The 2015 NFL Draft is officially less than one week away from kicking off in Chicago, and the anticipation amongst football fans across the globe could not be greater. Executives, coaches and personnel staff throughout the league are honing in on their final preparations ahead of the three-day event, as fans sit back and bask in the build up. With an exciting crop of young talent ready to splash onto the scene, all 32 NFL franchises and those loyal fans are ready to catch a glimpse of what the future holds for their teams.
The New Orleans Saints are one of those franchises eager to use the 2015 NFL Draft as an opportunity to start steadying the ship after a rocky 2014 campaign which saw the team fall short of nearly all its goals. In spite of last season's stormy waters, the Saints are armed with a hefty nine draft picks after making multiple moves last month. One of those moves netted an extra first-rounder as New Orleans shipped All Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks.
Though more picks could always be added or packaged away, the Saints have to like their crop of picks as it stands. They have a chance to grab two difference-makers near the middle and back-end of round one with three additional picks in the top 100 still to follow. New Orleans has the flexibility to either sit tight or move up/down the pecking order depending on a myriad of factors. They could look to move up in pursuit of a particular target, as they did a year ago when trading up to take Brandin Cooks. They could also listen to offers for one of their two first-rounders with an eye on stockpiling more picks in the middle and later rounds in an attempt to bolster the depth across their roster.
Needless to say, the Saints have options on the eve of the draft. The collective braintrust of general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and recently-appointed personnel guru Jeff Ireland (who worked with Payton in Dallas) will look to satisfy both needs and wants with this 2015 class. Assuming things stay the way they are, here is the Saints' arsenal of draft picks:
New Orleans Saints 2015 NFL Draft picks as of 4/24/15:
1st Round: #13 & #31
2nd Round: #44
3rd Round: #75 & #78
5th Round: #148 & #154
6th Round: #186
7th Round: #230
With nine picks in hand, the Saints will have no shortage of opportunities to be aggressive in their approach. Though their recent draft history has been hit or miss under this regime, the 2015 draft class boasts talent across the board, particularly at positions where the team is likely to focus on.
If it truly is NFL Draft week, then it must mean that mock draft aficionados are right at home in their element. Predicting a team's draft plans is always a crapshoot, but just the same, it's a grand old time for us all to embrace our inner Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock.
We're no Emmitt Smith, but keeping some of the Saints' draft needs in mind, we have put ourselves inside the Superdome think tank, and put together the following Saints-centric 7-round mock draft:
1st Round (13th overall) Bud Dupree - DE/LB - Kentucky
Dupree, whose birth name is Alvin, fits the type of profile the Saints will be in pursuit of at 13. An athletically-gifted pass rusher like Dupree could be just what the Saints, who often struggled to get after opposing quarterbacks last season, are looking for with that pick. Dupree would add a capable, able-bodied pass rusher to a front that already includes the likes of Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks. The Georgia native's stock has been on the rise, following a strong combine where he recorded the best broad jump (11 ft, 6 in) amongst linebackers, with some impressive interviews and workouts along the way. Should he last past the first dozen selections, New Orleans would be hard-pressed to pass up a player of Dupree's talent. One of the best edge defenders in this draft class, Dupree can be a day one impact player for the Saints.
1st Round (31st overall) Laken Tomlinson - OG - Duke
One of the ingredients that NFL personnel staff love the most out of prospects is experience, and Duke's Laken Tomlinson started every game for the Blue Devils over the last four seasons after redshirting in 2010. The Saints will need to address their interior line at some point, having dealt former Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs to Kansas City in March. Jahri Evans returns on a restructured deal, but his future with the team beyond next season could be described as murky. The team did acquire center Max Unger as part of the Jimmy Graham transaction, so that need has been met, allowing the team to put a higher emphasis on the guard spots. Tomlinson is a natural at the position, and is one of the more powerful offensive linemen in this draft class. He will thrive most in a scheme that employs a physical approach with a direct rushing attack. If the Saints are, indeed, to follow up on their desire to become more physical at the point of the attack, Tomlinson is a good fit at 31, and could also be a target for New England at the following pick. LSU G La'el Collins is a player the Saints love, but unless he is their man at 13, the team could look at players such as Tomlinson and South Carolina's A.J. Cann.
2nd Round (44th overall) Jalen Collins - CB - LSU
New Orleans invested a 2014 second-rounder in a corner last season. This year's draft could follow a similar route if local boy Collins is still available at 44. Collins, an athletic and well-built cover man who got better as his career progressed, has visited with the Saints and both sides came away impressed. Initially seen as a third-round talent, Collins' stock has risen to the point of a potential first-rounder. However, news that he recently underwent a foot procedure and concerns over lack of consistent snaps across his three seasons in Baton Rouge seem to have established the Mississippi native as a mid-2nd round type. Often tasked with covering the opponent's tallest receiver, Collins is fearless, and improved in run support as he got stronger and developed into his body. New Orleans could use some extra help in the secondary, and the Saints have already brought in Brandon Browner via free agency to team with Keenan Lewis on the outside. Jean-Baptiste and Collins would give the team two young players to groom into potential future starters on the inside in sub-packages in Rob Ryan's scheme. Despite some concerns over his technique and experience, Collins has the skills to be a very good cover man in a press scheme at the next level. Some hands-on work with Ryan and Dennis Allen can help Collins grow into that player.
3rd Round (75th overall) Devin Funchess - WR/TE - Michigan
Funchess could be well off the board by now, but if he's available, the Michigan man is another prospect who ticks the boxes of what the Saints are searching for in this draft class. Having lost both Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills via trade, a need exists for another pass-catching weapon for Drew Brees. Marques Colston is still around, and Brandin Cooks figures to take the next step in his sophomore season after seeing his rookie campaign cut short by injury. However, another weapon won't hurt, and Brees and Payton know how to maximize the talent at their disposal. Built like Kelvin Benjamin at 6-4 232, Funchess operated at both receiver and tight end for the Wolverines before making the permanent switch to the perimeter ahead of last season. A matchup nightmare, particularly in the red zone, Funchess would give the Saints the type of physical playmaking presence that Graham bought to the table in those same areas. He has the skills to play out wide as well, and should be able to transition into a Payton offense thanks to his crisp routes. The team loves in-house Graham replacement Josh Hill and veteran Benjamin Watson is still in town, but adding Funchess would meet two needs in one; a playmaker on the outside and over the middle with red zone chops to boot.
3rd Round (78th overall) Rob Havenstein - OL - Wisconsin
The Saints can put their flexibility to use at this point, and adding another lineman to bolster their depth in the trenches could be an option. Havenstein, a mammoth 6-7 320 who excels as a pass protector, comes from a Wisconsin program that has been known to produce some talented linemen. A potential guard or right tackle, Havenstein has that experience pro personnel types love, having spent five years in Madison. He helped pave the way for Melvin Gordon on the ground, and showed he was capable of playing at a high level in both a traditional style as well as a more wide open attack as Wisconsin rotated between two quarterbacks last year. He will fit best with a team that wants to be straightforward in the trenches, which is a route the Saints have been trying to steer towards over the last two offseasons. Terron Armstead gives New Orleans a stout left tackle for years to come. Havenstein could be groomed into his future bookend behind the trusty veteran Zach Strief.
5th Round (148th overall) Kenny Bell - WR- Nebraska
A quick, lid-lifting playmaker, Bell could fill the void left by the Kenny Stills trade. The 6-1 197 speedster also shows flashes of former Saints possession ace Lance Moore between the hash marks. With two fifth-round picks, the Saints can afford to get creative, and if Bell is available, a player of his ilk would be another ideal fit in Payton's system. The Saints have always relied on the presence of a capable deep threat, and with Brandin Cooks' versatility to play throughout the offense, Bell can focus on the vertical game, an area in which Stills thrived in.
5th Round (154th overall) Sean Mannion - QB - Oregon State
Brandin Cooks' former college teammate could give Sean Payton an intriguing project to work with as Drew Brees approaches his late thirties. While Mannion or any other signal-caller the Saints target not named Winston or Mariota may not be the team's long-term answer to life after Brees, the well-constructed 6-6 229 Californian has the size and arm to develop into an NFL quarterback. Mannion can make every throw in the playbook, and though he is immobile and erratic under pressure, the former Beaver is extremely accurate and played in a pro style setup under Mike Riley in Corvallis. He displayed the ability to get the ball to his playmakers, such as Cooks, who led the NCAA in receiving in 2013. Payton values accuracy in his quarterbacks, and a player like Mannion would make the battle for backup quarterback duties in training camp extra spicy with Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin also jockeying for the position. Baylor's Bryce Petty could be a third-round target, while Georgia's Hutson Mason should be available in the later rounds.
6th Round (186th overall) Zach Vigil - LB - Utah State
Though he may fit best as a SAM 'backer in a more traditional 4-3 scheme, Vigil left Utah State as one of the country's most well-rounded defensive players, excelling in pass rush situations and in coverage. With good size (6-2 237) and decent speed (4.67 40-yard dash time)Vigil could blossom into a serviceable backup linebacker with extra value on passing downs and special teams. Linebackers coach Joe Vitt would relish the opportunity to work with a player like Vigil, who should be available in round six.
7th Round (230th overall) Terrance Magee - RB- LSU
Another local product out of LSU, Magee possesses a unique skill set. The compact high school quarterback went to Baton Rouge and spent his freshman season at running back before switching to wideout as a sophomore in 2012. He went back to RB in 2013 and proved to be a more than capable complement to Jeremy Hill. A shifty, yet powerful open field runner, Magee has added value on passing downs and special teams. He was no stranger to covering kicks in college, and often occupied the role of passing down back last season after Alfred Blue handled those duties in 2013. Magee has fresh legs coming from an LSU program that emphasizes a committee approach in the backfield, and experience playing in Cam Cameron's pro style offense. A coach's dream who has shown he will do whatever it takes to help the team, Magee could be a nice value grab in the late rounds with New Orleans in need of a good all-around back after the team elected to release veteran Pierre Thomas last month.
In conclusion, it is our view that the Saints will take a classic 'best player available' approach to this draft, though that strategy may coincide with some key needs. This draft is stocked with talent at spots the team desperately needs to improve at, particularly in the trenches, on the perimeter, and in the secondary. With nine picks in their cupboard, the Saints and their fans should be in for a fun weekend as the 2015 NFL Draft draws ever so near.