Saints use picks from Sean Payton trade in new 7-round NFL mock draft

The New Orleans Saints offseason is closing in on us, so we’ll be picking up our series of 2023 mock drafts most Mondays. We’ll mainly be using this as an excuse to scout emerging draft prospects while reflecting the latest Saints news and roster moves: signings, cuts, trades, restructures, and so on, as well as the looming Sean Payton trade (which is our gimmick in this first entry).

For reference, we’re using the projected final draft order from Tankathon, which does account for unannounced compensatory draft picks. Here’s seven rounds of Saints mock draft picks and a projected trade sending Payton to the Denver Broncos:

The Sean Payton trade

Here’s what we’ll say the Saints get back from Denver in exchange for Sean Payton:

  • 2023 first round pick (No. 30)

  • 2023 third round pick (No. 68)

  • 2023 fourth round pick (No. 108)

New Orleans throws in its 2023 fourth rounder (No. 115) to make that more of a pick swap, moving up seven slots in the fourth frame. Hopefully the Saints can just get that fourth-round pick outright, but Payton will want some picks to use in drafting his own players, so we’ll compromise with something being thrown in as an afterthought to begin with. Here’s where the Saints stand now in our mock draft:

  • Round 1, pick 30 (via Denver, from San Francisco)

  • Round 2, pick 41

  • Round 3, pick 68 (via Denver, from Indianapolis)

  • Round 3, pick 72

  • Round 4, pick 108 (via Denver)

  • Round 5, pick 147

  • Round 5, pick 167 (via Philadelphia)

  • Round 7, pick 229

  • Round 7, pick 260 (compensatory)

Now let’s get to the selections.

Round 1, pick 30 (via Denver, from San Francisco and Miami): RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama

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Gibbs can make some noise right away as a complementary runner to Alvin Kamara, but he brings real value on third downs and should audition for the starting gig if Kamara is suspended in 2023 once his Las Vegas battery case is resolved.

Round 2, pick 41: S JL Skinner, Boise State

Brian Losness-USA TODAY SportsMarcus Maye can’t be the only Saints safety with range considering how much time he’s missed to injuries (appearing in just 16 of 34 games the last two years). He’s also facing a suspension in 2023 following a 2021 DUI case and a 2022 road rage incident in New Orleans. Skinner pushes guys like Justin Evans and Daniel Sorensen down the depth chart while giving the Saints a ballhawk to develop as Maye’s replacement in the near future. He’s also a big special teams player who can help the Saints shake back after a rough year in the game’s third phase.

Round 3, pick 68 (via Denver, from Indianapolis): QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

Donald Page/Getty ImagesThere’s a lot New Orleans needs to clear up with Hooker. His knee injury is a concern, as is his age (he recently turned 25), and the offense he played in at Tennessee will be tough to mimic in the NFL. But he’s an incredibly accurate passer and one of the best pre-snap quarterbacks in the draft class. He’s beaten every coverage imaginable and is known for his leadership skills. Expect the Saints to acquire a veteran passer one way or another, but it’s worth rolling the dice on Hooker at this point.

Round 3, pick 72: DT Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY SportsBenton is a natural run defender with untapped potential as a pass rusher, much like David Onyemata was when he came out of college. He would be an ideal fit in the interior rotation. The Saints run defense has fallen off in recent years but a player like Benton could get them back on track.

Round 4, pick 108 (via Denver): WR Andrei Iosivas, Princeton

Peter Ackerman / USA TODAY NETWORK-Asbury Park PressScouts are high on Iosivas and hype is already building for him ahead of the Senior Bowl practices when he’ll get to compete against better competition than he saw in the Ivy League. He’s got rare straight-line speed and clutch hands in contested-catch situations. He also adds a size element the Saints receiving corps is missing at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds.

Round 5, pick 147: LG Chandler Zavala, N.C. State

AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker

Zavala is a favorite at Pro Football Focus, where snap-by-snap charting found he didn’t allow a single sack last season. He’s an experienced left guard who could compete for snaps if the Saints move on from Andrus Peat this offseason. You have to hope Trevor Penning locks down the left tackle spot to push James Hurst inside, but Zavala is worth a look for his skills in pass protection. Maybe have him and Lewis Kidd compete for that backup spot along with Calvin Throckmorton.

Round 5, pick 167 (via Philadelphia): DE Thomas Incoom, Central Michigan

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Incoom was a dynamic pressure player off the edge for Central Michigan, and he’s got the tools to help an NFL pass-rush unit out right away. He brings similar size and speed to Trey Hendrickson coming out of Florida Atlantic back in 2017. If the Saints don’t retain Marcus Davenport or Tanoh Kpassagnon, they’ll need to restock that position group, and Incoom is a good prospect at this point in the draft.

Round 7, pick 229: FB Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State

Erin Woodiel / Argus Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK-Argus Leader

Luepke is a versatile player who can catch, run, and block well while helping chip in on special teams. The Saints are one of the few teams to still use a fullback often, so Luepke should be on their radar. If Taysom Hill follows Sean Payton to a new team (Denver?), Luepke could hypothetically fill in for some of his package plays.

Round 7, pick 260 (compensatory): RT Wanya Morris, Oklahoma

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Morris started most of the 2022 season at right tackle for the Sooners, and he held his own in pass protection while flashing room for growth. He has NFL size at a listed 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds and could be a nice developmental pick to back up Ryan Ramczyk.

Recapping our draft

  • Round 1, pick 30: RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama

  • Round 2, pick 41: S JL Skinner, Boise State

  • Round 3, pick 68: QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

  • Round 3, pick 72: DT Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin

  • Round 4, pick 108: WR Andrei Iosivas, Princeton

  • Round 5, pick 147: LG Chandler Zavala, N.C. State

  • Round 5, pick 167: DE Thomas Incoom, Central Michigan

  • Round 7, pick 229: FB Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State

  • Round 7, pick 260: RT Wanya Morris, Oklahoma

We’ve restocked the trenches on each side of the line while adding athleticism on offense, and identified a quarterback who might be something special. If they hit on a rookie passer like Hooker, retooling the roster and getting back to the playoff hunt gets exponentially easier. Having a strong running game and offensive line increases his odds.

But Skinner might be my favorite pick here — we saw way too many snaps from the likes of Sorensen and Evans in 2022, and I’m not optimistic about Maye’s availability moving forward. The Saints have done a great job drafting and developing safeties. The problem is they can’t seem to hold onto them. Hopefully he breaks that trend.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire