Unlike in years past, the Saints appear to be entering this draft with major holes on the roster. A critical lack of salary cap space limited Mickey Loomis' usual moves to patch the depth chart with veteran free agents. Instead, the Saints signed half a dozen base-minimum veterans who are far from guaranteed to help in 2013, and the team has a dire need at offensive left tackle. The team has no starter at the key position, with Charles Brown teetering on second round draft bust status and reclamation pile free agent Jason Smith.
"Obviously we don't have a second round pick. We'd like to have one. I think this would be a particularly good year to have a second round pick," Loomis said on Tuesday. "I think we'd be willing to move back, but there's a point where we don't want to go too far. Same thing going forward."
Mickey Loomis isn't one to draft for need. But then again, under Loomis, Saints have never entered a draft with a giant gaping maw at a key position. Loomis has never been under so much football pressure to draft for need before, considering the left tackle position.
"We don't have a name on that magnet at starting left tackle yet," Loomis admitted again on Tuesday, mentioning that Charles Brown and Jason Smith were competing.
Outside linebacker is also far from certain, with the Saints making the switch from 4-3 to 3-4 without many players experienced in the scheme. The team has no true run-stuffing nose tackle; though DT Brodrick Bunkley sits in the role for now he'll be rotated regularly with another able-bodied big man. The cornerback situation may be in flux as Jabari Greer ages and Patrick Robinson falls out of favor. Entrenched starting strong safety Roman Harper has the contract with the roster's biggest bullseye on it.
Meanwhile, the team is on the verge of trading RB Chris Ivory, a move that might add another day three draft pick to the class. The Saints will need to draft ready-to-contribute rookies - they'll be cheap and needed to play in Rob Ryan's new defense soon.
One more historical note: no player drafted by the Saints from LSU has ever recorded a sack for the Saints. (For that matter, the same goes for other Louisiana schools, Tulane, Louisiana Tech, McNeese, and Southeastern.)
Will that change in 2013? LSU DE Barkevious Mingo is a definite first round possibility with the 15th overall pick, and his teammates DE Sam Montgomery and DT Bennie Logan could be considerations in later rounds.
1. Kansas City Chiefs - Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel* - As trade talks for Branden Albert simmer, the team will make Joeckel the first Aggie picked #1 overall in history. Less than 24 hours out, the Chiefs aren't saying who they will choose, Joeckel or Fisher. We'll stick with Joeckel.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher* - Jaguars take Fisher, who can immediately contribute at right tackle and potentially replace Eugene Monroe, who is entering the final year of his contract. We think DT Sharrif Floyd makes more sense on and off the field for the franchise, but Fisher grades higher.
3. Oakland Raiders - Florida DT Sharrif Floyd* - Raiders take the top defensive lineman in the draft here, so it's Floyd or Lotulelei. The post-Richard Seymour era begins with Floyd.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson* - Eagles grab the last elite offensive tackle. We feel Johnson will get drafted here, even if the Eagles trade out.
5. Detroit Lions - Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan - Lions missed out on the last elite offensive tackle. Instead, they try to replace DE Cliff Avril, who took 9.5 of the Lions' 34 sacks with him to Seattle. We're guessing that the Lions are scared by Milliner's long surgery list, and that they aren't scared by the last Oregon player they took in the top five.
6. Cleveland Browns - Alabama G Chance Warmack - Browns would love Milliner to come in and complete the cornerback spot, but they may be terrified of his injury history. Instead, Trent Richardson lobbies to solidify the offensive line and protect Brandon Weeden.
7. Arizona Cardinals - North Carolina G Jonathan Cooper - Cardinals hope that Levi Brown, Bobbie Massie, Daryn Colledge and Cooper can grow come together to give immobile Carson Palmer good protection. Cooper can't possibly make the league's worst sack rate per pass attempt any worse.
8. Buffalo Bills - BYU DE Ezekiel Ansah - Is this where the first quarterback goes? We say no. Ansah has sky high potential despite his inexperience, and can learn from Mario Williams.
9. New York Jets - Alabama CB Dee Milliner* - Jets look down the barrel of Milliner's five surgeries and immense talents and pull the trigger.
10. Tennessee Titans - Houston CB DJ Hayden - Interesting choice here for the Titans between two players with heart issues, Hayden and Utah DT Star Lotulelei. All it takes is one team to believe Hayden's freak heart blood vessel tear won't be a problem in the future. Titans have the need, the Houston ties, and the position to take Hayden here, as Rhodes unexplicably falls.
11. San Diego Chargers - LSU DE Barkevious Mingo* - Speedy Mingo is a steal at 11 and a great weapon against Peyton Manning.
12. Miami Dolphins - Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes* - Nearby product is the replacement they needed last year after moving Vontae Davis.
12. Miami Dolphins - Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes* - Nearby product is the replacement they needed last year after moving Vontae Davis.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson* - Pairing Richardson with McCoy is a perfect counter to NFC South quarterbacks. Potentially dominant duo could make the Revis acquisition pay off.
14. Carolina Panthers - Utah DT Star Lotulelei - Lotulelei drops to the Panthers, who waste no time filling their biggest need.
15. New Orleans Saints -
Once again it seems like a perfect scenario for a trade down for the Saints. All the quarterbacks and wide receivers are still on the board.
The Saints will draw ire from the Baton Rougeans and LSU fans all around if they opt for a player at defensive end, safety or inside linebacker over LSU's Barkevious Mingo, Eric Reid or Kevin Minter if they are on the board. Just like the Saints may still never be forgiven for trading up to draft Alabama's Mark Ingram when LSU's Stevan Ridley could have been had in the third round.
There's a belief out there that slower pass rushers with bad workouts don't make it in the NFL. Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones ran in the 4.85-4.92 40 range - that's good only for offensive linemen. But look at two Baltimore Ravens - Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw, who ran 4.8+ 40s at their combine and are accomplished pass rushers. But Suggs and Upshaw are bigger and stronger than Jones though, and don't have his highly-researched neck injury.
Jones spent most of his time at Georgia standing up on the line, just off the shoulder of the defensive end. His strip of Florida TE Jordan Reed showed everything you want to know about Jones - playmaking even when he's not disrupting the backfield. But so many of Jones' big stats were made after recovering from overpursuit, or as gifts from opposing quarterbacks, or the products of a line stunt. It shines a cold light on his production, which is supposed to be the thing that redeems his poor workout. So same tricks aren't going to produce as much in the NFL.
Meanwhile, his teammate LB Alec Ogletree, who often lined up behind Jones and off the line of scrimmage, flashes so much speed. So much speed. That upside is enormous, but Ogletree is an inconsistent tackler with some maturity question marks, making him perhaps more developmental than the Saints would like. Remember, this pick is going to have to play right away.
North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams is here, the draft's next best big defensive lineman. With remarkable quickness, Williams is a 315-pound big tough guy who played through injuries his senior year. That toughness and motor did as much for his draft stock as his six sacks as a senior. With enormous 10"+ hands, Williams has all the physical tools. Going through the juco route after playing just one year of high school football, he's still learning the nuance of the game, making his production during 25 straight starts at North Carolina even more interesting.
The big Tar Heel looks like a perfect fit on the Saints' defensive line as an immediate rotation player at nose tackle in the three-down fronts. He'd benefit from the tutelage of Kenyon Coleman, but may be a better fit at nose tackle, challenging Brodrick Bunkley and giving the Saints superior depth and ready-to-play return on their first round investment.
Among the many defenders who could be considered best-available at #15, Texas free safety Kenny Vaccaro could be one. In the grand scheme of recent first round safeties, Vaccaro isn't special, but he is the top safety in this year's draft, with speed and production to show in the Texas defense. He has two arrests in his college career for troublemaking (misdemeanor assault in a pickup basketball game fight, another for failure to obey) brings in to question his intangibles, but his on-field presence is as an excellent cover safety. Between the apparent entrenchment of Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins on this roster, their relatively high cost, the cheap young talent on the roster behind them and the immediacy of other needs, we'd predict against Vaccaro.
Or do the Saints already have quiet plans to play the 2013 season without Harper? That could make Vaccaro fit a need and value pick. One question has to be is if Vaccaro is so much better than the next few safeties off the board: LSU's Reid, FIU's Jonathan Cyprien, Florida's Matt Elam, or South Carolina's DJ Swearinger, all of whom could be had in the second or third rounds. Would Vaccaro force the Saints to stay and pick at #15?
Could the Saints flip a 6'5, 339 pounder to left tackle? A career right tackle at a premiere football program, Alabama RT Danny Lee Jesus "DJ" Fluker was a 400-pound 8th grader before his family had to evacuate New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Would be quite the homecoming for Fluker to be the Saints' plug-in at left tackle. Thinking long term, Fluker is hardly a bad pickup even if the Saints move him back to right tackle. And while moving from a run-heavy Bama offense to a pass-heavy Saints offense might sound like a hurdle, Brees protects his left tackle better than any quarterback in the league by not scrambling out from underneath him and getting rid of the ball quickly. New Saints offensive line coach Bret Ingalls will help Fluker refine footwork in those 22 shoes.
Fluker and Williams would help the Saints in the trenches. If the Saints are sold on either of them, they shouldn't trade down.
But, the Saints may fear what would come of their quarterback investment without a left tackle investment. We think Alabama OT DJ Fluker could make the #15 pick work as a value and need pick. Fluker would arguably be as good an option as any as left tackle, considering what's currently on the roster, and is ready to play.
All that said, the Saints will surely take all 10 minutes to work trades down, hoping to grab more than two picks in the first two days of the draft.
16. St. Louis Rams - West Virginia WR Tavon Austin - Rams have their pick of any receiver, unless someone trades up to #15 to steal Austin from St. Louis...
18. Dallas Cowboys - North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams - Versatile Williams would help a team with any alignment, and he'd fit well as an attacking DT in the Cowboys' 4-3.
19. NY Giants - Georgia LB Alec Ogletree* - Giants add speed to an aging linebacking corps.
20. Chicago Bears - Kansas State LB Arthur Brown - Ready to help fill Urlacher's shoes, Brown is a heady linebacker and an ideal tackler.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Texas S Kenny Vaccaro - The draft's top safety and the team most in need of a safety meet here at 21.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Redskins) - Georgia LB Jarvis Jones - The Rams took one of the most electric offensive players in Austin, and now grab a playmaker for the defense. Jones can play linebacker in any scheme, including the Rams' 4-3.
23. Minnesota Vikings - Georgia DT Johnathan Jenkins - Jenkins powered the middle of the Bulldog defensive line and boosted the draft stock of Jones and Ogletree.
24. Indianapolis Colts - UCLA DE Datone Jones - Rising defensive end fills a need for the 3-4 Colts defense and reminds of the Saints' Cam Jordan.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle Seahawks) - Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson* - Vikings move to replace Harvin with Patterson's speed and playmaking ability.
26. Green Bay Packers - Florida State DE Bjoern Werner - ACC Defensive Player of the Year joins the Packers defense which surprisingly lost its pass rush mojo in 2012.
27. Houston Texans - USC WR Robert Woods* - Great compliment to Johnson is a great replacement for Kevin Walter as well.
28. Denver Broncos - Boise State CB Jamar Taylor - Taylor is one of the safer cornerbacks in the draft and would be in a great position to learn from one of the best of all time.
29. New England Patriots - Florida State DL Cornelius "Tank" Carradine - Perfect pick for the Patriots, who have patience to wait for Carradine to rehab an ACL injury and emerge as a player worth taking 20 picks ahead of this.
30. Atlanta Falcons - Washington CB Desmond Trufant - Falcons will be looking for more than one cornerback in this draft, Trufant is a good start.
31. San Francisco 49ers - LSU S Eric Reid - Reid is no slouch, is a devastating, intelligent safety to bolster the secondary.
32. Baltimore Ravens - Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o - Hard to say the Ravens wouldn't go for a talented inside linebacker with great intangibles.
2nd round (14th pick) - forfeited as punishment for the bounty scandal and coverup
3rd round (13th pick, 75th overall) - UConn CB Dwayne Gratz - Pulled from version 4.0 of our 2013 mock draft, Gratz was overshadowed by teammate Blidi Wreh-Wislon. But Gratz has been starting football games since 2009 (49 games played) and at 5'11, 201 and a 38" vertical, Gratz has great quickness and unquestionable experience to compete for playing time right away. At the combine, Gratz smoked the three-cone drill with a 6.70s time, outstanding. That ability shows that Gratz's inefficient footwork will improve with proper coaching. And for all those starts... only eight interceptions. Trivia: Gratz is from Saints FS Malcolm Jenkins hometown of Piscataway, NJ.
4th round (12th pick, 109th overall) - LSU DT Bennie Logan - Wearer of the honored #18 on the LSU roster as a senior, Logan is a work-hard run plugger from LSU. He never quite lived up to potential at LSU and despite being high character, and also carries high body fat percentage. Would fit at DE in a pure 3-4 but is strongest against the run and could be used in any place on the line.
5th round (11th pick, 144th overall) - Missouri Western DE/LB David Bass - Also plucked from our version 4.0, Bass has 39.5 sacks and 56 tackles for loss as a collegian. Regardless the level of competition, that kind of success can't be ignored. Bass will have to learn how to pass rush pros instead of bullying lesser athletes. Like Jarvis Jones, Bass disappointed greatly with a 4.84 40 yard dash but that doesn't mean this 6'4, 262 pound one-dimensional rusher couldn't contribute.
6th round (15th pick, 183rd overall) - Syracuse S Shamarko Thomas - Lots of differing opinions on hard-hitting Thomas, who is a Bob Sanders-type with 5'9" of height but 10' of giant strength. The Saints will have a good report on Thomas from former assistant coach Doug Marrone, his former head coach. Over-aggressive tackling, concussion and injury concerns tank Thomas' excellent combine... which will NFL teams see more? A pick from version 1.0 of our mock draft.
7th round (14th pick, 200th overall) - traded to Seattle for LB Barrett Ruud