Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
As if the Saints would really wait around from pick 24 to 88…
Now that the Saints have made some major additions in free agency including safety Malcolm Jenkins and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, it is a good time to revisit the mock draft landscape. With the recent additions, and retention of in-house free agents, it feels like while New Orleans has spaces where they can improve, there are no glaring holes on the team. So the focus of this mock shifts to finding early impact players in the first two days while shoring up depth and adding special teams talent in day three.
Two additional goals in this draft were:
- Trade up in day two and pick up a late-round pick
- Draft a late running back.
Round 1 Pick 24 – Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray
In my last mock, I selected Patrick Queen but this time Kenneth Murray was still on the board. I have no qualms with walking away with Queen instead. But for me, Murray is the better fit by a small margin and mostly due to his measurements.
Murray is the larger of the two linebackers, and I believe he can fit most immediately for the Saints. The big knock on Murray is that his aggressiveness can sometimes be abused, committing strongly to the wrong read. But that can be said for many linebackers entering the league and is certainly something that is fixable with coaching. Outside of that though he has far too much promise. His tackling, pass rush, and screen to intermediate field coverage abilities combined with his sideline-to-sideline speed would allow him to be an eventual three-down starter in New Orleans.
Kenneth Murray still needs to improve his play recognition and playing routes behind him in zone coverage, but his range and explosiveness will be coveted by teams that regularly ask their linebackers to fire forward off the ball and rush the passer.pic.twitter.com/83sbQjdTNL
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 25, 2020
The fact is that both Murray and Queen would be great fits, but for this simulation, Queen was off the board and so I was happy to go with Murray’s sustained success at the position. With over 100 tackles in each of his last two seasons, including a remarkable 155 in 2018, and 68 as a true freshman, it is no mystery that Murray has had consistent success. A three-year starter at linebacker as well shows that he has a knack for leadership and would be a great fit in the Saints locker room.
The Saints get immediate impact at a position that can use some attention right away and also a high ceiling player to be their future in the middle of the defense.
New Orleans Saints Receive: Picks #70 & 246
Miami Dolphins Receive: Pick #88 & 2020 Third Round Pick
With the Saints in line for a third round compensatory pick next year after the departure of Teddy Bridgewater, they should be willing to continue their trend of moving future draft currency to benefit them in the present. I used the Saints’ second round trade from last year in which they used their 2019 and 2020 second round picks and a 2019 sixth to move up 14 spots and pick up an extra fourth. So in this instance, the Saints trade away their 2020 and 2021 third round picks to move up 18 spots and pick up a seventh round selection (#246)
Round 3 Pick 70 – Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk
After grabbing an impact player on the first day of the draft, they follow up with another here on day two selecting Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk. Aiyuk has gotten plenty of attention this offseason and even some first round buzz. But with the depth of talent and sheer number of viable wideouts in this draft, some of these impact guys are going to be available in the second day. I was actually hoping to be able to trade up and grab Donovan Peoples-Jones, but just as well- Aiyuk remained on the board and I could not pass him up.
ASU WR Brandon Aiyuk (@THE2ERA) Highlights
Aiyuk is one of the best deep threats in the country. His speed causes problems for every secondary he faces #ForksUp
— JustBombsProductions (@JBP_Official) December 15, 2019
65 catches for 1,192 yards last season along with eight touchdowns is more than enough production to stand out. But what really excites me about Aiyuk is his run after catch ability. A skilled returner, averaging over 31 yards per kickoff return and more than 16 on punt returns in 2019, he is lethal with the ball in his hands. His length also makes him a dangerous target on the field. More expansive than the catch radius you would expect from a 5’11, 213-pound prospect. He measured in at the combine with an 80” wingspan. For reference, that exceeds Michael Thomas’ by almost two inches. Combine that with a 40” vertical and you have an immensely athletic and multi-faceted receiver to add to the group.
That type of length can be seen on his tape allowing him to go above the rim to rip down the catch. He will need some polish off the line of scrimmage, but working alongside Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, he is sure to catch up. We can feel pretty confident that Curtis Johnson will not let him fall behind either, not with those tools.
Round 4 Pick 130 – Calvin Throckmorton
Great name, great value here.
Want a versatile piece for the Saints’ offensive line? Want a guy that has only allowed one sack in 2,797 snaps? Throckmorton is that dude. PFF has him with a third round grade, but he was sitting around here in the fourth and I could not pass him up. Not far from imagination that he could be here because he is also often ranked outside of the top 150 of some scout’s boards. So while his rankings being all over the place may be cause for concern, his ability to play all over the place will make him a hot commodity in day three should he make it that far.
In this simulation, the Saints get the steal as referenced above, he has only let up one sack in the last three season despite playing all over the offensive line. For instance in 2019 while he played most of his snaps at right tackle with 739, he also played 189 at center. He is going to be discussed as a tackle that lacks in length as he falls just short of the ever popular 33” arm threshold, but even despite that his athletic limitations make him a better fit along the interior. His 6’5” 317-pound frame certainly does not hurt either.
While he projects as an interior lineman in the NFL, the versatility on the outside is still valuable. We know that the Saints love their offensive linemen that can play multiple positions. They get one in the fourth round here with Throckmorton.
Round 5 Pick 169 – NC State DL Larrell Murchison
Murchison is one of a few players the Saints met with a the Senior Bowl this year and that has proven to be a pretty good starting place to see where their interests may lie come the draft. They have selected several players from their Senior Bowl meetings over the last few years and in this instance, they add another.
Murchison is the defensive version of Throckmorton who can play inside and out on the defensive line. However, Murchison will likely be asked to bulk up for his interior play as he weighed in at sub-300 pounds at the combine. If he can do that, he could be a fantastic addition to the Saints’ already impressive defensive line rotation. The interior took a big hit last season with the injury to Sheldon Rankins and while Malcolm Brown, David Onyemata, Mario Edwards Jr., and Shy Tuttle were able to hold it down, it never hurts to have more depth.
While Murchison is listed as an edge defender on some books, he was clearly a focus in the interior at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine. That shows that he and his camp were intent upon showing teams his fit there. New Orleans would be smart to listen and it is almost a sure thing that they would if he were selected by the Saints. New Orleans has a specific connection to offer a former piece of the NC State Wolfpack as defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen once held the same position there. Nielsen deserves credit for the Saints’ fantastic defensive line play whether you recognize them for their run-stopping prowess of late or for their +50 sack season in 2019. Even though they did not overlap, Murchison would feel right at home with a former NC State coach in the building.
Round 6 Pick 203 – Florida State DB Levonta Taylor
Had no reason to change this pick. Taylor is a versatile piece in the backend of the defense with special teams ability as well as great speed. He suffered a stress fracture in his L5 and unexpected switched position to safety despite wanting to be in the slot for the Seminoles but began his bounce back tour ahead of the 2020 draft.
I interviewed Taylor recently and his drive and determination are completely visible. Does not hurt either that his favorite player is Tyrann Mathieu because of all of the ways he has been able to be used on the field. He envisions that same play style for himself and it shows. Just in 2019 his lined up all over the defense. 159 snaps at free safety, 118 in the box, 206 in the slot, with 33 on the boundary and 10 on the defensive line. With that he compiled a 75.0 PFF run-defense grade as well as a 72.3 grade playing in the box.
On top of all of that, he brings promise as a returner, though the Saints already have that covered with the best returner in the league Deonte Harris, and as a gunner as well. Extremely athletic versatile, and fast; Taylor can put himself in the position to contribute.
Round 7 Pick 246 – TCU Running Back Darius Anderson
LSU fans know that there is only one real “Jet” in this class in Justin Jefferson but Horned Frog Darius Anderson has earned some claim to the name in his own right as well. Anderson is the epitome of the phrase “quicker than he is fast”. He ran only at 4.61 40 in at the draft, but much like present Saints running back Alvin Kamara, his explosive traits erase much concern around speed.
Now, it is clear to see that Anderson is unlikely to be the next Kamara, but that should not surprise anyone. However, you can see that Anderson has the explosive traits necessary to make up for his lack of straight-line speed. He also packs the elusiveness factor as well. With a 106.7 PFF elusiveness grade, he ranks as one of the most elusive backs in the class.
He also fits right in with New Orleans as well with the majority of his yards coming on outside runs, up the middle, or between the RG and RT. Those same areas cultivated large chunks of the Saints’ run success in 2019 as well. Anderson also has the hands to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield.