Should New Orleans Saints trade up to draft an elite pass rusher?


We’re almost there, football fans.  The 2015 NFL Draft is just 24 hours away, kicking off Thursday night in Chicago.  The New Orleans Saints continue to gather information on incoming rookies preparing themselves for different scenarios that could affect their choices during the selection process.

Bolstering up the defense should be top priority.  With nine picks, Coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis have a prime opportunity to do so.

For now, the Saints are settled in at picks 13 and 31 in the first round.  But should New Orleans use their handful of picks to their advantage to trade up and grab one of the elite pass rushers of this incoming rookie class?

Names like USC DE Leonard Williams, Florida DE/OLB Dante Fowler and Clemson DE/OLB Vic Beasley come to mind.  These guys are without question impact players that will come in and compete immediately for a starting role with a promising chance of long-term success at the next level.

After the big three, pass-rushing talent turns from great to good, which make bust scenarios more likely.  It’s nice to have two picks in the first round, and that is an undeniable fact.  However, it’s also great to have another seven after that, including two in the third round where talent sill runs deep.

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to buy in to the New Orleans Saints trading up.  And of course, others do as well as rumors continue to spread around the NFL.

Defensive ends and outside linebackers are in high demand these days.  With question marks surrounding Randy Gregory and now Missouri DE Shane Ray after being cited with 35 grams of pot and also recovering from a foot injury, some of those other guys may not be available for the Saints at 13.  Do the Black and Gold really want to take a risk on potential off-field problems?

Trading away the 13th and 31st picks to move up and grab an impact player like Williams, Fowler or Beasley may be just as good as keeping two first rounders, if not better.  Talent runs deep in this rookie class, but first-round talent is scarce.  There may be just 10-15 prospects who actually belong in the first round.

So if the New Orleans Saints do pull the trigger, trade up and target one of the elite, what would they be getting?

Leonard Williams is the No. 1 player in the entire draft.  He’s a true “alpha-male” as they liked to call him at Southern California.  If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren’t in such need of a quarterback, he’d be the first off the board Thursday night.  Luckily, there are other teams that need other positions as well.

The 6-foot-5, 302 pound monster plays with extraordinary length, power and explosiveness, comparable to last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney, who, trust me, will find his step at the professional level.  Williams also adds crucial position flexibility, with experience across the entire defensive line.

Leonard Williams plays at almost an unstoppable pace with undeniable strength in both his upper and lower body, manhandling offensive lineman that stand in his way of getting after opposing quarterbacks.  The Saints could land him by trading for the Washington Redskins‘ fifth overall pick.  The New York Jets are another possible team to make a deal with for the sixth pick.  If Williams is not there, Dante Fowler Jr. and Vic Beasley will be.

Throughout his career in Gainesville, the Florida Gators lined Fowler up at defensive end, outside linebacker, defensive tackle and would occasionally drop him into coverage, depending on the situation.  That kind of position flexibility is ideal for the Saints’ scheme.

Fowler’s game relies on his capital versatility, which comes from his explosive lower body.  His light feet and transitional movements make him a problematic matchup for most blockers.  His energy on the football field is absolutely spectacular.

Clemson’s Vic Beasley is a bit smaller than scouts and coaches prefer, but his strength and performance certainly overshadow his size .  Plus, his frame has plenty of room for filling out and growing bigger, which he showed after adding 20 pounds prior to the scouting combine.

He may have more burst than any pass rusher in the 2015 class, and due to his broad shoulders and long arms, Beasley is also one of the most powerful of all the incoming rookies, shining at the scouting combine after finishing at the top of almost every drill.  Heck, he may even fall to the Saints at 13, and then no trade up would be required, but I don’t see it happening.

Sure, guys like Kentucky‘s Alvin Dupree, Ole MissEli Harold and UCLA‘s Owamagbe Odighizuwa could come in and compete.  However, they do fall into that second-round talent category, incomparable to immediate impact players like Williams, Fowler, Beasley and the troubled Gregory.  New Orleans must find replacements if Akiem Hicks and Parys Haralson remain non-factors.

Do the New Orleans Saints take advantage of their abundance of picks, trade up and target one of the elite?  If an opportunity arises that they love, it wouldn’t be a surprise.  It’s certainly something to consider — the pass rush was absent in 2014.  The first round of the 2015 NFL Draft kicks off tomorrow, Thursday, April 30 at 7:00 PM CT.

Next: Jon Stinchcomb to announce Saints' second-round pick

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