Saints Still Might Draft a DB in Early Rounds


The thought of the New Orleans Saints going any other direction than defensive line in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft seems almost inconceivable.

Look no further than the abysmal pass rush that occurred this past season to hammer that point home, for any one thinking otherwise.

Yes, the Saints could go in several directions and the idea of drafting a “best player available” approach whether it’s a cornerback, wide receiver, or even taking a chance on pass rushing outside linebacker like Noah Spence, isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Another notion that isn’t too far fetched is the Saints taking a cornerback or safety early, such as in the second or third round of the upcoming draft.

While it’s not a popular idea, it’s one that I think is definitely in play for the Black and Gold in the upcoming weeks.

Saints sideline reporter (and host of WWL 870 AM New Orleans Radio’s Double Coverage program) Kristin Garic helped solidify what some might call a “crazy” notion when on Wednesday night, he suggested he even felt the Saints may draft a secondary player such as a safety fairly early in the draft.

I mention it being “crazy” because most mock drafts, analysts, or analysts with their mock drafts have the Saints sticking with defensive line in the first two rounds, then taking a guard with a third round selection and then addressing cornerback and safety within the fourth to fifth round range.

A recent visit with former USC linebacker Su’a Cravens has suggested that the Saints may view him more as a safety than as a linebacker when it came to comparing his numbers to current safety Kenny Vaccaro.

You can split hairs all day long on what is considered a safety or linebacker “hybrid” in the NFL but the trend has become to use players like Vaccaro, Arizona Cardinals Deone Bucannon, or the L.A. Rams Mark Barron; as someone who plays close to the line in that interchangeable role.

There are some that will slap the weakside linebacker tag onto Cravens, but I’m seeing him more and more being used as a safety for a team like the Saints.

Cravens is currently projected to go within the second round and if the Saints pass on him with their second round selection, then chances are he won’t be there in the third round.

More traditional safeties who have met with the Saints such as former Ohio State Buckeye Vonn Bell (5-foot-11, 199 pounds) is one of those projected to go early in the second round.

A second round pick for a safety may seem like a luxury for New Orleans, but Bell is a player that has received positive reports on his ability in man coverage as well as his instincts on the field.

Nov 8, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive back Vonn Bell (11) reacts to a play during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent segment he filmed with NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks, Bell was praised by both for those traits as well as seeming comfortable with being the “control center” of the defense; making sure everyone is in the right place which we all know the Saints have had issues with the past few seasons.

While Bell says he models his game after Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, NFL Network gave him the NFL comparison of Kurt Coleman from the Carolina Panthers.

Bell isn’t the only safety that could be a potential early round pick; with former Duke Blue Devil Jeremy Cash in consideration as well.

Cash (6-feet, 212 pounds) hasn’t been listed as meeting with the Saints, but he is in the same conversations as Bell as being one of the top safeties in draft, who also played some linebacker and slot corner while at Duke.

While Bell is more along the lines of a free safety, Cash fits more of the mold of a strong safety who isn’t too shabby in coverage; but you don’t want him being a single high safety, with Pro Football Focus actually fitting him more into a weakside linebacker role in a 4-3 defense.

Although he was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year, Cash broke his wrist which required surgery in December and while he didn’t participate in his Pro Day he did say he intends on doing private workouts starting in mid-April.

Nov 7, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Brandon Fritts (82) with the ball as Duke Blue Devils cornerback Breon Borders (31) and safety Jeremy Cash (16) defend in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Safety is a position that could be tricky for the Saints following this year, considering that Jarius Byrd has not lived up to the huge expectations that went along with the huge deal he received and the possibility exists that the team may part ways with him, if 2016 is as lackluster a season as the others.

Drafting a cornerback early is an extremely touchy subject for the Saints fanbase especially after the debacle that occurred in 2014 when they selected Stanley Jean-Baptiste in the second round and and was a complete bust for them.

It really wasn’t his fault though, since the Saints knew what they were getting; and general manger Mickey Loomis admitted he was a project in the sense that Baptiste was a former wide receiver, who had just begun to play the position at Nebraska.

This resulted in a steep learning curve being thrust into the NFL for the former Cornhusker, and he was released after only one full year with the team — so I can understand the grumblings.

Jun 11, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (33) during minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

But the Saints had no issue last year snatching P.J. Williams in the third round after he fell from first round contention, following an arrest for a suspected DUI right before the draft.

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Williams unfortunately didn’t get a chance to showcase that talent though, after he was placed on injured reserve before the season started with reported hamstring issues.

The Saints cornerback situation hinges on a lot of things going right and plenty have used the words “if” and “might” when discussing this; with our own editor Barry Hirstius using it in a recent article about Williams saying things might be “ok” if he rebounds.

I truly hope that Williams can become a special player, but with Delvin Breaux being the only sure thing to bank on considering the multiple injuries that have sidelined fellow starter Keenan Lewis and backup Damian Swann, that’s a lot of pieces that need to fall just right.

And speaking of pieces falling just right, that could happen for the Saints if a certain cornerback falls to them in the early rounds.

There are the usual suspects to look out for like Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves; who is tabbed to go within the top 15 picks, as well as Clemson’s Mackenzie Alexander — whom the Saints have met with prior to his Pro Day.

Dec 31, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Houston Cougars cornerback William Jackson III (3) breaks up a pass intended for Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Travis Rudolph (15) in the third quarter in the 2015 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome. The Cougars won 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Another corner that is getting some more interest lately in the first few rounds is William Jackson III of Houston, who caught plenty of eye’s with a blazing 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Jackson, at 6’0, 189 pounds, has been projected from anywhere to the late-first to early second round in the draft; with PFF saying he is the “best pure cornerback available in the draft, and is one of the few top players at the position who ticks all of the boxes for some teams when it comes to measurables and size as well as play.”

The Saints could wait until the third round to select a corner like they did last year; and two players that could be around in that area are Alabama’s Cyrus Jones or Xavien Howard of Baylor.

Jones (5-foot-10, 197 pounds) is already on the Saints radar with a visit planned, and is known for being a physical corner who will compete for the ball as well as being someone who can handle return man duties, which he did while at Alabama.

While he can likely play in any coverage, man-to-man is where Jones can make his mark and the aggression that we all loved seeing with Swann, would be another bonus for him.

Nov 27, 2015; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Baylor Bears cornerback Xavien Howard (4) intercepts a pass intended for TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Tony James (28) in the second quarter at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Howard (6-feet, 201 pounds) is a player that hasn’t got much hype built up over him leading up to the draft; but only allowed 37.3% of the passes thrown his way lead to a completion last year at Baylor, while also racking up nine interceptions the past two years while being asked to be on an island by himself.

Although he ran a 4.53 and 4.56 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, Howard rebounded at his Pro Day and improved to a 4.38 and confidently declared himself to be “the best corner in the draft.”

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That confidence could serve him well in the NFL, and he has drawn comparisons to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman; as well as PFF giving him a match to the Saints’ very own Delvin Breaux.

So while I agree the Saints definitely need to upgrade the front of their defense, if a player on the backend of it slips to them early?

Then they don’t need to ignore that opportunity to take one either…..