New Orleans Saints: marqise lee

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.
The New Orleans Saints are packing in a lot of draft research this week at one of their top positions of need -- wide receiver.

On Tuesday, USC’s Marqise Lee was at the Saints’ practice facility for a pre-draft visit. On Wednesday, the Saints will travel an hour up the road to Baton Rouge for LSU’s pro day, where they’ll get a closer look at Tigers receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, among others.

The Saints always bring their full contingent of coaches and scouts to LSU’s pro day because of the proximity and their close relationship with the school. But they might be even more interested this year than most because of the receiver duo.

[+] EnlargeLSU
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLSU's Jarvis Landry ran the 40-yard dash in 4.77 seconds at the NFL combine in February. He'll try to improve on that time at LSU's pro day.
Buzz around Beckham: Beckham would seem to be an ideal fit for the Saints, since he could add a much-needed explosive element to both their offense and their punt return game. The only problem is that Beckham probably won’t last to New Orleans’ first-round pick at No. 27.

Beckham (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) cemented his status as a first-round pick -- and possibly even a top-20 pick -- with an impressive performance in February at the NFL scouting combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds.

Chances are, Beckham will stand on most of his workout numbers there and simply use the afternoon at LSU’s campus as a meet-and-greet session.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Beckham has a lot going for him. In addition to being an “explosive talent” who causes problems for defenses because of his ability to accelerate, Kiper Jr. said everything from Beckham’s “hands, his character, his attitude, his approach is outstanding.”

Beckham caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns last season, setting the LSU single-season record with 2,222 all-purpose yards.

Lee under the radar? While the buzz seems to be growing with Beckham, it has seemed to fade around Lee ever since his sensational sophomore season of 2012.

That year, Lee was a first-team All-American and the winner of the Biletnikoff award as the nation’s top receiver. He caught an astounding 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns two years ago, while also serving as an explosive kickoff returner.

However, the 5-11, 192-pounder had a quiet junior season in 2013, in part because of a nagging left knee injury that sidelined him for three games. Lee caught just 57 passes for 791 yards and four touchdowns last season, and struggled at times with dropped passes.

Then Lee posted a decent but not-so-dynamic time of 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, which seemed to move him a few spots down in everyone’s mock drafts.

The Saints would probably love it if Lee fell to them at No. 27 -- though that still seems like a long shot based on what Lee has proven he can do on the field. He has drawn comparisons to the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz.

“Lee is the kind of receiver you draft with slight questions on ceiling but a high degree of certainty regarding immediate impact,” Kiper Jr. wrote.

Another receiver expected to be drafted in the mid-to-late first round is Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, another dynamic speedster who projects as more of a slot receiver because of his size (5-10, 189).

And Florida State’s bigger, more physical receiver Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 240) is projected by many analysts as a first-round possibility.

If the Saints don’t land a receiver in Round 1, however, LSU’s Landry could be an attractive option at the end of Round 2.

Big day for Landry: Landry (6-0, 205) was the first receiver Kiper Jr. mentioned when asked about second-round possibilities on a recent conference call.

Landry hurt his stock when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.77 seconds at the combine. But he showed a good combination of speed and physical toughness in college and was actually more productive than Beckham last season, with a team-high 77 catches for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Landry will certainly use today’s showcase as a chance to run a faster 40-yard dash and try and raise his stock heading into next month’s draft. ESPN analyst and former general manager Bill Polian said during the combine that it would be important for Landry to do so.

“It’d be hard for me to believe that’s his real time, having seen him play,” Polian told The Advocate at the time. “That aside, it’s only important if he doesn’t come back and do a lot better at his pro day.”

Mettenberger on display: The biggest buzz from LSU’s pro day will likely be generated by quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The 6-5, 224-pounder will show off his big arm in front of scouts and coaches for the first time since his January surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Mettenberger isn’t completely recovered yet, but he hopes to impress teams with how well he’s progressing. And he could help boost his chances of becoming a second-round draft pick. Stay tuned for reports from his workout Wednesday.
After parting ways with Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason, the New Orleans Saints no longer have any experienced punt returners on the roster.

Third-year running back Travaris Cadet has shown some ability as a kickoff returner over the past two years, and the Saints may try him out in the punt-return job, as well. Or they might make a kick returner a priority in the draft.

New Orleans could certainly use some more juice in their return game after being middle-of-the-road in that area in recent years, even when Sproles was around.

The Saints could go one of two routes in the draft. They could target a top wide receiver that is capable of playing a dual role, or they could snag one of the top pure returners in the middle or later rounds.

If they choose the first route, three receivers could potentially fit the bill in Round 1: LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., USC's Marqise Lee and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks. All three of those prospects would be worthy of the Saints' pick at No. 27 based on their receiving ability alone, since a big-play receiver ranks among New Orleans' top needs.

Of those three, only Beckham was a standout punt returner in college, averaging more than nine yards per return over his final two seasons, with two touchdown returns in 2012. Cooks was a part-time punt returner last year, while Lee was more of a kickoff return specialist with two career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

Later in the draft, ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said there are two players that stand out above all others as the best return men in this year's class -- Kent State's Dri Archer and Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas.

"Those are the two guys who jump out. Tremendous versatility," Kiper said. "I also think John Brown is an underrated guy, a sleeper type out of Pittsburgh State. Returned punts, kicks, did a great job, also caught the ball very well, was explosive."

All three of those dual runner/receiver types could also serve as some fun new toys for Saints coach Sean Payton to work with on offense now that Sproles is gone.

Thomas (5-foot-9, 174 pounds) is the most well-known of the bunch, having starred as an all-purpose threat for the Ducks for three years. Thomas scored 18 touchdowns in both 2011 and 2012 (including at least one rushing TD, receiving TD, kickoff return TD and punt return TD during his sophomore year). He battled an ankle injury last year and finished with only 11 total touchdowns.

Thomas ran a surprisingly "slow" 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds at the NFL scouting combine but bounced back with a reported time of 4.39 at Oregon's pro day.

Archer, meanwhile, dropped jaws with his time of 4.26 seconds at the combine -- one of the fastest in history. The 5-foot-8, 173-pounder was mostly a kickoff returner in college but could potentially do both in the pros. Like Thomas, he had his best year in 2012 with 23 total touchdowns before an ankle injury limited him to 11 total touchdowns as a senior.

Brown (5-foot-10, 179) had three punt return touchdowns and two kickoff return touchdowns in his career, while also serving as one of Division II's top wide receivers. He caught 61 passes for 1,198 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He ran the 40 in 4.34 seconds at the combine.

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