We’ve entered a new era in New Orleans Saints football following an underwhelming 2020 campaign. As has been said for the past few years with the quality of talent the Saints have had at their disposal, a lack of postseason success has seen a once glaring winning window rapidly bolting shut. For one of the most expensive rosters in all of football, 2021 ushers in a fresh face under center with franchise cornerstone Drew Brees now retired. Whether it’s Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, or an unknown talent who suits up at quarterback for Sean Payton’s unit in Week 1, New Orleans now finds themselves in a precarious spot for a roster only weakening in talent as seasons pass.
Marshon Lattimore, Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk, and Marcus Williams are each expected to enter the open market following the 2021 campaign. With limited cap space as it is, it’s put even the top cap wizard Mickey Loomis in a bind with little wiggle room to keep each player in town.
With free agency now in its latter stages, let’s get right into it. Using our Mock Draft Machine, I looked at which prospects New Orleans could target in this post-free-agency draft haul. Here is my seven-round mock including scheme fit on each prospect:
Round 1 (No. 28 overall): Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
Following Emmanuel Sanders’ departure in free agency, the Saints’ receiver room runs bare with pass-catching talent behind Michael Thomas. And although Tre’Quan Smith has enjoyed his fair share of success the last couple of seasons, I don’t see Payton entering the fall with a new quarterback and limited weapons on the boundary. Thomas and Alvin Kamara out of the backfield is definitely a nice start, but Marshall would provide an elite duo for New Orleans’ quarterback to target at will.
With excellent size, Marshall’s frame and unique skill set will allow him to dominate from the onset of his professional career. Similar to LSU wideout Justin Jefferson this past year in Minnesota, I could see Marshall competing for Offensive Rookie of The Year honors with eyes focused on No. 13 on the opposite side. He’s a sure-fire top-two wideout for the Saints who cannot be passed up here at the tail end of the first round.
Round 2 (No. 60 overall): Daviyon Nixon, IDL, Iowa
Although an EDGE prospect was a target here, Nixon provides one of the safest floors of all defensive prospects in this draft; especially one with such little talent in the interior.
Nixon is the prize of the class at defensive tackle who would slot nicely beside David Onyemata to form a formidable tandem on the inside with Cameron Jordan and 2022 free agent Marcus Davenport rounding out the front four. The 2020 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Nixon was dominant for the Hawkeyes, consistently showcasing his power and fluidity as a prototypical 3-technique with outstanding hands and gap control.
Round 3 (No. 98 overall): Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
With two picks between the next eight selections, the board fell nicely here with multiple fits for New Orleans still on the board.
Long story short, for anyone who blatantly has said Winston or Hill is the future under center for the Saints, it’s just not a realistic scenario, and the NFL presents reality quicker than any league in professional sports. Either you belong or you don’t, and currently, the Saints are stuck with their biggest roster question at the most important position in football.
Mond would immediately become the most talented passer on the roster with mobility similar to Hill, but with quarterback tendencies outside of the pocket where Hill looks to escape as a primary runner. The top quarterback of tier-two gun-slingers in this class, Mond offers unique dual-threat versatility within a roster loaded with offensive weapons to assist in his onboarding process. It couldn’t be a better scenario, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the former Aggie ends up donning the black and gold come late April.
Round 3 (No. 105 overall): Trill Williams, CB, Syracuse
The loss of Janoris Jenkins is filled here with Williams, a rangy, physical, ball-hawking talent who could develop into a top outside corner with necessary snaps. A game-changing type of athlete within the secondary, Williams touts every trait scouts look for in today’s defensive backs. He can play inside/out with a seamless transition doing both as he showcased for the Orange. With Lattimore set to explore the open market next year, Williams should earn a slew of reps from Week 1 alongside Lattimore and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Round 4 (No. 133 overall): Daelin Hayes, EDGE, Notre Dame
One of my favorite EDGE prospects in this class, Hayes arguably is the most polished prospect of all outside rushers in his class. He could start tomorrow and produce.
You may be wondering why he’s available in the fourth round, but don’t get caught up in that. Focus on the player and you’ll see an ideal 4-3 fit for Dennis Allen’s defense who could serve rotationally in his first year in New Orleans behind Davenport. Hayes stands out with his battering ram for hands and elite agility for a man of his stature that could carve out a large role for himself at the next level.
Round 6 (No. 218 overall): Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa
Smith-Marsette should not be on the board here this late, as he has the potential to develop into a top-three option within any offense in the NFL if he can put it all together. It’s a big “if,” but he’s too polished of a prospect to pass up here this late in the selection process.
In what Thomas or Marshall “lack” in speed, Smith-Marsette provides a track background with gliding strides to consistently break away from opposing corners. He could use added weight to his frame, but he is an elegant athlete with all the tools to become a steal in this draft. He isn’t just a vertical threat, either, as he showed the ability to work under coverage within the intermediate areas of the Hawkeye offense as well during his time at Iowa.
Round 7 (No. 229 overall): Cole Van Lanen, OT, Wisconsin
With the aforementioned bookends in Ramczyk and Armstead set to enter free agency following the conclusion of next season, it would be ideal to add a versatile mauler in the form of Van Lanen, an experienced tackle with an NFL-ready game who could step in to start next year if either of the two depart.
Round 7 (No. 255 overall): Buddy Johnson, LB, Texas A&M
A downhill, attacking talent within the second level, Johnson provided a ton of pop for the Aggie defense. Along with an uber-athletic frame, Johnson plays with an above-average football IQ with innate ability in the run to stuff opposing ball carriers before they reach the second level. A throwback type of talent at the linebacker position, he provides excellent value here for a Saints roster in need of talent within their linebackers room.