The Saints took not one, not two, but three defenders in the 5th round. They stood pat with their original two picks and then traded back into the end of the 5th to take one more. I love what the Saints did in this round. By the 5th round, you're not going to get any immediate impact guys. Teams are looking for depth and potential, and the Saints hit on both with their three picks.
The Saints used their second pick of the 5th round to select Davis Tull, a DE/OLB out of Chattanooga. The Black and Gold nabbed a great pass-rusher in Hau'oli Kikaha in the 2nd round, and they decided to double dip with one of their 5th rounders.
Tull was an All-American at the FCS level for three straight years, and he was the Southern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year as a senior after recording 58 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, and 10.5 sacks. He played with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end; but at 6'2, 246lbs, Tull fits as an outside linebacker.
First, some negatives. Tull has tiny arms (31 ¼''), and he is a tweener. He isn't a huge factor in the rung game, and bigger offensive linemen can neutralize him. He's had some injuries and actually had surgery on a torn labrum in his shoulder in March.
However, I loved watching Tull's tape. He plays with a high, high motor and doesn't give up on plays. He uses a variety of pass-rush moves. He may try a speed rush a couple times, then use a bull rush, then he'll try his spin move. Tull needs time to refine those moves, as they're not always effective or executed well; but it's good to see he's not a one trick pony.
Tull also has some amazing measurables. Despite having a torn labrum in his shoulder, he put up 26 reps on the bench press. He also ran the 40 yard dash in 4.57. Even better, he has some incredible explosive numbers (very important for a pass-rusher). 42.5'' vertical and a 132'' broad jump.
He may not make an immediate impact, but he has the potential and he's coachable. Rob Ryan should have some fun with him. The Saints were 25th in sacks last season, and they're taking clear steps to improve that.
With their second 5th round pick, the 154th pick overall, the Saints took Tyeler Davison, a defensive tackle out of Fresno State. Davison has impressive size (6'1, 316lbs) and long arms (34''). He had a breakout senior season, collecting 61 tackles and 8.5 sacks for the Bulldogs.
While he mainly lined up as a 0 or 1 technique nose tackle, Davison also spent some time at 5 technique defensive end. He would need to bulk up some to be a true NT in the Saints 3-4, but he could play DE and DT in 4 man fronts.
Like Tull, Davison is a player who needs some work but has a lot of potential. The Saints are a little thin at DE, so he can immediately provide depth there.
The Saints traded back into the 5th round to take Damian Swann, a cornerback out of Georgia, doubling up on the position after drafting P.J. Williams in the 3rd round.
I'll admit, I knew very little of Swann before the pick. His measurables aren't bad, but they aren't great. He put up solid stats, with a goo number of pass break ups (29 over his last three years) Only 4 interceptions, but at least he can bat down some balls. In his press conference, Sean Payton cited the versatility of the two corners they drafted, and I absolutely see that in Swann.
I was more impressed watching his tape, though. I went back and watched his games against Tennessee and Louisville from 2014.
What immediately stood out to me was how physical he is. He played a good bit of press coverage and was not afraid of contact with the receivers, though he played too physical sometimes, drawing three penalties (holding, facemask, and unsportsmanlike conduct) in the Tennessee game. With how strict NFL refs are, he'll have to learn to be less handsy.
His last collegiate game against Louisville really showcased his versatility, and I have to imagine that's a huge plus to Rob Ryan. Swann lined up against outside WRs, against slot receivers, as the deep safety, and inside the box.
He's solid in run support and an excellent blitzer (caused what should have been a sack fumble against Louisville, but it wasn't reviewable).He'll need some work, of course; but I can easily see Swann sticking around because of his ability to play multiple roles and on special teams.
Swann probably will never be a top cornerback in the NFL, but he can carve out a spot for himself with his versatility and fiery nature.
The Saints have seven picks for the remaining six rounds, so let's take a look and see who they may select. I won't be projecting any trades in the mock draft, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Saints moved up one or two times before the final pick is in.
2.12 (44) – Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska: With the 12th pick of the 2nd Round, the New Orleans Saints select....Randy Gregory. Gregory was one of the surprises of the 1st Round. He has top 10 talent, but he reportedly failed a drug test (marijuana) at the Combine. He also had some issues with fluctuating weight. However, at this point in the draft, Gregory's natural talent is too good to pass up. I think he's the second best pass-rusher in the draft behind Vic Beasley (who went to the Falcons), and he could be a terror in the backfield. The 6'5, 238lbs Cornhusker racked up 17.5 sacks in two seasons in Lincoln.
3.11 (75) – Steven Nelson, CB, Oregon State: There's no stepping around it; the Saints secondary in 2014 was putrid. Steps have been made to improve it, but more help needs to be added in the draft. Steven Nelson would be a great pick-up. He's a little smaller at 5'10, 197lbs; but "Mighty Mouse" certainly doesn't play that way. He's a quick, physical (sometimes too handsy) corner that can also make an impact defending the run. He sticks with receivers, though bigger ones can give him trouble. He held Nelson Agholor (who was drafted 20th overall) to just 3 catches for 27 yards. Nelson can compete immediately as the nickel corner and has a ceiling of eventually becoming a CB2.
3.14 (78) – Tre McBride, WR, William and Mary: The Saints have two third rounders thanks to the Kenny Stills trade, and it's fitting that a new wide out. At 6'0, 210lbs, McBride has nice size for the NFL; and he put up good measurables at the NFL Combine, running the 40 yard dash in 4.41 seconds. He's a willing blocker and a pretty solid one at that. He played against weaker competition at the FCS level, but he caught at least 55 passes in three straight years. He's a smooth route-runner with good hands. The Saints nabbed a great small-school WR once before, and McBride could be the next one.
5.12 (189) – Shaq Mason, G/C, Georgia Tech: The Saints shored up their offensive line by taking OT Andrus Peat in the 1st, but offensive line depth is still needed. The 6'1, 300lbs Mason needs to work on his technique and pass-protection some coming out of the option attack that Georgia Tech runs; but he has the ability to play center or either guard spot. He may be a natural RG after spending his college career there. He could provide the desired OL depth with the potential to be a starter in a couple years.
5.18 (154) – Xavier Williams, DL, Northern Iowa: The Saints against dip into the FCS ranks to grab a player, this time on the defensive line. Williams, 6'2, 325lbs, has the size and experience to play nose tackle; but he could also play defensive end in the Saints scheme. With only three DEs on the roster, some depth is needed. After redshirting his first year, Williams got better each season, culminating in a 93 tackle, 8 sack season his senior year.
6.11 (187) – Blake Bell, TE, Oklahoma: Sean Payton is high on Josh Hill to take over for Jimmy Graham, but the Black and Gold could use another tight end on the roster. Ben Watson isn't getting any younger, and Orson Charles is an unknown factor. Bell only has one year at TE after converting from quarterback his senior year. He has amazing size for the position at 6'6, 252lbs; but he is raw and inexperienced. However, this is a great situation for Bell. He can come in without the pressure to compete right away and continue learning the position.
7.13 (230) – Jeff Luc, ILB, Cincinnati: The Saints drafted an inside linebacker in the 1st, but that wouldn't stop them from drafting another. Luc has the potential of going undrafted, but he's worth a flier in the 7th. He's got decent size at 6'0, 251lbs and put up solid numbers at his Pro Day. Luc broke out his senior year, racking up 133 tackles (first on his team), 6.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles.
The 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft is in the books. Despite having lots of ammunition to move up if they wanted, the Saints chose to stand pat and picked at 13th and 31st. The Saints split the picks, going offense first then finishing up with defense.
With their first 1st rounder, the Saints selected Andrus Peat, an offensive tackle out of Stanford. The move surprised some, but Peat was considered by many to be the top offensive tackle in the draft (he was my #1 OT).
Protecting Drew Brees has been a priority, and Peat can help in that regard. Offensive tackle wasn't the biggest need for the Saints with Terron Armstead at LT and Zach Strief at RT, and I thought the Saints would address the holes on defense first.
However, Peat is still a solid pick. Brees was under pressure a good bit, and Peat has the potential to start right away at RT. Games are often won in the trenches, and the Black and Gold shored theirs up.
Perhaps the Saints took a lesson from the Dallas Cowboys, of all teams. In Week 4, the Saints saw first hand what investing in the offensive line can do. The Cowboys rushed for 190 yards on 35 runs (5.4yds per carry) in route to a 38-17 win.
In the 2011, 2013, and 2014 drafts, the Cowboys selected an offensive lineman in the first round. Those three players (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin) have accounted for four Pro Bowl appearances and five All-Pro selections. That's pretty darn impressive. Demarco Murray had a career year behind that o-line, rushing for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Saints have started investing in beefing up the run game. They obtained an All-Pro center in Max Unger from the Jimmy Graham trade. They signed Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller each to $4 million a year contracts. Selecting Peat just furthers that goal.
But, the Saints already have a RT, you say! True. Strief struggled at times last year, but he was one of the best right tackles in the NFL in 2013. He may not return to that form, but he is a dependable, quality player.
Bryce Harris was a liability as the primary back-up tackle last season. Whoever ends up starting out of Peat and Strief, the Saints will have a back-up who can immediately jump in at left or right tackle. Terron Armstead missed time last season with injuries while Strief was nicked up some too. Having a player who can come off the bench without a quality
The Saints defense was a huge problem last season, but the offensive line was a concern as well. The Saints just gave Brees added protection and helped themselves in the run game.
I'm not sure I agree with drafting a player 13th overall who may only see the field if an injury happens, but Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have a plan. Peat is clearly the future at RT, and he gives the Saints another option when Armstead's rookie contract runs out and the Saints try to re-sign him.
With their second pick of the 1st round, the 31st overall, the Saints selected Stephone Anthony, an inside linebacker from Clemson.
Inside linebacker was a huge hole for the Saints (I thought it was the biggest need), and Anthony plugs that hole nicely.
While there may have been higher rated players available, make no mistake, Anthony is a great pick. He checks in at 6'3, 243lbs. Great, great size for an inside linebacker.
As of just a couple weeks ago, the Saints had only three ILBs (David Hawthorne, Ramon Humbar, Kyle Knox) on the roster. They acquired Dannell Ellerbe in the Kenny Stills trade and didn't stop there, adding the co-team captain in the 1st round.
Watching Anthony's film, I came away impressed. He has good reaction time; and he's quick, with good change of direction. Some complained that Anthony was a little too stiff, but that's not what I saw. He also performed well at several of the Combine drills that try to measure agility.
Anthony doesn't have the best coverage skills in the draft, but they are above average. That was a weakness for the Saints linebacker corps last year, but he will provide a boost. Anthony has an eye for diagnosing screens and can blow them up. He also has the ability to hang with running backs and tight ends.
He can be too aggressive at times and will take some bad angles (a downside to reacting so quickly). But I bet Rob Ryan is happy to get his hands on an aggressive defender.
If you want to see Anthony at his best, I highly recommend taking 11 minutes and watching his tape against Florida State, possibly his best game last season. He racked up 8 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries, and 1 pass break-up against the defending national champions. Clemson ultimately lost but not through any fault of his.
Anthony against FSU:
The Saints said they wanted to strengthen the defense when they traded Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks. Well, they used the pick they acquired in that trade to do just that.