All signs point to the New Orleans saints addressing their defensive line in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, and that’s exactly what ESPN’s Mel Kiper predicted in his final mock draft. Kiper likes the Saints to select Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Mazi Smith at the end of Round 1 on Thursday night, writing:
Smith is getting some first-round buzz because he’s the best run-stuffer in this class. At 6-foot-3, 323 pounds, he can plug a hole. Teams don’t always prefer tackles with limited pass-rushing upside, but he’d fill a need in New Orleans. I moved Smith to No. 30 overall on my Big Board.
Smith is going to be limited to early downs to start off his pro career, but he’s athletic enough to make you believe he can become an all-around defender with some ability to push the pocket on critical third downs. But he isn’t the kind of defensive tackle the Saints should be looking for this early in the draft. They need someone with real juice who can get after quarterbacks and push opposing guards off the line of scrimmage, not just hold ground.
But there’s a very real scenario where Smith is the best player available at New Orleans’ top position of need. There’s been a lot of smoke linking them to Pittsburgh Panthers prospect Calijah Kancey in recent days, but he doesn’t hit any of their physical thresholds for height, weight, or length and it makes him a tough projection to the next level, and Kiper has them passing on Kancey in favor of Smith in this mock. We’ll see how it all shakes out in prime time on Thursday night.