Trades shape draft class in updated 7-round Saints mock draft

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Maddy Hudak
·8 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The New Orleans Saints should optimize their assets to address key departures in free agency, and they have a lot to work with in their eight picks in the 2021 NFL draft. Despite several obvious holes and positional depth chart concerns, the team’s approach to this draft should remain largely unchanged. The Saints employ a multifaceted strategy of drafting for immediate need and the future, and are not shy to aggressively move up for coveted prospects.

New Orleans has traded up in every draft Sean Payton has conducted since 2007 (also standing pat in 2012 when he was suspended), so it makes sense to expect that trend to continue. They traded up to acquire every player they picked last year after drafting Cesar Ruiz in the first round, so what could an all-trades mock draft look like?

Accordingly, it’s time for an updated Saints mock draft that mirrors a similar approach. To remain somewhat realistic, I simulated a full run on the Draft Network mock draft machine, selecting prospects New Orleans has met with, while trading up for fallen players reminiscent of Erik McCoy and Zack Baun; the website’s A.I. automatically drafts for the 31 teams. Here’s how it went:

Round 1, Pick 30: DT Levi Onwuzurike, Washington

Credit: AP Photo/Tony Avelar

I received several trade offers leading up to the initial No. 28 pick from the mock draft machine’s A.I., including this one entertained with the Buffalo Bills. First, a move up with the Jaguars to No. 25 in exchange for this year’s compensatory third rounder at 98, and the 2021 first-round pick; much too steep to move up just three spots. Then, an offer to move back with the Cowboys, swapping No. 28 and 60 in exchange for Nos. 44, third rounders 75 and 99, and No. 115; an identical request from the Chargers offered No. 47, third rounders 77 and 97, and No. 118 in exchange. I was finally tempted by Buffalo’s offer to move back to No. 30 and sent Nos. 28 and 60 over in exchange for the pick at 30, plus Nos. 61, a fifth rounder at 161, and 213 in the sixth round. The best players available in our first-round cloud: Kansas linebacker Zaven Collins, Florida State corner Asante Samuel Jr., and Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike. New Orleans has glaring needs at cornerback and along the defensive line; they only have Marshon Lattimore, Patrick Robinson, Grant Haley, and Keith Washington under contract at corner, and it's arguably the biggest position of need. The team nonetheless prioritizes the trenches, and after several years of building the offensive line, the defensive side will take priority. And the Huskies standout the team doubled back to speak with twice is the optimal replacement for Sheldon Rankins. One of the top defensive tackles in this year’s draft class, Onwuzurike reinforces a now-weak interior line. While slightly undersized at 6-foot-3 and 283 pounds, he makes up for it in his quickness off the snap in pass rush. Not dissimilar from Sheldon Rankins who came out of college at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds; Onwuzurike is touted for his disruptiveness, and would be an ideal flank next to David Onyemata in the middle of the defense. The Saints love to draft in the trenches. This would be a steal at No. 30 and an immediate starter.

Round 2, Pick 40: CB Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State

Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff

Admittedly, I grew nervous as South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn, Northwestern CB Greg Newsome, and Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley were off the board prior to the No. 30 selection. Just as the Saints moved to No. 48 to select Erik McCoy in the 2019 NFL draft, I traded up to fill the largest roster hole for first-round graded Asante Samuel from Florida State. In exchange for the No. 40 pick, I sent the Denver Broncos the No. 61 pick, the third-round compensatory pick at 105, and the fifth rounder at 161 from the earlier trade with Buffalo. Samuel is a top prospect at cornerback who excels in man coverage; his mirroring abilities lend a highly enticing counterpart to Marshon Lattimore. While he lacks in zone coverage, his rare lockdown abilities fit the defensive schemes majorly employed by the Saints. He’s undersized at 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, but his eagerness to tackle and “dog mentality” make up the deficit. His physicality and competitive mindset remind me of C.J. Gardner-Johnson; it would be a mistake to play it safe should he still be available in the second round.

Round 3, Pick 65: TE Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame

Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

In my personal draft philosophy, compensatory picks are trade tools. With the Onwuzurike and Samuel picks addressing the biggest roster needs, I got a bit stir-crazy; the team had a steep gap between the selection at 40 and the late third rounder at No. 98. Here, I traded up again for a more potent replacement for Josh Hill than Nick Vannett. In exchange for the Jacksonville pick at No. 65, I sent them the other third-round compensatory pick at No. 98, plus our two seventh rounders at Nos. 229 and 255, and our 2022 third-round pick. With the body type of Hill, and the athleticism of Kyle Jusczyk, Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble’s versatility as a blocker rightfully piqued the interest of several teams, including the Saints – who have sparsely met with tight ends leading up to the draft. While the holes at defensive line and corner take obvious precedent, tight end is an underrated positional need for the Saints. New Orleans is betting the house on last year’s rookie Adam Trautman, an not much left thereafter. The Saints only have Trautman, recently-added Nick Vannett, Garrett Griffin, and Ethan Wolf on the roster after cutting Josh Hill and Jared Cook at the start of free agency. Tight end has been an afterthought after years of continuity between Jeremy Shockey, Jimmy Graham, and Benjamin Watson to an extent. It’s a bigger need than one might think, and Tremble brings both superior blocking and threat to the passing game than Vannett. Keeps up the tradition of trading for Tommys.

Round 4, Pick 110: DT Alim McNeill, North Carolina State

Credit: AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker

Considering Alim McNeill has been touted as a potential first-round prospect, one in the Saints first-round cloud, I couldn’t resist what would be a steal at No. 110 overall. In exchange for the earlier fourth round selection, I sent Nos. 113 and 213 to the Cleveland Browns to trade up and select McNeill here. The Saints employ a heavy rotational approach to the defensive line, and the departure of both Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown calls for some doubling down in the interior. The size concerns of Onwuzurike are offset by McNeill, listed at 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds. And where Onwuzurike reinforces the pass rush, McNeill is a run stopper with tremendous athleticism at his size – much like the speed of Erik McCoy. McNeill is a contender for the team’s first-round selection when surveying team need, prospect prototype, and the philosophy of building the trenches through the draft. Should he be available in the fourth round, New Orleans is one of the teams’ most likely to make an aggressive play and snag him here.

Round 5, Pick 153: WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, Illinois

Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

With the change at quarterback for the first time in 15 seasons, the Saints offense will see a shift tailored to Jameis Winston’s abilities. Wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe out of Illinois fits that prototype of a down-field deep threat, with rare athleticism; nearly all the receivers New Orleans met with were off the board, and the fit with Imatorbhebhe called for one last trade. In exchange for the No. 153 pick from the Detroit Lions, I sent over the remaining sixth rounder at 218, and 2022’s fifth and seventh-round picks.

Round 6, Pick 212: CB Thomas Graham Jr., Oregon

Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I thought I was done with this mock draft until the Houston Texans offered their pick at 212 in exchange for 2022’s fourth rounder and 2023’s third-round pick. Corner is a skill position I’m never fully comfortable with banking on through the draft if not in the Top 15 overall; it’s notably difficult to evaluate with the limitations of schemes employed by the college. Accordingly, I accepted this trade to select mid-round prospect Thomas Graham. Graham lacks the upside of top prospects, but is instinctive and flourishes more in zone coverage; if nothing else to offset the weaknesses of earlier selection Asante Samuel.

Reviewing our draft

So after all of those moves, here is the haul we came away with:

  • Round 1, Pick 30: DT Levi Onwuzurike, Washington

  • Round 2, Pick 40: CB Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State

  • Round 3, Pick 65: TE Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame

  • Round 4, Pick 110: DT Alim McNeill, North Carolina State

  • Round 5, Pick 153: WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, Illinois

  • Round 6, Pick 212: CB Thomas Graham Jr., Oregon

And here are the picks we're left with in 2022:

  • Round 1

  • Round 2

  • Round 3 (compensatory: VP Terry Fontenot)

  • Round 4 (compensatory, projected: DE Trey Hendrickson)

  • Round 5 (compensatory, projected: DT Sheldon Rankins)

1

1