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.
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.