As great as Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack would look in black and gold, neither will be New Orleans Saints after Thursday night’s first round is completed.
Selecting 27th, the Saints face a conundrum of not knowing which of their first-round targets will be available when they select. It’s actually a positive conundrum though, since they know if they stay put at No. 27, they’ll almost certainly have the option of selecting at least one of their favorite players in this draft.
However, it makes it incredibly difficult for prognosticators to determine what direction the Saints will go on Thursday night. There are 10-15 players who seem like realistic targets for the Saints if they stay put at No. 27 to make their pick.
Making it more difficult is the possibility of a trade up or down. Let’s start by eliminating Clowney, Mack, any of the supposed first-round QBs, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and any offensive tackle being considered a first-round pick. Throw in defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley and you’ve eliminated approximately half of the projected first-round selections.
It’s also unlikely the Saints will go tight end in the first round, so eliminate Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro.
That leaves us with the following players as realistic targets in the first round, assuming the Saints don’t shock the world and make a significant move on draft day to grab one of the aforementioned players.
(Ordered from most desirable to least desirable.)
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert figures to be a top-15 selection, meaning if the Saints really want him they’ll likely have to trade up to get him. On the slight chance he’s around at No. 27, he should be the pick.
The Saints brought in seven defensive backs for visits on April 15, including Gilbert. Based on film and official workout numbers, it is assumed here the Saints liked what they saw.
The lanky corner is a playmaker who possesses above-average coverage skills to go with a brash bravado essential for success at the cornerback position in today’s NFL. He is the ideal pick for the Saints in the first round.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr was considered a near lock to be drafted in the top 10 when the scouting process began in earnest back in January. Now his name is being floated as a mid to late first-round pick.
If he falls to No. 27, he’s another rather obvious selection. Though he needs to be coached up, the talent Barr possesses is quite unique. He only played defense for two years at UCLA after beginning his college career as a fledgling running back.
New Orleans would be the perfect spot for Barr, where he could take essentially a redshirt season to learn the position at the NFL level and develop in time to start in 2015.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller has the full gamut of skills, measureables and playmaking ability to be a top-10 pick. If not for an injury that cost him much of his final season in Blacksburg, Fuller would probably be the No. 1 corner on the board.
He could become a turnover machine who also produces defensive touchdowns. He could easily play safety with his size and skill set.
He will be better in zone and off coverage at the pro level, as his technique is a bit shaky and he seems to get twisted around often. His recovery speed, though, is incredible, as is the way he always fights for the football at the point of the potential catch.
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham figures to go no later than pick No. 23 to Kansas City, meaning the Bayou Bengal's only real chance of wearing black and gold is via a trade up.
Beckham is one of the most well-rounded receivers in this draft—combining incredible speed with great route-running, solid hands and the ability to haul in throws in traffic and/or make things happen with the ball in his hands.
Saints fans should not get their hopes up in acquiring Beckham, though he would be a great fit in New Orleans—as he would be in nearly every NFL city.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Dennard looks a little stiff-hipped on film, yet still manages to stick with any and every receiver he’s matched up against. He is extremely physical at the line of scrimmage—sometimes to his own detriment—and a risk-taker.
He has the potential to become a lockdown corner for a decade, but could also be out of the league in a short number of years. He is a high-risk, high-reward prospect.
Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville
Smith’s athleticism and natural abilities as a whole are enough to make scouts and coaches alike become very excited. His production as a junior at Louisville was ridiculous—14.5 sacks, four passes defensed and seemingly thousands of QB pressures—and cannot be taken lightly.
Smith has been considered by most analysts a second-round prospect, but given the Saints’ needs and overall roster composition could be an ideal target for the “reach” pick. It wouldn’t actually be a reach since he is actually a first-round talent.
Marcus Martin, C, Southern California
With the rumors running wild that Marcus Martin will be the Saints' pick at No. 27 on Thursday night (more on that in a later slide), it would be a huge mistake to not list him here.
Martin is a great athlete for his size—6’3”, 320 pounds—who plays with tremendous awareness. He excels in zone run blocking and while working in concert with the rest of the line in pass protection.
There’s little doubt Martin could start from day one, if asked to do so, and would immediately improve the Saints offensive line.
Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
Dee Ford is very similar to Marcus Smith in some ways, yet so different. Ford looks quite stout on the field—a stark contrast to the lanky, basketball-type body that Smith possesses. The production, however, is quite similar.
Ford excels with great pass-rushing technique and a violent use of his hands unrivaled among this class of rush ends. He lacks the elite burst that Smith and some of the other “elite” rush ends have, but makes up for it with a non-stop motor.
Like many of the others, he has experience standing up on a number of plays, even being asked to cover backs and tight ends from time to time.
Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California
Lee is Robert Meachem 2.0. The resemblance is uncanny. Meachem looked taller in college than his sub-6’0” frame indicates. He did it all as a receiver.
When really breaking down the film, though, Lee’s only NFL-transferrable skill is his ability to get open down the field, a la Meachem.
Players like Lee are valuable in today’s NFL, but should be taken in the second round, not the first. But that doesn’t mean the Saints won’t take a serious look at Lee.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young
Kyle Van Noy is simply a really good football player. He lacks a lot of the flashy athleticism and workout numbers that many other first-round prospects produced over the last few months. But he’s a smart football player who makes plays.
He’s the No. 8 rush end on my board (and the last among the group of “elite” rush ends in this draft on that board) and a second-round prospect who some team—could be the Saints—might fall in love with in the back end of the first round.
Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian
If Verrett were a couple inches taller, we may be talking about a top-10 pick. At 5’9”, he’s more likely a second-round pick. In something resembling an ideal world, the Saints could trade back into the top of the second and pick up Verrett as their “first-round pick”.
Verrett is nowhere near the Saints' top target, but trading down to accumulate more picks while still getting a really good player is always ideal.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Roby was one of the seven defensive backs mentioned above as visiting the Saints’ facilities on April 15. Roby is a really good player who had a disappointing final season in Columbus.
He seems to have the right demeanor (cocky) and skill set to find NFL success at the cornerback position. Still, something has rubbed scouts wrong about Roby. It may lead to him falling down boards this weekend. And that may or may not be to the Saints’ benefit.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Latimer is among 30 players who were invited to the draft in New York City on Thursday and Friday. That’s pretty impressive since he was far from a sexy name in draft circles until the past month or two.
Recovering from foot surgery, Latimer ran a 4.39 and 4.43 40-yard dash at his pro day last month. He was also very productive in his three seasons in Bloomington for the Hoosiers. There are some noticeable issues with Latimer’s game, but he has great hands.
The positives outweighed the negatives for Mel Kiper in his April 17 mock draft (subscription required). He mocked Latimer to the Saints at pick No. 27 overall. It could happen.