We’re a long way off from the 2021 NFL Draft, but with bowl season set to begin soon it’s worth taking another look at which prospects could be on the New Orleans Saints’ radar in the spring. So it’s as good a time as any to run through another seven-round mock draft, courtesy of the Draft Network mock draft machine.
It’s kind of tough to project where they’ll stand. Salary cap casualties feel inevitable, and free agency should be a toss-up. Compensatory draft picks for 2021 won’t be announced until the offseason, and the Saints should receive two of them: a third rounder for losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a sixth rounder for losing linebacker A.J. Klein.
But the NFL is reportedly cracking down on teams that circumvent the comp picks policy, and could rescind that sixth-round pick because the Saints waited to sign quarterback Jameis Winston after the deadline. It figures that teams like the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens got away with this for decades only for the Saints to take the fall for it. While we won’t know for sure until next year, I’ll assume the Saints don’t receive that sixth rounder.
Round 1, Pick 31: QB Kyle Trask, Florida
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There were a couple of linemen available here (USC defender Jay Tufele, Michigan right tackle Jalen Mayfield), and that’s probably more realistic given the Saints’ draft history. But with Drew Brees headed for retirement and Taysom Hill not earning the most inspiring reviews in his first starts, it’s time to roll the dice on a high-ceiling quarterback prospect. And Trask fits the bill. He protects the football well (just 12 interceptions on 745 career pass attempts, about 1.6%) and has really put everything together in his senior year. You’d like to see someone his size (6-foot-5 and 240 pounds) make more plays with his legs, and his footwork in the pocket can get messy. But those are coachable flaws the Saints have worked with before.
Round 2, Pick 63: DE Victor Dimukeje, Duke
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Dimukeje was the clear-cut best player available at this spot, and he should help the Saints right away. They might not be able to keep Trey Hendrickson with the way he’s played and where the salary cap is headed (flat-lining at best), and there’s room for another edge rusher even if he does stay in New Orleans -- guys like Margus Hunt and Carl Granderson have gotten snaps in the rotation this year behind Hendrickson, Cameron Jordan, and Marcus Davenport. Dimukeje has ranked among Power 5 leaders in quarterback pressures in each of the last few years, and he has the tools to translate to the NFL. He’s a little smaller than the Saints prefer at defensive end (6-foot-3, 265 pounds), but that isn’t too far off from where Hendrickson himself was coming out of Florida Atlantic (6-foot-4, 270 pounds). Like Hendrickson, he would benefit from an NFL strength and conditioning program.
Round 3, Pick 95: Traded
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This pick was traded to the Cleveland Browns so the Saints could move up in the 2020 draft for linebacker Zack Baun, who has only logged 190 snaps on special teams and 46 snaps on defense through Week 14. A training camp injury slowed down his development, and the Saints rarely field a strong side linebacker like him, preferring to run nickel personnel as their base.
Round 3, Pick 98: WR Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
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The Saints are projected to receive a compensatory third-round pick in 2021 after losing Bridgewater as a free agent in 2020, which I used on a receiver. Tre’Quan Smith and Emmanuel Sanders are both headed for the final year of their contracts in 2021, so a long-term option like Surratt makes sense here. Other options like Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz and UCF’s Marlon Williams were also available. Surratt opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19; before that, he racked up 107 career receptions for 1,582 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches in just 19 career games. That’s a rate of 5.6 catches for 83.3 yards per game with the Demon Deacons. He has prototypical size at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and should compete for snaps right away with backups Marquez Callaway and Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
Round 4, Pick 132: RB Chubba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
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Running back isn’t a position of need for the Saints, but their roster hasn’t gotten where it is by drafting for need. I didn’t want to reach on a cornerback or safety here just for the sake of adding one, and Hubbard was by far the best prospect available. Latavius Murray could be a salary cap casualty (the Saints would save $2.5 million by trading or cutting him; Hubbard’s entire projected rookie contract is valued at about $3.9 million in this draft slot, with a 2021 cap hit of just over $700,000), and Hubbard would form a terrific duo with Alvin Kamara to help prop up the next Saints quarterback -- whether that’s Trask, Winston, or Taysom Hill. Landing Hubbard here is a steal; it feels like the Saints getting safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the fourth round in 2019, as another high-quality talent who fell because of other concerns. Teams were reportedly concerned by Gardner-Johnson’s interviews. Hubbard had a disappointing 2020 season, largely due to factors out of his control like the chaos of COVID-19. That could turn off some teams, and help the Saints benefit in this scenario. Hubbard remains one of college football’s most explosive running backs and.
Round 5: Traded, conditional
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The Saints don’t own their own fifth-round pick after trading it to acquire San Francisco 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander. If he meets certain playing time requirements, that fifth rounder will be counted for in 2021. If he doesn’t meet those goals, however, the pick reverts to 2022. For now, we’ll assume he does get there. He’s already played 225 snaps on defense (72% of all possible snaps) in five games.
Round 6: Traded
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This pick was traded to the Houston Texans in 2020 to select Tommy Stevens, a college quarterback the Saints tried and failed to convert to tight end. Saints coach Sean Payton made that move to spite the Carolina Panthers, who planned to sign Stevens as a rookie free agent. He ended up joining the Panthers practice squad after all, as a quarterback.
Round 7, Pick 31: Forfeited
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For now, the Saints don’t own a seventh rounder in 2021 because of penalties issued from the NFL office repeated following breaches in COVID-19 protocol, even though other teams that created outbreaks of infections by being far more negligent weren’t punished as heavily. The team is appealing the loss of this draft pick, but they haven’t won it back yet.