NFL Draft Experts: Saints Will Take D-Line With 1st Pick


Mock draft season is in full swing for the NFL, and no other fan-base is more excited to see who the New Orleans Saints will be selecting than the passionate and devoted Saints fans throughout the Who Dat Nation.

I admitted in my last article that for some reason this year, I’m just not as excited or hyped up about mock drafts as I usually am.

It may be a combination of two things, actually.

One is that I’ve wised up over the last year or so in realizing how pre-free agency mock drafts just get my expectations roaring and never pay off on those dreams.

And the other is that no matter how “much sense” a mock draft makes to me or others, the Saints take a completely different and sometimes confusing route.

You know what I’m talking about, right???

Maybe this guy will ring a bell:

Offensive Tackle Andrus Peat at New Orleans Saints rookie minicamp. Photo by Michael C. Hebert. New Orleans Saints Photos.

Yeah — Peat, me and quite possibly a few others had the same look on our face when he was announced as the Saints thirteenth overall selection last year, but let’s move on.

The only draft that I came close to even being right on was when they selected Kenny Vaccaro with their first round pick in 2013, and even then I was torn between him or Eric Reid of LSU; who the San Francisco 49ers choose right after.

But this might be the time to possibly get my juices flowing again mainly in large part due to the Saints having a huge need within their front seven; and it looks as if there is some talent that could fall to them in not just the first round, but possibly even into the mid-rounds as well.

Yet it’s the first round that is the most important for the Saints in fixing the issues that they have, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Jan 1, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Mississippi Rebels wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (1) celebrates his ten-yard touchdown catch against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second quarter of the 2016 Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

They could go in a completely different direction though, such as selecting an offensive player like Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who for obvious reasons makes Saints fans drool in thinking what quarterback Drew Brees could do with him.

But Brees has shown the ability to mold even average wide receivers into a player that other teams in the NFL start watching more film on and pay a huge contract to in free agency; thinking they are a tremendous offensive weapon (like the San Diego Chargers did with former Saints WR Robert Meachem).

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the only way the Saints don’t take a player in the front seven area, is if they trade down and there is no other prospect that ranks high enough other than someone on the offense or in the secondary.

After looking at current mock drafts many analysts are dead set on the defensive line, or more accurately the defensive tackle position as one New Orleans needs to address with the twelfth overall pick.

As ESPN’s Saints beat writer Mike Triplett pointed out a few weeks ago, one player who is a pretty popular selection is Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson.

Robinson, who moves considerably faster than his 300+ pound frame, is considered to not only be a clogging point at the line, but also someone who can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

At, both Walter Cherepinsky and Charlie Campbell have the Saints grabbing him at #12 as does’s Jeff Duncan in his latest mock draft.

With the national media, Bucky Brooks of and Dane Brugler of have also gone with Robinson as the new addition to the Saints defensive line.

Brugler’s colleague at CBS Sports, Rob Rang, also picked a defensive lineman from Alabama, but he chose Robinson’s teammate and fellow defensive tackle Jarran Reed for the Saints at #12 in his mock draft while adding this:

"Known mostly for his strength and toughness as a run blocker for the Tide, Reed helped his cause at the Senior Bowl by getting after quarterbacks, too."

Still another defensive tackle who is getting some consideration in recent mocks is Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, with Daniel Jerimiah of NFL Network has him down for New Orleans in the first round in his recent analysis by saying that he could “provide the Saints with a very disruptive interior presence”.

Oct 24, 2015; Louisville, KY, USA; Boston College Eagles quarterback Jeff Smith (5) scrambles away from Louisville Cardinals defensive end Sheldon Rankins (98) during the second half at Papa John

Big Easy Believer’s own editor Barry Hirstius also went with Rankins as the Saints first round selection in his most recent mock draft and had this to say about him when compared to either Robinson or Reed:

"Besides Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, whom some are now projecting to be a Top 15 pick after he was originally being mentioned as a 2nd or 3rd round pick before his brilliant performance at the Senior Bowl late last month; here is the other young man whose draft stock has ROCKETED up NFL front office personnel draft boards in recent weeks: Louisville DE / DT Sheldon Rankins.Rankins’ stock has exploded following his strong showing at the Senior Bowl practices last month (he missed the game after bruising his knee), and he has bypassed the two Alabama defensive linemen — tackle A’Shawn Robinson and end / tackle Jarran Reed — among the top interior defensive lineman on several draft boards, including that of Draft Analyst Mike Mayock."

It’s actually ironic that Barry mentioned Eastern Kentucky defensive end/outside linebacker Noah Spence, because he is also someone in conversation to end up with the Saints as well.

Both Lance Zierlein and Chad Reuter of have Spence being selected by the Saints with their twelfth overall pick, with Zierlein in his mock draft saying Spence will “become a force” and Reuter following that up by predicting him to be “top-10 talent” in his mock draft.

Jan 28, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad quarterback Dak Prescott of Mississippi State (15) avoids the pressure of defensive end Noah Spence of Eastern Kentucky (97) during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints actually met with Spence in what was considered an extensive meeting during the week of Senior Bowl where the 6’4, 254 pounder was said to give the offensive line fits with his pass rush skills.

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The only thing that could give the Saints a pause, and likely the reason for the long meeting during the Senior Bowl, is questions surrounding his past admitted addiction to the illegal drug Ecstasy and his subsequent expulsion from Ohio State.

You also wonder if he does fall to the Saints at #12, do they shy away from the defensive tackle position to take someone like Spence; when they undoubtedly need a player to collapse the middle of the pocket?

Of course if he has straightened up as he said he has and hypothetically the Saints were to address defensive tackle in free agency, then Spence could be an excellent addition.

One thing working in Spence’s advantage is watching the duress Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller put on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the Super Bowl.

With the Saints having to face Newton twice a year, fans would love to see someone such as Spence putting the Kryptonite to the self-proclaimed Superman.

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jake Coker (14) is sacked by Clemson Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson (90) during the second quarter in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Holder of said in his recent mock draft that he was going “DE or DT at this spot” for the Saints and mentioned a prospect who had gotten some buzz early in the process in Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson.

Lawson is a player that the Saints could not only use with his pass rush skills, but also due to his attitude where he won’t back down — even during warmups.

This was on display just before the Orange Bowl where Clemson took on Oklahoma and Lawson had to be pulled back when he and Sooners defensive end Charles Tapper exchanged words in pre-game.

Bookending the 6’3, 270 pound defensive end up opposite Cameron Jordan on the defensive line could spell trouble for opposing offenses, but be just the medicine the doctor ordered for the anemic Saints pass rush.

Holder notes the one thing that he liked most about Lawson was his stats for 2015 that was headlined by 12.5 sacks as well as 24.5 tackles for a loss that lead the FBS.

Defensive tackle, defensive end, or a hybrid outside linebacker doesn’t seem to be a reach in any of the mock drafts I’ve looked at.

In fact, it’s something that the Saints have to go with in my opinion to aid a secondary that is struggling to cover twice as long as they should.

Jan 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Braxton Miller (1) runs the ball against Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) in the first quarter during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I also understand that the Saints need help in the linebacker department with names like UCLA’s Myles Jack and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith being mentioned as potential targets.

But Jack will likely be out of reach for the Saints if he blows out his Pro Day (Jack won’t workout at the Scouting Combine) and Smith is still a question mark considering his knee injury, with the Saints needing immediate help as well as depth at weakside linebacker.

If Smith were to be sidelined for even half a season, it begs the question can the Saints survive without his contributions; considering current starter Dannell Ellerbe is injury prone — which caused a ripple effect of numerous random signings and shuffling in the linebacking corps during 2015, with disastrous results.

Next: Saints Perfect Free-Agent 'Fits' at Every Position

The Saints could very well go for that position in the second or even third round and still find good talent with someone like USC’s Su’a Cravens or LSU’s Deion Jones.

While some of us may not take too much stock in mock drafts this early, the overwhelming arrow points to the biggest area of need for the Saints being on their defensive line……..