The New Orleans Saints are one of the most unpredictable teams when it comes to working out who they will draft. Their thirst for trading up, strict prototypes and penchant for hulking small school DEs (said half in jest) makes it very difficult to pin down where they will go. Add to that, this year is not the same Saints squad we have become used to in the last 5 years, gone is the roster with very few holes and great depth. Now the Saints have an ageing roster with several holes to fill both as starters and key depth pieces.
You could make a case for the Saints to draft almost every position except Center (unless they are moving McCoy to Guard), Tackle (however if they do that shows that Ryan Ramczyk’s Knee is far worse than they are letting on, in which case a Tackle would make sense) and outside Corner, which I believe is the deepest position on the team.
Using information picked up along the way from the media, looking at information on the draft prospects and keeping in mind the Saints prototypes at different positions this is my best guess and who the Saints will pick in this year’s draft.
Round 1 Pick 29
Players I see being available and being in the Saints cloud at pick 29 in no particular order:
DE Myles Murphy, DE Lukas Van Ness, DT Bryan Bresee, DT Calijah Kancey, DT Mazi Smith, CB Cam Smith, LB Jack Campbell, LB Drew Sanders.
OG Steve Avila, TE Darnell Washington, TE Michael Mayer, WR Quinten Johnson, WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, RB Jahmyr Gibbs.
There are likely to be several quality options at positions of need available when the Saints pick at 29. All the signs point to the Saints addressing the trenches either on the D-line or the O-line and only if the right options aren’t available when they are on the clock do I see them going elsewhere.
I’ve only included Murphy and Van Ness in the cloud as I see them as trade-up options rather than players who will be available at 29. However, if they start to slide to the late teens/early 20s I could totally see the Saints moving up for either. As I’m not going to be predicting any trades in this mock those players are now out of contention.
That leaves me with 4 options Bresee, Kancey, Smith and Avila. I’ve gone back and forth countless times, I’ve been set on Bresee being to pick here, but then I started to see Smith as a really viable option. Some news has come out over the last week or so that the Saints have been ‘burning the phonelines’ getting info on Kancey and they’ve also been listed as a team who loves Avila.
I struggle to see the Saints breaking their prototype enough for Kancey, the height and weight aren’t really the reasons in my opinion, I think it’s the arm length (30 5/8’’) there is barely anyone at this position in the NFL that have even made an NFL roster, let alone been successful (if you don’t believe me check for yourself). He is exactly the type of player they need ( a penetrating, 3-tech with elite pass-rushing skills) so if they went that way I could see the reasons why but I struggle to put him as the pick here.
Smith is a massive DT with freak athleticism which would put him firmly on the Saints radar, however, there is not a huge amount of pass rush production in college, but there is a belief that he can develop that part of his game once he gets with NFL coaches, but I feel like the Saints will want more proven pass rush skills at this point in the draft.
That leaves me with Bresee and Avila, Bresee fits the Saints 3 Tech DT prototype almost perfectly he would just need to add about 5-10 lbs of weight which with his 6ft 5″ frame wouldn’t be a problem. He struggled in his college career with injury (torn ACL)/ illness and a tragic off-the-field situation where his sister died of Cancer at the age of 15. This meant the former number 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school did not live up to that hype in college. However, he has all the moldable tools that the Saints would love at the position and it would fill a massive need on the roster.
Finally Avila, a rock-solid, scheme versatile mammoth at Guard that performed really well at the senior bowl ( which we know the Saints love) very athletic for his size and fits the Saints guard prototype from a physical standpoint. The Saints don’t necessarily have a crying need at OG currently with starting guards Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz both on the roster. However Peat is injury prone and a free agent after this season and Ruiz is coming off a season-ending foot injury and currently is also a free agent after this season (unless they pick up his 5th-year option, which seems unlikely due to 14mill price tag).
I’ve toiled over this choice a lot but I’m going with Bryan Bresee here I think the upside at a crying position of need will be too much for the Saints to ignore.
The pick- DT Bryan Bresee
Round 2 Pick 40
Players I could see being available and in the Saints cloud at pick 40 in no particular order, also depending on who they go at 29.
DT Calijah Kancey, DT Mazi Smith, DT/DE Adetomiwa Adebawore, DE/DT Keion White, DE Isaiah Foskey, CB Cam Smith, LB Jack Campbell, LB Drew Sanders
OG Steve Avila, TE Darnell Washington, TE Michael Mayer, TE Sam LaPorta, TE Tucker Kraft, RB Jahmyr Gibbs, WR Jonathan Mingo, WR Cedric Tillman
The Saints next pick is only 11 picks later, meaning a lot of the players in their cloud in round 1 are likely to still be there at pick 40. The rumours around what the Saints want to achieve early in this draft are varied, some have said they want to target the trenches early and others have said they are prioritising another weapon in the passing game (WR or TE).
Also, this seems like a spot value-wise to add at LB, the Saints need another player there with father time surely catching up with Demario Davis soon, Pete Werner’s injury history and losing Kaden Elliss in free agency, this could be the right time to add another LB with one eye on the future and one eye on the potential depth issues for this current year. If they were to add there Jack Campbell and Drew Sanders make a lot of sense. Campbell is a perfect long-term option to replace Davis, whereas Sanders has high upside as a pass rusher so could fill the Kaden Elliss role this year while he develops into an every-down LB.
As an Alvin Kamara clone Gibbs would make a lot of sense here as some who can start this year while Kamara is likely suspended and then he could replace Kamara in the long term, but I’m just not confident enough that they will spend this high of a pick in class with great depth at RB where you could find + starters in possibly the 4th or 5th round and the Saints signed Jamaal Williams in FA which also gives me pause at this stage.
I’d love the Saints to go DE (my pick would be Isaiah Foskey) early, unfortunately, I don’t think they will. Earlier in the off-season Nick Underhill ( a very trusted source on the Saints) mentioned on his podcast on a couple of occasions that he’s heard the Saints like their DEs and if anything they just want to add depth that makes me believe the Saints won’t go DE early unless someone they love falls unexpectedly.
Now for TE/WR, there could be some really good options here the Saints have been vocal about wanting to add players with contested catch ability and about wanting to add at TE. So players like Washington, Mayer (if still available) Kraft and LaPorta make a tonne of sense as big physical TEs with great pass-catching ability and value as blockers ( Washington, Mayer and Kraft more so than LaPorta in that area). Add to that two prototype X WRs in Tillman and Mingo both who are big and athletic who would provide great short-term and long-term Michael Thomas insurance. Pass catcher is definitely an avenue I could see them going here.
Finally, the elephant in the room, Steve Avila, a player I thought could easily be the pick at 29, if the Saints don’t pick him in the first there is a more reasonable chance that he could still be there only 11 picks later ( or they could even trade up to secure him) if they do like him how its been reported.
I’ve changed this pick several times, for a long time I was going Darnell Washington, then Jack Campbell, then a player like Mingo or Tillman made a lot of sense but finally I’ve settled on known of these players. The Saints love for the trenches is strong and the path for a long-term answer at OG with short-term depth upside made me finally settle on Steve Avila.
The pick- OG Steve Avila
Round 3 Pick 71
Players I could see being available and in the Saints cloud at pick 71 in no particular order, also depending on who they go at 29 and 40.
DT Gervon Dexter, DT Zacch Pickens, DE Isaiah McGuire, DE Zach Harrison, Safety/ Slot CB Jartavius Martin, LB DeMarvion Overshown, LB Yasir Abdullah, LB Nick Herbig, CB Cory Trice Jr,
WR A.T. Perry, WR Rashee Rice, WR Michael Wilson, TE Tucker Kraft, TE Luke Schoonmaker, TE Brenton Strange, RB Zach Charbonnet, RB Devon Achane, RB Tyjae Spears, RB Roschon Johnson, RB DeWayne McBride, RB Kendre Miller, OG Chandler Zavala, OG Anthony Bradford and OG Braeden Daniels.
I like some of DE options here, especially Zach Harrison (He’s so Saints it hurts with 36 1/4’’ arms) but after addressing the trenches twice already I don’t think the Saints will go D-line here.
Jartavius Martin is still available not only would I love the pick but it’s also a pick I think the Saints would make. He’s met with the Saint during the pre-draft process, and he fits their Slot prototype perfectly from a size and weight perspective perfectly, he’s played a lot at both safeties spots, outside corner and in the slot. Plus, currently, the starting slot CB on the roster is Bradley Roby who is 30 years old (will be 31 on May 1st) and is a free agent after this season. However, I just have a feeling he won’t be there by the time they pick in the third.
Despite nearly taking a LB earlier I don’t think the value would match at this stage of the draft with a fairly thin class at LB I think this is a position they wait on to add now.
Therefore, I think this pick goes on offense either RB or WR/TE and there are some great options here for the Saints to choose from. A.T. Perry and Rashee Rice would make total sense as big, athletic contested catch WRs. TE’s Kraft, Schoonmaker and Strange also make sense as freaky athletic TEs with blocking ability, giving the Saints the perfect compliment to Juwan Johnson, if Kraft were to be available I would pick him in a heartbeat as he’s one of my favourite players in the draft, but I think the Saints would need to trade up from 71 to secure Kraft.
I just have a feeling the Saints want to add an RB early having met with all of the RBs listed above and media reporting the Saints wanted to add an RB in the draft the past two years in the draft, I don’t think the Saints let the opportunity slip this time. Of all of the options I think Charbonnet fits the Saints the best my only worry is he may not be there at 71, Achane is too small for the Saints to take a risk on this early. Nick Underhill of neworleans.football also mentioned earlier in the off-season on one of the Neworleans.football podcasts that he had texted scouts on the thoughts between Miller and Spears as prospects the scouts came back with Miller being the one to go for over Spears due to cleaner medicals, I really like Spears as a prospect and would be a huge fan of the pick but if there are concerns about his medical situation I don’t think the Saints go for him at 71.
I think 71 is too early for McBride given his limitations in the passing game. So that leaves Charbonnet and Miller, I’m going swing that Charbonnet is still there at 71 and the Saints jump at the chance. Charbonnet would give the Saints another powerful runner, is a more proven receiver and blocker than Miller and Charbonnet hardly ever fumbles (only 2 fumbles on 565 career carries) which is another quality the Saints love.
The pick- RB Zach Charbonnet
Round 4 Pick 115
Let’s fire through the day three selections, frankly, I would be guessing who would be in the Saints cloud at this stage of a very unpredictable draft. So I’m just going to throw a few players in the mix that I think the Saints might like at this stage.
This feels like a prime trade-up spot for one of the WRs if they are still there towards the end of round three same goes for the TEs. The Saints have 5 day three selections which if history is anything to go by is far too many for them to remain patient with. LB could start to make more sense here with players like DeMarvion Overshown, Yasir Abdullah, and Nick Herbig likely to still be on the board but I think some of those will still be there when the Saints pick again in the 5th. Possibly DE as well especially if Zach Harrison or Isaiah McGuire are still available.
I think the Saints go offense again here and take advantage of a very deep TE class, I’m almost 100% sure Kraft will not still be here and if he were I would sprint in the card. That leaves Strange and Schoonmaker both again may not be there but I’m relying on the depth of this historic TE class to push some players down.
I think Strange is more likely to be available at this stage than Schoonmaker, so I’m going Strange here. This pick would give the Saints an ascending TE prospect with + blocking ability and underrated pass-catching skills to play the perfect complimentary role to Juwan Johnson and be the long-term replacement for Adam Trautman.
The Pick- TE Brenton Strange
Round 5 Pick 146
For me the biggest remaining needs for the Saints if the draft plays out this way DE, LB, WR, Safety and slot CB.
The Fifth round now brings some value at DE, WR and Safety that wasn’t there with some of the earlier selections. Players like DE Tavius Robinson and Ya Ya Diaby jump out as long and super athletic projects at DE that the Saints would usually go for. WRs Andrei Iosivas, Matt Landers, Xavier Hutchinson (the Saints were at his pro-day) and Bryce Ford-Wheaton are all height/weight/speed players they could take a stab at in this range.
I’m going LB here though and one player that jumps out is Nick Herbig, a name I haven’t heard much hype about during the pre-draft process who I think would make a lot of sense for what the Saints need. Herbig strikes a scary resemblance to, don’t shoot me, Zack Baun (not just because they both played at Wisconsin) but because they both showed great abilities to rush the passer. Herbig had 21 sacks and 36 TFLs in three seasons playing as an outside LB in a 3-4 scheme, which would project nicely into the SAM LB spot in the Saints base 4-3 defense and he would be the perfect player for the Saints put into the role they used Kaden Elliss in last season.
The pick- LB Nick Herbig
Round 5 Pick 165
The pick the Saints got from the infamous Chauncey Gardner-Johnson trade with the Eagles. DE,WR and Safety are the most logical positions left for the Saints to target at this stage. I think DE is a prime post-draft veteran signing for the Saints (I wouldn’t be surprised if one were already in the pipeline similar to the Tyrann Mathieu signing a year ago) thus I think the Saints are going to wait on DE if they are going to draft one.
That leaves me with the WRs I mentioned in the last pick and a safety, Jason Taylor II the Saints have met with Taylor and he looks to fit their mould, having played all across the secondary (with 234 box snaps, 193 in the slot and 433 at FS), fits the size they look for when drafting the position. Jeff Ireland and Dennis Allen love adding to the secondary so adding a versatile Safety to an ageing position group makes a lot of sense here.
The pick- Safety Jason Taylor II
Round 7 Pick 227
Your guess is as good as mine at this stage or the draft, but one thing is for sure the Saints love adding return specialists late in the draft or as UDFAs ( See Rashid Shaheed and Deonte Harty). Look no further than Kansas State WR Malik Knowles, he averaged 27.7 yards per kick return with 3 touchdowns. He didn’t test during the pre-draft process due to a knee injury but looks to have home run speed and upside as a receiver. This move would also allow Saints weapon Rashid Shaheed to focus more on his WR duties and take him out of harm’s way on punt and kick return duties.
The pick- WR/Returner Malik Knowles
Round 7 Pick 257
With the Saints last pick I’m going with LSU DE Ali Gaye, a player the Saints have met with during the pre-draft process. At 6ft 6″ 263lbs and around 34″ arms, Gaye is a raw but physically gifted player that the Saints can try and develop. Gaye finished his career at LSU with 7 sacks and 18 TFLs in 27 games (26 starts) for the Tigers.
The pick- DE Ali Gaye
Round 1- DT Bryan Bresee
Round 2- OG Steve Avila
Round 3- RB Zach Charbonnet
Round 4- TE Brenton Strange
Round 5- LB Nick Herbig
Round 5- Safety Jason Taylor II
Round 7- WR/Returner Malik Knowles
Round 7- DE Ali Gaye
That was my best effort at trying to work out what the Saints will do in the 2023 NFL draft, I’m sure this will all be wrong halfway through the first night of the draft when the Saints trade up into the teens for a small school DE. Let me know what you think! Also, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @saintsreportuk for more Saints discussion and news.