus mock draft simulator to try and find some help for the New Orleans Saints.
Obviously it’s too soon to seriously guess about their team needs when we’re only midway through the current regular season (with a busy free agency period on the horizon), but it’s worth keeping tabs on who is impressing college football fans and NFL scouts ahead of the next draft cycle.
With that in mind, here are our picks through five rounds with analysis for each selection:
Round 1, Pick 19 (19th overall)
What luck: the two highest-rated prospects available here both fit the Saints’ needs in Florida State defensive end Jared Verse and Alabama right tackle JC Latham. A run on quarterbacks helped them both fall to New Orleans, but we’ll take it.
The long-term outlook for the offensive line is a mess with Trevor Penning getting benched and no young options emerging at left guard; and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk isn’t getting younger, even if his play has returned to form as of late. Latham is very tempting. Even if he doesn’t start right away, he can be an asset inside at guard, where he’s played before in the SEC.
But Verse has it all. He hits the size thresholds the Saints maintain at defensive end and his high-end athleticism is clear from game tape. He’s been wildly productive at the college level. They desperately need a third pass rusher to rotate into games off the edge with Cameron Jordan aging and Carl Granderson entering a long-term contract. Payton Turner hasn’t worked out and Isaiah Foskey has yet to show much, but the Saints need to keep drafting these pass rushers until one of them works out. The position is too valuable. Verse is the pick.
Round 2, Pick 9 (41st overall)
We’re back with the second-round pick coming from Denver and both of the top-rated prospects available are cornerbacks: Kamari Lassiter (Georgia) and T.J. Tampa (Iowa State). The Saints could use another corner with Paulson Adebo entering the last year of his rookie contract in 2024, but that would be a luxury choice given their other needs.
So let’s go back to the offensive line. One player to watch here is Washington left tackle Troy Fautanu, who has experience playing at left guard — a spot the Saints need to lock up long-term. You could say that about left tackle, too. It remains to be seen whether Andrus Peat is a sure thing at that spot and it’s also too soon to write off Trevor Penning altogether. But Fautanu’s versatility and impressive game tape warrants consideration. He could push Penning at tackle or kick inside to guard.
Someone else to consider: Arizona left tackle Jordan Morgan. He’s playing at a very high level while coming off a season-ending knee injury last season with tons of experience against future NFL pass rushers. If he’s available here, he should be the pick. I don’t believe he’ll make it to the No. 41 overall pick in April, but he did this time, and he’s our pick. His ceiling is too high to pass up even if his immediate role on offense is unclear. The Saints haven’t blocked well enough up front to stand pat with who they have.
Round 4, Pick 36 (136th overall)
That’s quite a ways to fall between the Saints’ second and third draft picks, and they badly need a compensatory pick for David Onyemata to cash in so they can get back on the board here. Anyway. We got better in the trenches to start off, so let’s consider our options out of the best available prospects here:
TE Dallin Holker (Colorado State)
LB Smael Mondon Jr. (Georgia)
RB Will Shipley (Clemson)
CB Brian Mayes (UAB)
TE Cade Stover (Ohio State)
There are some interesting names here. Holker has broken out as a big-time receiving threat (51 catches for 652 yards with 6 touchdown receptions) after transferring from BYU, but Stover better fits the size requirements the Saints keep at tight end and he’s known as a reliable blocker who can make plays as a receiver. Mondon is a sure tackler and heady defender who doesn’t make many mistakes, and he plays a lot of snaps on special teams, which the Saints value.
Shipley could be a nice addition to the backfield but his problems picking up the blitz could discourage the Saints from drafting him. His listed weight (205 pounds) is also about 10 to 15 pounds under the thresholds the Saints seem to keep at running back. Mayes fits what they look for athletically but he’s been penalized 15 times in his last 22 games, and he doesn’t have as much experience on special teams they look for.
With all this in mind, we’ll trim the list down to Mondon and Stover. Which position is a greater need: linebacker or tight end? The Saints are set at tight end through 2024 after extending Juwan Johnson and signing Foster Moreau, but Stover’s special teams experience (500+ career snaps) could help him dress out in games where Jimmy Graham has been inactive this year. And Johnson only signed a two-year extension this summer, so maybe Stover could work his way up the depth chart by 2025.
Mondon is intriguing. He’s a two-year starter who has twice led the country’s best defense in tackles. You’d like to see him make more plays in pass coverage. Zack Baun is likely leaving in free agency in the spring and Demario Davis isn’t getting younger but the Saints have a couple of young linebackers waiting in the wings like Nephi Sewell, D’Marco Jackson, and Anfernee Orji. It wouldn’t hurt to add him to the mix and he could play right away on special teams.
Flip a coin. Stover won, and he’s our pick here.
Round 5, Pick 19 (156th overall)
There were two prospects who jumped out here: Alabama running back Jase McClellan and BYU linebacker Ben Bywater. McClellan has some big-play ability on the ground and obviously comes from a program that has sent many runners to the NFL, though he hasn’t been a big player for Alabama on passing downs. Bywater is a high-end athlete with a lot of experience on special teams, but each of his last two seasons have ended with shoulder injuries. Either of them could fill a position of need but there are some obvious drawbacks.
Let’s consider a third option: Illinois defensive tackle Keith Randolph Jr. His teammate Jer’Zahn Newton is drawing a ton of well-earned buzz as a first round prospect, but Randolph has been a steady player in the rotation for several years. He’s very disruptive, wins a lot of his battles at the line of scrimmage, and he’d be a nice prospect to develop should Malcolm Roach leave in free agency. He feels like a safer pick with a shorter path to playing-time than the other players on the board right now.
Round 5, Pick 33 (170 overall)
There were a couple of different safeties available here, but Alabama’s Malachi Moore was the best of the bunch. He’s stepped up this season after waiting his turn behind a couple of NFL players, most notably Brian Branch, and he’s a reliable player in all phases: capably stopping the run, defending the pass, and running with every special teams unit.
He’s someone Nick Saban has pointed to as a source of leadership this season and he’d be a good fit in New Orleans. Both Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu will be entering the final year of their contracts in 2024. While Jordan Howden has done well to position himself as an heir for Maye, Moore could do the same as Mathieu’s understudy.
Another player we looked at here: Texas A&M slot receiver Ainias Smith. He’s an impressive athlete with rare movement skills that result in big-play ability. Better quarterback play than he saw at the college level could be good for him. He could be an upgrade over Lynn Bowden Jr. further down the depth chart while pushing for targets, but Moore is our pick here as someone who can play right away in a couple of different spots.
Round 5, Pick 39 (176th overall)
Well, wouldn’t you know it: the other player we considered with our last pick was still on the board six slots later. Smith could quickly climb the depth chart if he runs his routes hard and punches above his weight class as a blocker for his teammates; his listed measurements at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds are underneath with what the Saints look for as a prototype, but his speed and agility could make up for it just like Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed did. It’s worth spending a late-round draft pick to find out if he can play.
Recapping our draft
Round 1, Pick 19 (19th overall): DE Jared Verse, Florida State
Round 2, Pick 9 (41st overall): OL Jordan Morgan, Arizona
Round 4, Pick 36 (136th overall): TE Cade Stover, Ohio State
Round 5, Pick 19 (156th overall): DT Keith Randolph Jr., Illinois
Round 5, Pick 33 (170 overall): DB Malachi Moore, Alabama
Round 5, Pick 39 (176th overall): WR Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
That’s not a bad group. We’re faster and more athletic defensively while adding a battle-tested left tackle who should help settle things along the offensive line. It’s tough to find immediate contributors on the third and final day of the draft, but Stover should be active for nearly every game for his chops as a blocker and work on special teams. Randolph can play in the rotation and hopefully develop into Bryan Bresee’s co-starter. Moore might have a higher ceiling than we’re anticipating if his movement skills can live up to the hype.
We didn’t accomplish every goal, though. It would have been nice to add a linebacker who could take over for Demario Davis in a year or two, and another running back with some juice would be a welcome pickup given Kendre Miller’s struggles staying healthy. There’s also an argument for drafting a starting-quality guard instead of a left tackle early in the second round. And finding a quarterback who could push Jake Haener for the backup job behind Derek Carr would’ve been nice. But it’s important to remember that the draft follows free agency, which is where the Saints like to solve their problems. And who knows: maybe those positions won’t look as concerning once the draft finally gets here next April.