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There’s a sense of urgency surrounding the New Orleans Saints first-round selection in the 2021 NFL draft. It’s not difficult to identify the roster holes this year’s class needs to address; the ultimate decision at No. 28 is not so simple. While New Orleans must prioritize positional need, selecting the best player available for the Saints incurs a necessary balancing act. Particularly with opt-outs and COVID-19 restrictions hindering scouting efforts, the team can only concede so far before a need-based pick becomes a reach.
That said, positional need will be a critical factor in molding how the Saints build their draft board. Those top needs rank as follows: cornerback, linebacker, defensive line, and wide receiver. There are depth and longevity concerns at both edge rusher and defensive tackle, so this would pop up in a “best player available” scenario. How players rank within each position group is a paramount factor. Let’s take a look at the three best prospects to watch at the Saints top positional needs, with who is expected to be available at their current slot near the end of the first round.
Top CB at No. 28: Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
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Player Profile Reports that New Orleans is specifically looking to trade up to target Farley instill confidence in the durability of the potential top corner prospect in the class – if not for his poor bill of health. While some might view Farley’s inexperience at the position (less than two full seasons) a negative, the Saints likely see opportunity; with his raw skillset and sharp instincts, the team can shape a prime prototypal prospect. He’s easily the best choice at corner should his medical evaluations check out.
Choice No. 2: CB Greg Newsome, Northwestern
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Player Profile While Newsome has a lower ceiling than Farley, the Northwestern corner also comes with significantly less risk. Slightly undersized for the role, Newsome makes up the deficit with an aggressive mentality and physicality. His intelligence stands out in his ability to intuitively read routes and quick decision-making in coverage; backed by a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.66. He predominantly excels in zone coverage, but has abilities in press and off man coverage to fit multiple schemes. Past Newsome and Farley, frankly none of the remaining corners garner a first-round selection. The Saints quickly veer into reach territory at the role; better to address needs elsewhere.
Top LB at No. 28: Zaven Collins, Tulsa
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Player Profile A personal draft crush, Collins is such a dynamic playmaker at his size that it would be hard to choose any other player available here past Farley. His zone coverage abilities and disruptive ball skills lend a perfect counterpart to Demario Davis as an asset in pass coverage. He’s a true off-ball linebacker who fits in several schemes, but quite notably in the team’s frequent 4-2-5. The biggest knock with Collins is long speed, but his playmaking impact and short-burst quickness make him my most intriguing linebacker prospect in the class. Fans that still hear cries of Patrick Queen would be elated with Collins to the Saints.
Choice No. 2: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
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With the news that Collins has put on weight, however, since his pro day, New Orleans could go for an equally versatile option in Notre Dame’s Owusu-Koramoah. JOK similarly offers an asset in coverage and has the ability to mirror and keep up with slot receivers in coverage. Mentally, his instincts display strong football intelligence and he’s likely a top player available should the team remain at 28.
Top WR at 28: Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU
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If we’re talking prototype, 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds in LSU’s Marshall fits the bill. While unspecified medical issues in Indianapolis might affect his stock, his upside in terms of rare speed and athleticism at his size is a notable selling point. Particularly in instances of contested catches, Marshall’s physicality could compensate for any accuracy issues in ball placement by the Saints next quarterback. His versatility at slot or outside would serve as a strong asset in Payton’s offense.
Choice No. 2: WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
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While New Orleans likely only turns to wide receiver if the higher need positions have no players left on their board, an electrifying playmaker like Florida’s Toney would make immediate impact on offense. There is a case to prioritize receiver should the Saints lack confidence in the successor to Brees; Winston needs speed, and his blazing 40-yard time speaks for itself.