New Orleans Saints: jason verrett

ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay turned in their final mock drafts this morning. Kiper went with a bit of a wild card , vaulting BYU pass-rusher Kyle Van Noy to the New Orleans Saints at No. 27.

I haven’t seen many analysts projecting Van Noy that high, but I agree with Kiper’s thoughts on how Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan would find a creative way to use such a versatile talent.

McShay went with TCU cornerback Jason Verrett. Obviously I like the fit, since the small-but-physical cornerback is the same guy I have the Saints taking if they don’t trade up.

Projecting New Orleans’ pick is obviously a tricky business, though. I tallied up a total of 33 mock drafts from either national media outlets that cover the entire league or local media outlets that cover the Saints. And there are a total of 16 different projections.

The most popular is USC receiver Marqise Lee. And I would be right there with them if I felt like Lee would fall to No. 27. But I think it’s highly unlikely he slips that far. He’s too much of a dynamic talent. I think the Saints will have to trade up to get him (which is definitely a possibility).

Here’s the list of projections for the Saints:

USC WR Marqise Lee – 5
USC C Marcus Martin – 4
Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin - 3
Ohio State CB Bradley Roby – 3
Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier – 3
TCU CB Jason Verrett – 3
Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks – 2
Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard – 2
Missouri DE Kony Ealy – 1
Auburn OLB Dee Ford – 1
Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste – 1
Penn State WR Allen Robinson – 1
Louisville DE Marcus Smith – 1
BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy - 1
Trading up (for Cooks) – 1
Trading down (for Jean-Baptiste) – 1
I've made two predictions for the New Orleans Saints so far during the pre-draft process. And now that Round 1 is finally upon us, I'm sticking with both of them.

My official guess is that New Orleans will trade up for a dynamic receiver -- either Oregon State's Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee.

If the Saints stay put at No. 27, I'm sticking with TCU cornerback Jason Verrett as their most likely pick.

I had New Orleans moving up to No. 19 for Cooks in our ESPN NFL Nation mock draft this week. And I see the real-life Saints following suit.

The argument against such a trade is that they could wait until the middle rounds of the draft and still come away with a talented receiver since this year's class is so deep at the position. But I think the three receivers who will go in that 10-to-23 range (Beckham, Cooks and Lee) are special enough that New Orleans will consider making an aggressive move.

Cooks (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) could help fill the voids left by both Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. He's a speedy slot receiver who caught a whopping 128 passes for 1,730 yards last year.

And I'm just as high on Lee (6-0, 192), who was an absolute monster as a sophomore in 2012 before having a slightly-down year in 2013. I think he'll go higher in this draft than most are projecting.

Either player could add a needed big-play dimension to the Saints offense. And he could develop into an eventual replacement for veteran starter Marques Colston.

As for Verrett, I think he could be a great fit in the Saints defense even though he is undersized for a cornerback at 5-10, 189 pounds. Although he doesn't exactly fit the mold of the big corners that are all the rage in the NFL these days, he's a physical and feisty cornerback who could still be a big asset in press coverage in run support.

Verrett is also blazing fast. His versatility would fit well in Rob Ryan's multiple defense, which usually features five or more defensive backs on the field at once.

Once again, I didn't produce a full mock draft of my own this year. Instead, I ranked the 26 players most likely to be gone before the Saints are on the clock:

1-10 (in no specific order):

OLB Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack
WR Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans
OT Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan
QB Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles
TE Eric Ebron

11-20:

DT Aaron Donald
G/OT Zack Martin
ILB C.J. Mosley
OLB Anthony Barr
CB Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert
WR Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor

21-26:

CB Kyle Fuller
WR Marqise Lee
LB Ryan Shazier
QB Teddy Bridgewater
DT Louis Nix III
OT Cyrus Kouandjio
In my first attempt to predict the New Orleans Saints' 2014 first-round draft pick, I’m going with TCU cornerback Jason Verrett.

Although Verrett is “undersized” for a cornerback at 5-foot-10, 189 pounds, I like what I’ve seen and read about his physical and feisty nature. He is blazing fast, strong in man coverage and an asset in run support. He is the kind of player that could fit well in Rob Ryan’s versatile defense, which usually features five or more defensive backs on the field at once.

Two other players I really like for the Saints are USC receiver Marqise Lee and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, but I’m less confident that either player will fall to the Saints at No. 27.

I didn’t produce a true mock draft. However, I did rank the 26 players most likely to be gone before the Saints are on the clock -- which is just as valuable for the purpose of predicting what they will do.

Here’s my top 26, followed by the five most likely scenarios for New Orleans:

1-10 (in no specific order):
OLB Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack
WR Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans
OT Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan
QB Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles
TE Eric Ebron

11-20:
DT Aaron Donald
OLB Anthony Barr
ILB C.J. Mosley
CB Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard
WR Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor
G/T Zack Martin

21-26:
WR Marqise Lee
QB Teddy Bridgewater
DT Timmy Jernigan, Louis Nix
LB Ryan Shazier
CB Bradley Roby

Five most likely scenarios for Saints:

1. TCU CB Jason Verrett: See above.

2. Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller: I don’t think the Saints need to reach for a cornerback, and I don’t think they will. But this position might produce the most value late in Round 1 since there are so many quality options to choose from. Verrett, Fuller and Roby all could be possibilities. Fuller (6-0, 190) is another corner who could help in both coverage and run support. He’s not as fast as the other two guys, but he might have the best all-around combination of size, speed and coverage ability.

3. Trade up for receiver: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints trade up in this year’s draft. They have an aggressive history under Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton (see my recent mailbag), and they have already shown a willingness to be aggressive this offseason with the Jairus Byrd signing in free agency. If the Saints do trade up, I believe they would most likely target one of the dynamic speed receivers in this year’s class -- either LSU’s Beckham, Oregon State’s Cooks or USC’s Lee, all of whom could also be assets in the return game.

4. Take their pick of pass-rushers: Several pass-rushing outside linebackers could sneak into the first round, though analysts seem to be all over the map on how to rank them. If the Saints have a high grade on any one or two of them, they might have a lot of to choose from. Among the possibilities are Auburn’s Dee Ford, Missouri’s Kony Ealy, Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence and BYU’s Kyle Van Noy.

5. Indiana WR Cody Latimer: Latimer has been gaining a lot of attention lately by analysts like ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, who admit they didn’t take a close enough look at his college tape earlier in the draft process. But he turned heads when he proved he was both healthy and fast at his pro day, which made many analysts take a closer look. And they love the 6-3, 215-pounder’s total package of size, athleticism and skills.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Saints

March, 13, 2014
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Free agency hasn't helped much when it comes to narrowing down the New Orleans Saints' draft-day targets. It's probably a safe bet now that they won't draft a safety in Round 1, since they're set with last year's first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro and blockbuster free-agent signing Jairus Byrd. But a number of positions could still be in play at No. 27 for a New Orleans team that always likes to select the highest-rated player on its board, regardless of position.

The Saints will still likely address one or two of their most pressing needs in free agency so they can think more long-term with their draft picks.

For now, though, I still see cornerback as the Saints' biggest need overall, so TCU's Jason Verrett and Ohio State's Bradley Roby could make a lot of sense. And the Saints definitely need some new, young dynamic playmakers on offense after parting ways with running back Darren Sproles and receiver Lance Moore. So speedy receivers such as LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks could be very attractive.

But the Saints won't reach for those spots if they have a higher grade on someone such as Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford or Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses (especially if they don't re-sign veteran free agent Zach Strief).

Check out ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Mock Draft 3.0 Insider to see where he thinks the Saints might go with that No. 27 pick.

Defensive backs fly at combine

February, 26, 2014
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The NFL scouting combine wrapped up Tuesday with some impressive workouts from many of the top defensive backs. That's good news for the New Orleans Saints, since I think that position group ranks as their No. 1 need this offseason -- especially when you lump the cornerbacks and safeties together.

I think the Saints will address at least one of those positions in free agency, if not both, since they've got some holes in their starting lineup right now. The Saints have already released longtime starting cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Roman Harper. And they could part ways with longtime starting safety Malcolm Jenkins, too, since he'll be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

The good news is the Saints are set with their No. 1 cornerback in Keenan Lewis and No. 1 safety in Kenny Vaccaro. And they like the potential of young backup safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Corey White. So they don't need a total overhaul.

However, the Saints will certainly consider adding to their secondary depth in the draft, regardless of what happens in free agency. They know you can never have enough talent in the secondary in today's pass-happy NFL.

Since the Saints are picking 27th, they probably won't get a crack at the top two cornerbacks in this year's draft class -- Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. But they're worth highlighting since it seems like there will be a pretty interesting debate over the next couple months over which should be drafted first.

Gilbert (6-0, 202) is an athletic marvel who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds Tuesday -- the fastest time of any defensive back. He also had one of the strongest bench press performances, among other impressive drills. He also showed big-play potential in college. However, he wasn't as consistent as a “shut-down” corner as Dennard (5-11, 199).

Dennard, meanwhile, seemed to draw just as much praise from draft analysts for posting a time of 4.51 seconds in the 40 Tuesday -- since that's considered fast enough to complement his impressive on-field work in college.

Two highly-touted corners who might be available to the Saints at No. 27 are TCU's Jason Verrett and Ohio State's Bradley Roby, who also posted blazing times in the 40 (4.38 and 4.39 seconds, respectively).

Verrett was a standout cover man in college. NFL teams will just have to get over the fact that he's only 5-9, 189 pounds. That would probably work for the Saints since they use Lewis as their physical press corner against opponents' top receivers. Roby (5-11, 194) was a little less consistent in college but still had a nice career.

The top safety prospects -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (6-1, 208) and Louisiville's Calvin Pryor (5-11, 207) -- could also be off the board before the Saints pick. Both of them reportedly helped solidfy their first-round status with impressive workouts at the combine, including matching times of 4.58 seconds in the 40.

Check out this piece by ESPN.com's San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams for an even more thorough look at how the secondary prospects fared.

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