The New Orleans Saints have five draft picks in the first three rounds of the deep 2017 NFL Draft. So why does it feel like, whatever happens, fans are going to be disappointed in their haul?
The New Orleans Saints have the chance to land at least three potential difference-makers on defense. They pick three times within the first 42 picks, and another two times in the third round. They have more than a few holes to fill but have more than enough picks to fill them.
But the prospects projected to be available to Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis at pick 11 are divisive, to say the least. And I’m not sure there’s a scenario where a good portion of the fanbase doesn’t come out disappointed in the choice.
Derek Barnett is the favorite.
And there would likely be fewer disgruntled fans over that pick than others. He fills the Saints most immediate need, and would likely fill it immediately upon joining the team. For what it’s worth, Barnett is my pick at 11.
The problem is, fanbase-wise, those that aren’t behind Barnett are really not behind him. He’s not an explosive athlete and doesn’t have a high ceiling. There’s reason to believe he lacks athleticism enough that it will hinder any impact he has against NFL offensive linemen. The people that don’t want Barnett don’t see him landing in the top 20 in the draft. And I think there’s an argument to be made that the Saints shouldn’t draft a mediocre player — not that I think that describes Barnett — just because he can fill a hole immediately. If they feel, for example, that Haason Reddick is the next Von Miller, they shouldn’t pass on him.
Speaking of Haason Reddick.
Another large portion of the fanbase wants Haason Reddick, the LB out of Temple. As I mentioned, those that like him see him as a Von Miller-lite. He’s explosive and strong and can really get after the quarterback. His ceiling is much higher than Barnett’s, and he better fits the mold of that NASCAR-package speed rusher that the Saints want opposite Cam Jordan.
The problem with Reddick is his position. He doesn’t project as a base DE. He’s too small and would be a serious liability against the run, at least early in his career. And that’s pretty damning for his future with the Saints, in many fans eyes.
Yes, Dannell Ellerbe has struggled to stay healthy since joining the Saints. So there might be a roster spot available for him at WLB. Dennis Allen LOVES to use Ellerbe as a rusher, and Reddick could fill that role very well. He’s not the cover-man that Ellerbe is, but he is a converted DB and would more than suffice against RBs and some TEs in pass defense.
But Ellerbe may very well stay healthy this year. You can’t say for sure one way or the other. And if he does, Reddick wouldn’t deserve to play over him. That would relegate him to 3rd-down sub packages early in his career. And you don’t want that out of your 11th overall pick.
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White Reggie. The second coming of LeSean McCoy. The most dangerous offensive weapon Sean Payton’s ever had. That’s what I and others see in Christian McCaffrey. He’d be an absolute monster for the Saints and could propel the offense to 2011 or to Atlanta Falcons 2016 levels.
But he’s an offensive player. And the Saints traded away Brandin Cooks for the 32nd pick just to upgrade their defense. Coming out and going offense at 11 seems a bit contradictory to this earlier rationale.
I don’t think that necessarily excludes the Saints from making this move. Sean Payton is likely salivating over McCaffrey’s tape, and the selection would cause more than a few DCs across the league to lose some hair.
But it’s easy to see how this choice would fall with the majority of Saints fans. He’s exciting, yes. But we’re used to seeing this offense tear teams apart. We want to see some defense, finally, after years of record ineptitude. And that’s only going to be solved with a pass-rush and some cornerback help.
And then, what happens if elite talent falls to the Saints at 11?
Marshon Lattimore is the clear CB1 in the draft class. He would be a monster for the Saints if he fell to 11. And if the Saints don’t trade for Malcolm Butler, I’d expect them to jump at the chance to add Lattimore if he fell. That or trade back.
But what if the Saints do trade for Butler? Drafting Lattimore would relegate one of him, Butler or Delvin Breaux to the slot. Not ideal. My guess would be Lattimore would start off the season there, as he’s a rookie and would need time to adjust. And you can never have too many cornerbacks, as demonstrated by the 2015 and 2016 Saints.
Still, with Malcolm Butler the Saints need at CB becomes more of a want. And with the pass-rush need being as glaring as it is, plenty of Saints fans won’t be happy with the choice. There are solid options behind Barnett and Reddick at DE, but the most intriguing may not be available at 32. They likely won’t. And if the Saints want to improve their DE in 2017, they’ll need to do it with more talented players than will be available in the third round.
If Lattimore is there at 11, Butler or not, I’d make the move. Or trade down. But more than a few people wouldn’t be happy about it.
The Saints need a safety. After letting Jairus Byrd go as a free agent, the Saints are ready to trot out sophomore Vonn Bell alongside Kenny Vaccaro in their base defense. And in their three-safety packages, Rafael Bush will likely step in.
Bell could very well become a great player for the Saints. Hell, it could happen in 2017. But despite the public affection, he was not a solid contributor in 2016. He took bad angles against the run and was generally a liability in coverage. He doesn’t have elite speed, so until the game slows down for him every misstep costs him big. Rafael Bush signed a one-year contract, and was never much more than a solid backup. The Saints need more talent at safety.
But even if someone like Malik Hooker fell to them at 11 — Malik Hooker, who would be everything the Saints wanted from Jairus Byrd — his choice wouldn’t solve either of their problems at CB or DE. And that’s damning in the eyes of the fanbase.
Again, Hooker would still be a good option, and I think most would agree. But there’s close to no way the Saints come out of this draft with everyone behind their first pick. There are too many divided opinions on the top prospects. Some will be calling for Payton and Loomis’s head. Especially if they land someone like McCaffrey, but even if they land Barnett. And there’s a world in which every player listed in this article are gone before 11. What do the Saints do then?
And there’s a world in which every player listed in this article are gone before 11. What do the Saints do then?