In the first edition of Saintsinsider.com's "Saints Mock Draft," I'll attempt to work as GM for a day and navigate the Saints through the talent available this April.
Remember it's not an exact science.
For the purposes of our Mock Draft, I'll make my selection, tell you why I've made it and then give you some alternatives, based on what could happen.
My research? Well, I've been to both the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine, so I have a good idea of which players the Saints are interested in. I've also looked at several Web-based mock drafts, including Scout.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, CBSSports.com and NFLdraftscout.com to get an idea of how other experts perceive the stock of certain players.
And please remember — this is a fluid situation the next month months. My last mock draft in April will likely look much different than the one you're reading now. But feel free to share your thoughts on the Saintsinsider.com message board.
Ready? Here we go.
First round — No. 10 overall
Why?: I know a lot of people are taking Troy's Leodis McKelvin in this spot, and for good reason. His blend of athleticism, corner skills and return skills is hard to find. But I simply like Jenkins better.
My reasoning? He played against tougher competition in the Big East than McKelvin's Sun Belt Conference (I know this because I've covered SBC football before). Jenkins is a cover corner that can fit any scheme — man or zone. He has great speed and exhibits above-average ball skills. He appears, at least to me, to be more versatile than McKelvin at this stage of the evaluation period, and when you're spending a No. 10 pick, you need to spend it on a player that is as close to a sure thing as possible. I have fewer questions about Jenkins than I do about McKelvin.
Alternate theory: McKelvin is certainly an option here. Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is gaining some traction as a Top 15 selection and could be on New Orleans' radar as well. The Saints should have their choice of at least two of the top cornerbacks in this draft, perhaps all three.
The Saints could also seek to address their needs at defensive tackle. North Carolina's Kentwan Balmer ought to be available here, though I think 10th overall is a bit high. And a lot of mock drafts have the Saints taking USC linebacker Keith Rivers, another solid choice. But corner addresses a more pressing need for a pass defense that was just plain atrocious last season.
It will be interesting to see if either of the top two tackles in the draft — LSU's Glenn Dorsey or USC's Sedrick Ellis — drops to No. 10. If so, I could easily see the Saints choosing one of them instead of a cornerback. But, at this point, I don't see either falling that far.
One other nugget to think about: an NFL.com mock draft has the Saints trading up to No. 7 to take Ellis. So stay tuned.
Second round — No. 40 overall
|Arkansas DT Marcus Harrison could be a solid choice in the second round for a Saints club in need of some muscle inside. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)|
He's not the most complete tackle in the draft by any stretch. But he's zoomed from a sixth-round to a second-round pick in two months, so he's doing something right.
Two other tackles to think about here are Iowa State's Athyba Rubin and Auburn's Pat Sims. Both have received the same "inconsistent" label Harrison has. But then, if they were consistent, they would be first-round picks, wouldn't they?
Alternate theory: I could see the Saints addressing other needs here, starting with running back, if the Saints choose to release Deuce McAllister. Central Florida's Kevin Smith is a back closer in size to McAllister and could be a good complement to Reggie Bush. So could Tulane back Matt Forte (6-foot-2, 217 pounds), who has been a draft darling this year. If the Saints aren't sold on WR Robert Meachem bouncing back from his horrible 2007, they could spend the pick on Michigan WR Mario Mannigham or Michigan State WR Devin Thomas.
But, if the Saints don't go with a defensive tackle here, I see them addressing depth at linebacker and going after UNLV's Beau Bell, who is versatile enough to play all three positions; or Tennessee's Jerod Mayo, an inside backer some project as a 3-4 inside linebacker but could be just as valuable to a 4-3 team in the middle. Between Dan Morgan and Mark Simoneau, it's not a stretch to say the position could turn over in two years.
Third round — No. 78 overall
Why?: The departure of Jeff Faine to Tampa Bay will put some real pressure on Jonathan Goodwin, whom the Saints have pegged to take a crack at replacing Faine. But you have to believe that the Saints will want some protection if Goodwin can't make the transition, and Pollak would make a great insurance policy.
At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Pollak is a bit larger than Faine. Scouts say he still needs to gain some weight and a mean streak, but the basics for being a solid NFL center are there. He's athletic, quick and gets into his stance quickly. He's an adept pass blocker and is credited with an ability to pick up delayed blitzes, a nice trait when you consider how much Drew Brees was asked to throw last year. He communicates well, has the ability to pull and handle off-tackle runs.
The big drawbacks — an inability to sometimes hold his ground against speedier tackles and a tendency to be pushed off-balanced — could be remedied by gaining more weight and improving his form and leverage. Most draft experts consider him the No. 3 center in the draft, on par with Notre Dame's John Sullivan and Bowling Green's Kory Lichtensteiger. And, with the signing of veteran Matt Lehr, Pollak likely won't have to play right away.
Alternate theory: I could see the Saints addressing an offensive skill position here, perhaps taking East Carolina RB Chris Johnson, who at 5-foot-11 and nearly 200 pounds would most resemble a McAllister-type back with this selection. I still think the Saints could lean toward a wide receiver here, but there's plenty of talent in this draft and the Saints have proved recently that they can find gems late (Marques Colston). After two straight defensive selections, I really see this as an offensive pick.
Fourth round — No. 109 overall
Why?: The Saints only had 32 sacks last year, and picking a player like Harrison will solve at least part of the problem. The other part? The Saints need a consistent outside pass rush. Jones is considered one of the better under-the-radar talents in this draft and NFL Network's Mike Mayock considers him a great value at this position. The Saints won't want to pass on great value here.
Jones racked up 50 tackles for loss in three seasons with EMU, so he knows how to get past opposing blockers. At 273 pounds, he's physical enough to handle most tackles. At 6-foot-5, he's an imposing defender at either end of the line for quarterbacks. And his 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle drill and three-cone drill times were among the best times of any defensive tackle or end at the combine.
Now, Jones needs polishing. Plus, he needs to gain strength in the upper body. But there's a solid foundation there for any coach to work with, and he could become a valuable pass rusher in a platoon situation as soon as this year. I saw him at the Senior Bowl and was impressed.
Alternate theory: Jones represents a value pick, meaning the talent and the round match up. At this point in the draft, I still would like to pick a running back or wide receiver for the Saints, but the value isn't there yet. The Saints need a particular kind of back to complement Bush, if McAllister is released, and that type of power back wasn't available at this pick.
Fifth round — No. 140 overall
|South Carolina RB Cory Boyd could be a solid value for the Saints, who may be in need of a running back if they choose to release Deuce McAllister. (Jim Lytle/AP Photos)|
Chances are, if the juniors had not declared Boyd would be taken far earlier in this draft. But he's a better value at the back end of this draft. He isn't the most consistent back in this draft, but he shares some traits in common with McAllister. He's a downhill runner who lacks elite breakaway speed, but can gain yards in bunches. He's a reliable receiver and is tough enough to take on tacklers one-on-one. He's big enough and talented enough to be Bush's McAllister now and in the future. He was productive his final two years in college, gaining more than 2,000 yards rushing.
He will have to overcome his off the field history, as he missed all of 2005 for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Alternate theory: Wide receiver, linebacker and defensive tackle are all positions to think about here. But as the Saints head into the sixth round, they'll likely have addressed their top needs and will be looking to add value, regardless of position. One player I like here, even though he's not a great fit for Sean Payton's offense, is West Virginia FB Owen Schmitt. He's big, tough and powerful, but the Saints don't run enough two-back sets to justify the pick.
Sixth round — No. 171 overall
WR Pierre Garcon, Mount Union
Why?: Because this guy can flat out play. His average numbers for the Division III power were 62 receptions, 1,095 yards and 15 touchdowns. He runs a 4.42 40-yard dash and his size (6-foot, 210 pounds) lends him to being a slot receiver. Oh, and he is a national champion in the 4x100 relay. If he has better hands than Devery Henderson, the veteran could be out of a job real soon. He can also return kicks. He's moving up draft charts, but he likely won't be taken before the sixth round.
Alternate theory: If the Saints are thinking about a quarterback, they could do worse than LSU's Matt Flynn, whose stock won't see much of a bump as he's coming off an injury. He has solid ability and he's as tough as they come at the position. I think he has the arm strength and savvy to handle most of Payton's offense, too.
Seventh round — No. 202 overall
CB Jonathan Zenon, LSU
Why?: The Saints could use all the help they can get at the cornerback position. Zenon would be a great value, as he has sub-4.5 speed. Scouts say he doesn't have pure speed, but he has excellent instincts and room to grow, especially above the waist.
Alternate theory: Pick a player, any player, here. I took Zenon because right now he's a seventh-round value and a former Tiger. But that could change. This is a pick that could easily change, based on what's available. The Saints should focus on taking the best player available and leave it at that.
Matthew Postins covers the Saints for Saintsinsider.com. He is an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association.