The New Orleans Saints need a running back, and Sean Payton likes Christian McCaffrey. But the Saints might prefer to go defense with the 11th pick, and McCaffrey should be gone by 32.
Fortunately for the New Orleans Saints, McCaffrey isn’t the only option at running back. I won’t complain if they do land McCaffrey in the first round, especially if that involves a trade down. But they can conceivably go defense with both first-round picks and still land a dangerous weapon at RB.
Among the top prospects are two names that — to much chagrin, I’m sure — I won’t delve into. Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook. Joe Mixon was caught on tape knocking a woman unconscious, and Cook was accused of doing the same. Cook was cleared of all charges as the prosecution was unable to prove that he was the perpetrator. And if team’s find that he is innocent, then all the best to him. But I’m working on the assumption that he’s not.
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Yes, everyone deserves a second chance. But — I can’t take credit for this thought, but I can’t remember where I read it — playing in the NFL is a privilege. It is not a right. At the very least, I believe an act like Mixon’s costs him that privilege.
Even without these two extremely talented backs, the Saints have intriguing options.
Alvin Kamara out of Tennesee is a popular name to link with New Orleans.
The Saints brass allegedly took out a number of Tennessee players to dinner, and raved about the group’s character. Kamara was no doubt a part of that group. And with Payton focused on bringing in locker room, high-character guys, that could put Kamara squarely in play. (The same is true for Derek Barnett and likely for Cameron Sutton.)
Kamara is a twitchy running back with slot receiver potential. He’s likely to go in the second round, although he could potentially fall to the third. He has a history of knee issues which could push him down the board. Ultimately that comes down to the medical team, and the Saints will make an informed decision.
But if the doctors say he’s healthy, the fit is easy to see. Kamara can do a bit of everything: he can pass block, he can run between the tackles, and he can operate as a receiver in a reasonable capacity. He’s no Darren Sproles, and he’s no Christian McCaffrey. But he could be a very dangerous weapon in this offense, and is enough of a threat as a runner to keep the defense honest while he’s in the backfield.
Another intriguing name is Curtis Samuel.
After striking gold with Michael Thomas, the Saints could dip back into the Ohio State pool and pick up Curtis Samuel. Considering the team also selected Vonn Bell last year, I think it’s safe to say that Sean Payton has a working relationship with OSU Head Coach Urban Meyer. That could push him towards Samuel.
Samuel played running back at Ohio State but figures to be more of a receiver in the NFL. And in some respects, that limits the impact he could have in New Orleans. But not by much.
The concern is that, if Samuel operates out of the backfield, the defense can safely assume that the Saints are set to pass the ball. And that’s fair. That’s likely to be the case.
But that’s exactly how it was with Darren Sproles. And let’s be honest, even Reggie Bush was never much of a threat as a runner. This is what makes Christian McCaffrey such an exciting prospect for the Saints: he could be the pass-catching threat that all these guys are, while still being a dangerous runner out of the backfield.
Samuel, on the other hand, would bring another set of weapons. He’s a down-the-field threat. He has blazing speed and quick-twitch and can win against cornerbacks in the slot or on the outside. He obviously would create mismatch problems with safeties and linebackers. If anyone can get the best out of a player like Samuel, it’s Sean Payton.
Samuel does need to work on his hands and his pass protection. Both of those could limit his impact, and the pass protection especially could give teams pause. If he isn’t utilized well, he could be a net negative player. But I don’t think Saints fans would need to have much concern about that.
Further down the draft, guys like Kareem Hunt or Elijah McGuire have receiving talent. Even Samaje Perine out of Oklahoma could fill that Joker role to an extent.
What I mean to say is, the Saints have options behind McCaffrey. If they don’t land him, it’s not the end of the world. They can still address that Joker position.
But still, I can’t help but salivate over the possibility of McCaffrey in Black and Gold behind Brees. As Walter Football says, “many feel that McCaffrey could be the best route-runner in the draft, including all of the wide receiver prospects.” Couple that with the fact that McCaffrey is a very capable between the tackles runner — he faced the second highest percentage of players in the box in college, behind only Fournette — and you can see how he could turn this Saints offense into the best in the league. Think Falcons’ level. I mean, the Saints offense was good in 2016. But it wasn’t 2011 levels. McCaffrey could take them there and further.
I’m warming up to the idea of McCaffrey at pick 11. Not psyched about it. But I’m warming up. And even if they don’t land him, they have options to address the need.