USA TODAY mock draft sends Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman to the Saints

Rebuilding the defensive line should be a major priority for the New Orleans Saints this offseason. Sure, they have bigger fires to put out at quarterback and maybe running back, but they badly need to revitalize a defensive line that could be losing a lot of players to free agency next month.

Here’s the latest from USA TODAY Sports columnist Nate Davis on what the Saints should do with the No. 29 overall draft pick, which they got from the Broncos (who received it from the Dolphins, who acquired it from the 49ers, before it was sent to New Orleans). He likes the look of Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness in black and gold:

“New Orleans picked up this peripatetic pick by letting Payton go to Denver. Van Ness should be an every-down player who can line up outside or in depending on the situation. And with this D-line set to lose David Onyemata, Marcus Davenport and Shy Tuttle, a versatile replacement who can get to the quarterback – Van Ness has 13 sacks and 17 TFLs over the past two seasons – would provide welcome support to aging DE Cam Jordan, 33.”

Van Ness is certainly built like a Saints defensive end at a listed 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds with long arms and a frame that suggests he can get even bigger. He’s made plays inside and outside for the Hawkeyes, having started his career along the defensive interior before moving outside in recent years, and his natural functional strength makes him a powerful run defender. He’s still working on shedding blocks and keeping alert through contact to read the flow of the play, but he’s on the right track to developing into an all-around asset.

But doesn’t that sound a lot like Davenport and Payton Turner? A talented prospect with a high ceiling but some questions about what he can do to help out right away? Van Ness’s detractors will point out that he’s never started a game for Iowa’s defense and that’s prone to making mistakes in knowing when to plug a gap and when to funnel the ball-carrier towards his help. He’s not all the way there yet and he’d probably continue to be a backup in New Orleans. Still, maybe he’s more pro-ready than his scouting report lets on.

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Story originally appeared on Saints Wire