Between free agency departures and salary cap constraints, the New Orleans Saints are vulnerable at several positions heading into the 2021 NFL draft. Their myriad needs includes cornerback, linebacker, defensive linemen, and wide receiver. To get a sense of which players are being linked to the Saints, let’s analyze some recent mock drafts around the league. We’ll look at the projected first and second round picks by New Orleans, and assess team and prototypal fit.
The Saints addressed two critical positions in Austin Gayle’s latest Pro Football Focus mock draft. New Orleans picked Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley in the first round (No. 28 overall) and selected Ohio State linebacker Justin Hilliard in the second round (No. 60). Here’s what Gayle wrote on Farley and what he could bring to the Saints:
“Currently PFF’s top-ranked cornerback and No. 14 overall player in the 2021 class, Farley is a fluid athlete with all the tools necessary to dominate at outside cornerback in the NFL. Before opting out of the 2020 season and declaring for the draft, the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder earned a 90.5 PFF coverage grade that ranked third among Power Five cornerbacks in 2019.
While Farley could very well be the best cornerback to come out of the 2021 class, concerns with his back injury and his sheer lack of experience at outside cornerback could lead to him being available for the Saints at No. 28.”
Farley is a steal at 28. His draft value depreciated with his recent back surgery, which followed an ACL tear early in his college career; it’s a gamble the Saints should take. He fits the mold at 6-foot-2 and 197 pounds; a rare breed of size, speed, physicality, and athleticism offsets concerns of inconsistency. With his scheme fit and man coverage abilities, Farley could easily develop into a top-tier corner under Kris Richard. Of note, NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill, one of the most clued-in reporters on the Saints beat, picked Farley in his Saints cornerback draft analysis.
The Saints critically need a No. 2 linebacker opposite Demario Davis. That answer is not Justin Hilliard. As Sean Payton learned from Bill Parcells, draft players who fit the mold. Hilliard is undersized at 229 pounds, and lacks the necessary speed with 40-yard dash times of 4.84 and 4.81 seconds. Run-stopping Missouri Tigers linebacker Nick Bolton, who timed a 4.6 flat at 237 pounds, fell to No. 41; a trade up here for Bolton would be preferable.
In Luke Easterling’s updated mock draft over at Draft Wire, the Saints selected Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Jamin Davis at No. 28 overall, and Florida Gators wide receiver Kadarius Toney at No. 60. Hard to justify either pick. Davis’ stock rose with an insane 40-yard dash time of 4.41 seconds; but he’s still a developmental prospect and way undersized at 224 pounds. Davis doesn’t fit the mold.
Same sentiment with Kadarius Toney. Undersized at 5-foot-11 and 189 pounds, and a limited ceiling as a route-runner. The Saints have gone against their prototypes before if a prospect has a unique skill (see: Brandin Cooks’ straight-line speed) but Toney is too limited a player at this stage in his career.
Much more prototypical players were on the board, including Dyami Brown, who should be the pick. Brown’s physicality would be a nightmare opposite Michael Thomas, with strong blocking and route-running prowess, should New Orleans go receiver in the second round. With the sparse cornerback talent remaining at No. 60, four who fit the scheme should take priority: Aaron Robinson, Paulson Adebo, Kelvin Joseph, or Asante Samuel. Any of those corners can start right away.
Past the Farley pick, these are the right positional picks, but the wrong players. The Saints are known for sticking to their prototypes, and none of these fit. Pro day workouts and drills results mean a lot to them and help New Orleans shape the draft board. While they aren’t so dogmatic to rule out prospects for not running a fast enough 40 yard dash, their draft history suggests it takes special players to force their hand.