The Saints have continued to improve the defense in Day 3 of the NFL Draft. After taking cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste in Round 2, the Black and Gold have gone all defense in Rounds 4 and 5.
Linebacker Khairi Fortt – 6'2, 248lbs – was the 4th Round selection. Fortt transferred to Cal from Penn State and only played one season for the Golden Bears. He played outside linebacker for Cal, but I think he's more suited to play inside linebacker in the Saints 3-4 defense. What I saw watching his tape was an athletic player who can flow well from sideline-to-sideline but still needs some work.
The Saints had two 5th Round picks, and they got two players with a lot of upside. With their first pick, they selected Vinnie Sunseri, a safety out of Alabama.
Sunseri – 5'11, 210lbs – missed a chunk of the 2013 season after tearing his ACL in October; but he appears to have recovered. At Alabama's Pro Day, he ran the 40 yard dash from between 4.48-4.52. Sunseri isn't the most physically gifted player, but he plays his heart out and has incredible football intelligence. Like Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Khairi Fortt, Sunseri is physical. He's a hard-hitting, good tackler. He can play both strong and free safety. Rob Ryan loves playing extra safeties, and he got another great one to add into the rotation.
Check out Sunseri's pick six against Johnny Manziel:
In my Friday Post-Round 1 mock draft, I had the Saints selecting Ronald Powell with their second 5th Rounder pick (169th overall) and that's exactly what happened. Powell – 6'3, 237lbs – was a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker for the Florida Gators. A former #1 overall recruit, his college career was marred by two ACL injuries in 2012. He returned in 2013 and led the Gators in sacks (with 4) but was somewhat inconsistent. However, he's an athletic player who will be two years removed from those ACL injuries; so he should just get better. Another player with a lot of upside. The Saints had the league's 4th best pass rush last season; Powell should add to it.
The Saints are selecting defenders who can contribute immediately and looking ahead to the future. I love, love, love how this draft is shaping up.
The Saints used their 2nd Round pick to select cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste out of Nebraska. Jean-Baptiste is a big, former wide receiver turned cornerback, coming in at 6'3 (tallest corner in the draft), 218lbs with 32 inch arms. A tall, long-armed corner who used to play wide receiver? Hmmm. Sound familiar? Sounds just like Richard Sherman, one of the best corners in the NFL.
The NFC South has added some tall pass catchers so far in the draft. The Tampa Bay Bucs selected WR Mike Evans (6'5) and TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (6'4), in addition to their current WR Vincent Jackson (6'5). The Carolina Panthers drafted Kelvin Benjamin (6'5). The Saints needed a big corner, and they got a great one.
Despite only playing corner for about two years, Jean-Baptiste looked good. After watching film on some of his games, I came away very impressed. He played a ton of man coverage, both press and off, which the Saints often play.
He's a very physical player, but he can get caught up in blocks and struggle to disengage. However, I often saw him lining up near the line, doing his part. He won't wow you with his speed, but he's quick enough. He got beat a few times and did make some mistakes, but you would expect that from someone still getting experience at the position.
I just have to stress again how physical he is. He's not afraid of contact. He had some hard hits, jarring the ball loose from receivers and tossing aside would-be blockers. Another positive is his height and jumping ability. At 6'3 with 32 inch arms, he also can jump and leap. At the Combine, he had a 41.5 inch vertical jump (easily the best of any cornerback) and a 128 inch broad jump (tied for 3rd best among corners).
Stanley Jean-Baptiste is still a little raw, but he improved each year. Now he gets a chance to play under Rob Ryan with Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey. The NFL's 4th best passing defense just got even better.
The 1st Round of the NFL Draft is in the books, but the Saints still have five picks left in the six rounds (2nd, 4th, 5th, 5th, 6th).
The Black and Gold made an aggressive move to trade up and catch one of the top wide receivers in this year’s class, giving Drew Brees and the offense another weapon and filling a big need. Two of the top needs remaining are at cornerback and center.
Let’s take a look at how the rest of the Saints draft could shake out.
Round 2 (58th) Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood University: The Saints went offense in Round 1 and go defense in Round 2. Desir – 6’1, 198lbs – could be just what the Saints want and need. The demand for bigger cornerbacks is on the rise, and he fits the mold (he’s also got 33” arms. The Bucs and the Panthers both drafted 6’5 wide receivers, so the Saints could use another big body in the secondary. Desir played at a small-college, but he dominated at the level. Plus, the Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have had luck with small school players (Marques Colston, Jahri Evans, etc.).
Round 4 (126th) Bryan Stork, C, Florida State: And just like that, the Saints have filled their three biggest holes. Stork – 6’4, 315lbs – brings versatility to the Saints offensive line, with experience at both guard and center. He met with the Saints pre-draft, and now he’ll don the Black and Gold. Tim Lelito will have first crack at the starting center job, but Stork will provide great competition.
Round 5 (167th) Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville: Inside linebacker isn’t a huge need for the Saints, but Brown – 6’1, 251lbs – provides solid value at the pick and could be a starter in a couple years. A three year starter, he led the Cardinals in tackles his last two years. His coverage skills need some improvement, but he’s a great run defender and has ample potential.
Round 5 (169th) Ronald Powell, DE/OLB, Florida: The Saints had the 4th most prolific pass-rush last season, and Powell – 6’3, 237lbs – will add to that. He was a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker for the Gators. He injured the same ACL twice in 2012 but came back in 2013. He’ll be two years removed from the injuries in 2014 and could start out as a pass-rushing specialist. You can never have too many pass-rushers.
Round 6 (202nd) Cornelius Lucas, OT, Kansas State: The Saints add to their offensive line depth with this huge tackle. Lucas – 6’8, 316lbs – is a New Orleans native and former Edna Karr standout. He started at left tackle his final two years with K-State and was voted First Team All-Big 12 after his junior season. At 88” he has a ridiculously long wingspan. He had a private workout with the Saints before the draft, and the Black and Gold take the hometown player with their final pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
With the 2014 NFL draft looming, we decided to do another mock draft. Once again, T-Bob Hebert, Steve Geller, Mark Menard and I all got together and went through the first round. The Saints picked a wide receiver last time, but this time they go... linebacker?
St. Louis (from Washington)
Odell Beckham Jr.
Cleveland (from Indianapolis)
Louis Nix III
Xavier Su'a Filo
We kept the same order as the last mock, so I kicked things off by selecting Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end out of South Carolina, for the Houston Texans. Houston has a big need at quarterback, but I can’t see the Texans passing on the premier pass-rusher.
After the Clowney selection, we started to get worried; the next five picks were the same as last time. Blake Bortles, the quarterback out of UCF), was the first QB off the board. Johnny Manziel went immediately afterwards to Cleveland. I don’t know about you, but the thought of Midwesterners having to cheer for Johnny Football makes me chuckle.
The Dirty Birds got a franchise left tackle to protect Matt Ryan in Jake Matthews. He was the first senior selected; the top five all left school early.
Geller then rescued us from a boring, repeat draft by having Tampa Bay select WR Mike Evans out of Texas A&M (last pick was Khalil Mack). The Bucs having two tall, fast wide receivers in Vincent Jackson (6’5, 230lbs) and Evans (6’5, 231lbs)? Yikes.
The first LSU Tiger came off the board with the Philadelphia Eagles at pick No. 22 (moving up 4 spots). Geller wasted no time in selecting Odell Beckham Jr. when the Eagles were on the clock. This would mark the 4th straight season that an LSU player went in the 1st round, and he would be the 1st LSU receiver drafted in the 1st since Dwayne Bowe went to Kansas City in the 2007 NFL Draft.
With just four picks left before the Saints selection, my big board was looking solid. That should’ve been a warning sign for me. In quick succession, my top guys all flew off the board. My highest remaining wide receiver and cornerbacks went to Kansas City, San Diego, and Cleveland (I’m shaking my fist at you AFC teams)!
However, this left me with a choice Saints fans may not like. Linebacker isn’t the biggest need for the Black and Gold, but it is a need. And Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State would fill it. Shazier has the ability to play inside or outside linebacker in a 3-4. I came away impressed after watching his film. He’s fast (can keep up with tight ends and wide receivers), with great sideline-to-sideline speed. He’s a great run defender, a tackling-machine, and a solid pass-rusher (15 in three years, with 7 this most recent season). Shazier was just too good to pass up.
So let’s hear it Who Dats…did we get it right or wrong? And do you love or hate the Saints pick?
T-Bob Hebert @Tbob53:
Cleveland - 4. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M; 26. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Buffalo – Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
Chicago – Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Miami – Taylor Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame
Cincinnati – Kony Ealy, OLB, Missouri
Detroit – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
San Francisco – Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Mark Menard @MarkMenard13:
Jacksonville – Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Oakland – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Minnesota – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
New York Giants – Marqise Lee, WR, USC
New York Jets – Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
San Diego – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Kansas City – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
New England – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Jordan Fiegel @JGFiegel:
Houston – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Atlanta – Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Tennessee – Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Pittsburgh – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dallas – Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt
Green Bay – C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
New Orleans – Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Denver – Xavier Su’a Filo, OG, UCLA
Steve Geller @SteveGellerWWL:
St. Louis - 2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn; 13. HaHa Clinton-Dix
Tampa Bay – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Baltimore – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Arizona – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Philadelphia – Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU
Carolina – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Seattle – Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, TE, Washington