While wide receiver and left tackle are paramount needs for the New Orleans Saints in the 2022 NFL draft, another position to watch is safety. New Orleans bolstered the unit in free agency with Marcus Maye and Justin Evans; the signings aligned with head coach Dennis Allen’s vision of versatility at the position. But with the departure of both strong and free starting safeties Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins, the team will likely look to build back through the draft.
I broke down the state of the unit in-depth earlier this month – looking at the acquisitions and how Allen’s philosophy of interchangeable safeties could play into the draft. We’ve also been tracking the team’s meetings with prospects. In surveying the 61 prospects linked to the team, a few things stand out. They’ve done their homework meeting with 11 wide receivers and 8 offensive linemen. But they’ve also met with 12 secondary players: 4 safeties, and 8 cornerbacks.
While the number of safeties is low comparatively, it’s a group of high-quality, legitimate prospects across several rounds. The number of cornerbacks is a bit surprising. But another thing the team likes to do is convert them to safety: P.J. Williams and Malcolm Jenkins. An interesting parallel considering the reaction to Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton’s 40-yd dash time is the similar criticism Jenkins received back in 2009. Both Jenkins and Williams were considered top cornerback prospects in their respective draft classes. Both thrived in their transition to safety. And New Orleans is doing their homework on the position quite thoroughly; you can never have too much depth at cornerback, but it’s low on the list of needs for the level of due diligence.
Saints fans are familiar with the Relative Athletic Score (RAS) – but I feel focusing on the number itself is oversimplified. In the 2021 NFL draft, their first three selections (Payton Turner, Pete Werner, and Paulson Adebo) all had scores of 9.0 or higher. But historically, that number tends to drop in later rounds. I think there’s a correlation with the pandemic and lack of film and measurables with the recent prioritization of high RAS scores. Historically, that’s not the case. It’s really within the RAS scores that you see potential team trends.
Past Jenkins and Kenny Vaccaro taken Nos. 14 and 15 overall, New Orleans tends to hit on secondary players on Day 2: Marcus Williams in the second round, C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the fourth, and P.J. Williams in the third round. So that could be the sweet spot to look for the team to target and build back the role.
With that, here’s a look at some of the prospects the team could be targeting throughout each round of the 2022 NFL draft, and how they fit the team’s historical draft trends. Let’s start with an analysis of safeties linked to the Saints.