Despite the deceptive drama regarding the mediated negotiations - that we apparently doomed to failure - the NFL Draft in April will still happen. The drafted players can't sign and won't be part of the NFL Player's Union - or trade association - until a new CBA is signed, but the great game of drafting the next wave of college stars is still as interesting as ever.
For all the deception, intentional leaks and misinformation surrounding the mediated labor negotiations in the past two weeks, its not like that is some new to NFL followers. The NFL Draft is an annual source of disseminated disinformation as teams try to manipulate the draft boards in other front offices.
With so much up in the air with the CBA, it is very difficult to project which of the Saints' 27 free agents will be retained, if the Saints will be able to add any free agents, or even if free agency occurs. The Saints have a small and front-loaded draft class in 2011. Four picks in the first three rounds but then only one in the final four rounds. They have a pick in each day of the draft but a long day three won't see much action unless the Saints trade into the 4th, 5th, or 6th rounds.
Each time NOPF does a mock draft, the goal is to give a different view from the previous list that represents recent trends and the results of offseason events. Scouts have already got prospects on the boards about where they should be based on a preponderance of film evidence - the offseason workouts should do little to move players up or down. Offseason workouts should confirm film findings, not set player grades. The kind of thing that changes boards this time of year is the bad news floating about Da'Quan Bower's knee.
1. Carolina - LSU CB Patrick Peterson
2. Denver - Alabama DT Marcel Dareus
3. Buffalo - Texas A&M OLB Von Miller
4. Cincinnati - Georgia WR AJ Green
5. Arizona - Auburn DT Nick Fairley
6. Cleveland - Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers
7. San Francisco - Cal DE Cameron Jordan
8. Tennessee - North Carolina DE Robert Quinn
9. Dallas - Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara
10. Washington - Auburn QB Cam Newton
11. Houston - Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
12. Minnesota - Alabama WR Julio Jones
13. Detroit - Boston College T Anthony Costanzo
14. St. Louis - UCLA LB Akeem Ayers
15. Miami - Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert
16. Jacksonville - USC T Tyron Smith
17. New England (from OAK) - Temple DT Muhammad Wilkerson
18. San Diego - Missouri LB Aldon Smith
19. New York Giants - Alabama RB Mark Ingram
20. Tampa Bay -Illinois LB Martez Wilson
21. Kansas City - Oregon State DT Stephen Paea
22. Indianapolis - Wisconsin T Gabe Carimi
23. Philadelphia - Florida State QB Christian Ponder
24. New Orleans - Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan, Illinois DT Corey Liuget jump out right away as solid picks here, able to help on the defensive line each in their own way. Georgia DE/LB Justin Houston is seeing a wide range of reports placing him in the top 20 to the second round, but without much proof of pro-caliber instincts we'll say that Gregg Williams passes on him.
Illinois LB Martez Wilson arrived on many radars at the combine, running sub-4.5 time at 250 pounds, and may be advancing above the Saints' draft pick. Same for underclassman Temple DT Muhammad Wilkerson may be this year's version of Tyson Alualu, rising from public obscurity to be a high first round pick.
One of the top offensive linemen in Colorado T Nate Solder in this scenario has slipped to the Saints. Solder has a huge frame that needs to be filled in, but is a top four offensive tackle prospect. Its worth mentioning but after spending a second round pick last year on Charles Brown, who was unable to earn any significant playing time, the Saints have a stocked shelf at offensive tackle. On the other hand, top interior offensive line prospects like Florida's Mike Pouncey and Baylor's Danny Watkins could be considered if the Saints think they will lose star left guard Carl Nicks.
Kerrigan, our pick in v2.0, showed up at the combine having bulked up to 267 pounds and worked out well at both defensive end and outside linebacker. That weight actually makes him two pounds heavier than DE Will Smith's draft weight. Heyward, our pick in v1.0, has concerns thanks to postseason Tommy John surgery and missed Ohio State's Pro Day, though he hopes to work out before the draft.
Gregg Williams was quoted by the Times-Picayune when talking about "tweeners", prospects who could play either 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB. He said he wants "good football players." Then Williams criticized prospects who weighed "250 pounds" and were five-technique (outside or over the strong-side offensive tackle) and are stupid and "can't cover anyone." Kerrigan, fast for his size at 4.67 40 and with great instincts and motor, doesn't fit in that box. Williams' ire might have been directed at Nevada DE/OLB Dontay Moch, who 6'1, 248 pounds who ran unreal forty yards in the 4.3s range, but has suspect coverage abilities.
We can't be surprised with a pick anywhere on the defensive line, especially with Gregg Williams gaining more traction in the draft room. With Will Smith facing two possible suspensions, one from Starcaps and the other from a domestic battery charge, defensive end is an obvious need.
We had previously mentioned Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure as a possible pick here, but with Pierre Thomas' new contract, the Saints would have to think very highly of LeShoure to throw another into the mix behind Thomas, Chris Ivory and Lynell Hamilton, not to mention the murky future of Reggie Bush.
We would like to mix it up in this third version of the mock, but we can't shake Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan from this projection. Liuget has to be just as likely.
Second round pick: North Carolina OLB Bruce Carter
v1.0-Kentucky WR Randall Cobb version v2.0-Oklahoma S Quinton Carter
Carter sets the Saints up for youth at a position where the Saints were forced to start 33-year old Danny Clark last year. The healthy return of Jonathan Casillas should give the Saints a better core at the position surrounding Jonathan Vilma. A supreme athlete, Carter played quarterback, runningback and defensive back in high school but started at outside linebacker as a true freshman. Instead of going pro he returned to UNC for a senior season to put together a more complete resume for the pros, capping a career that included seven blocked punts. His fantastic athletic abilities at 6'1, 242, have prevailed through a career at UNC that saw him develop well in their pro-style defense. Carter's health issues will tug his draft stock, as he is currently rehabbing ACL reconstruction surgery from November 2010. He will be unable to show off his reported pre-injury 4.39 40 this offseason and might not be ready for rookie training camp, should the NFL have training camps this season. Carter was involved in the player agent scandal that rocked the UNC program last fall, but was cleared shortly before the season opener against LSU and started 10 games before his injury. When healthy, Carter is a lightning-fast playmaker with a solid starting resume in a top-flight program.
Third round pick (from Washington): LSU OL Joe Barksdale
v1.0-Temple S Jaiquawn Jarrett version v2.0-Clemson DT Jarvis Jenkins
Barksdale's career at LSU started as a five-star defensive tackle prospect and ended with him playing left tackle, blocking for LSU's precarious quarterback situation. With huge 36" arms and 10" hands, nearly 6'5 and 325 pounds, Barksdale is a mammoth in the Carl Nicks mold - which may make him an ideal candidate for insurance should the Saints lose their rising star left guard. Rock solid dependable with 39 straight starts and starting experience at a top caliber program at both tackle spots, Barksdale may follow Nicks, a star collegiate tackle, inside to guard. Barksdale lacks elite quickness to play left tackle, but four years into a position change has very high upside.
Third round pick: Cal S Chris Conte
v1.0-Mississippi State OLB K.J. Wright version v2.0-TCU WR Jeremy Kerley
An everywhere-on-the-field safety, Conte was moved from cornerback so that he could start as a senior, and blossomed in the role. A solid senior season, good height at 6'3 and a 4.52 40 yard combine showing has him on the radar. Conte's senior season featured a 14-tackle game in a blowout loss to USC, and four eight-tackle games for the the disappointing 5-7 Golden Bears. Despite his history as a reserve cornerback, he collected only two interceptions in his four-year career. An experience special teamer, he scored his sole collegiate touchdown on a 17-yard blocked punt return as a senior. He needs to add bulk for the pro game, but managed All-Pac10 honors as a senior. When Cal nearly upset Oregon this year, it was Conte who was assigned to spy scrambling Oregon QB Darron Thomas, limiting him to 30 yards rushing despite a season-high 17 carries, and only 155 passing yards. Conte was mentored as a senior by defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who coached with Gregg Williams on the Houston Oilers coaching staff.
Seventh round pick: Miami LB Colin McCarthy
v1.0-Portland State TE Julius Thomas version v2.0-Penn State RB Evan Royster
Undersized and with short arms, McCarthy may have peaked as a college star. His measurables (6'1, 238, 4.65 40) are underwhelming and he's got a shoulder injury, but his toughness is unquestioned, as is his pedigree from Linebacker U. Many question whether his pedigree is the reason his draft stock would be perceived much higher - his decorated collegiate career might turn into little more than a special teams job in the pros.