All 32 of ESPN’s team reporters got together Tuesday for our NFL Nation mock draft, where we took our best stabs at what our teams will do on Thursday night. I decided to get aggressive on behalf of the New Orleans Saints, trading up eight spots to snag Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks.
It cost a third-rounder and sixth-rounder to move up from No. 27 to the Miami Dolphins’ pick at No. 19.
I didn’t just make the deal for fun. I think it’s entirely realistic that the Saints will make a similar move to get a much-needed dynamic weapon for their offense – either LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Cooks or USC receiver Marqise Lee.
Although trades are even more difficult to project than the picks themselves, we know there will be a handful of them during the first round of the draft. And New Orleans is about as strong a candidate to move up as any team on the board.
For one thing, the Saints have always been one of the most aggressive teams in the draft during general manager Mickey Loomis’ tenure. They’ve traded up four times in Round 1 during his 11 drafts (and they’ve done it exactly every three years, dating back to 2005, which makes them due).
For another thing, the Saints have already shown an aggressive approach this offseason, making a big move to sign free-agent safety Jairus Byrd. They have a deep, talented roster, and they’re already a bona fide Super Bowl contender this year. Although they won’t mortgage their future, they could certainly be on the lookout for an impact player that can help right away.
Last but not least, a big-play receiver would be worth the price for the Saints – in both the short term and long term. I have that position ranked as the Saints’ No. 1 need now that they’ve parted ways with core offensive players Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason.
A speedy young receiver could make an immediate impact, and New Orleans will eventually need a replacement in the starting lineup for current No. 1 receiver Marques Colston.
So I reached out to several colleagues about the possibility of moving up in the draft. I started chatting with teams as high as No. 15, especially when Beckham was still on the board. But I didn’t want to overspend on the Saints’ behalf. I figured the price was right in this deal, giving up a third-rounder (No. 91 overall) and sixth-rounder (No. 202) to move up to the Dolphins’ pick at No. 19.
Dolphins reporter James Walker and I looked at recent comparables to settle on the price tag. Two years ago, the New England Patriots gave up a third-round choice (No. 93 overall) to move up from No. 27 to No. 21. Last year, the San Francisco 49ers gave up an even higher third-round choice (No. 74 overall) to jump from No. 31 to No. 18.
The deal would have fallen through if one of Walker’s coveted players was still on the board for Miami at No. 19 (the kind of thing that can sabotage real NFL trades). And I would have backed out if Beckham and Cooks were both off the board. But everything fell into place.
I had also checked in with some of the teams picking in the early 20s to see what it would cost to move up and get Lee as a backup option.
I don’t expect any of those three receivers to last until the Saints’ pick at No. 27. If those three guys are gone, I don’t necessarily think the Saints will reach for a receiver since they could still get a quality receiver in the second, third or fourth round.
But these three guys stand out as worth the price in my mind. And I think the Saints might feel the same way.
Also worth noting -- if I hadn’t made a trade, I would have gone with TCU cornerback Jason Verrett at No. 27 instead.