Third round — No. 78 overall
First Mock Draft selection: C Mike Pollak, Arizona State.
Why?: I was all set to take Forte here until the Saints and Deuce McAllister agreed to a deal that would keep him with the team at least for 2008. So, with the running back situation settled, I'll turn my attention to the Saints' other key offensive need — center.
I took Pollak in my first mock draft and right now he's holding steady as a third-round pick. Plus, the Saints have met with Pollak. He's the only center the Saints have met with.
The departure of Jeff Faine to Tampa Bay leaves a gaping hole up the middle of the offensive line for the Saints. Head coach Sean Payton said earlier this offseason that Jonathan Goodwin (6-foot-3, 318 pounds) will get first crack at winning the job. But the Saints went out and signed Matt Lehr — who was with the Bucs last year — as insurance. Goodwin has never been a full-time starter at center. Lehr was a full-time starter at center early in his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Scout.com's Tom Marino cautions that there are no "franchise picks" in this draft at the position and that most of the centers have third- or fourth-round grades.
Given the Saints' lean toward the pass game and the speed game in the backfield, a more mobile center may be in order. Marino said Pollak looks around well in pass protection and has a good knee bend. Marino also considers Pollak the strongest center in the draft, physically speaking. Marino thinks he's tough, experienced and smart, but needs to add just a little weight to take on NFL-sized defensive tackles. Pollak is already 300 pounds right now.
Pollak can enter training camp and immediately challenge Goodwin and Lehr for playing time. He might even play well enough to earn the starting job as a rookie.
Alternate theory: I think this will be an offensive pick. If Pollak is gone, I would suggest taking either Notre Dame's Jonathan Sullivan or Wake Forest's Steve Justice at center. Also watch for USC G Chilo Rachal, a player some scouts say could have been a first-rounder in 2009 if family issues hadn't prompted Rachal to leave school early. Also, Central Florida RB Kevin Smith could be available here, too. And, if Forte does drop to this selection, the Saints will have an interesting five minutes, because I'm of the believe that McAllister might be released after the 2008 season.
Defensively, my second-round pick in my first mock draft — Arkansas DT Marcus Harrison — appears to have fallen into the third round and could be a solid value here. He's a bit limited, though, as he's only seen as a run stopper. If the Saints chose to stay away from linebacker in the first two rounds, there are some great choices lurking in Virginia Tech's Xavier Adibi and Colorado's Jordan Dizon. One mock draft has Penn State's Dan Connor dropping to the third round. That seems crazy, but if he does keep an eye on him.
Remember that the Saints have no fourth-round selection. They dealt it for LB Jonathan Vilma.
Did you miss his previous selections? Access rounds 5, 6 and 7 right here:
And don't forget to stop by on Thursday for his second-round selection
Matthew Postins is the publisher of saintsinsider.com. He is an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association.