The Saints had one of the most remarkable draft hauls of all time in 2017. Coming off the back of a solid 2016 class too, they seem remarkably set. Now, with fewer draft picks, and surely only a year or two from the end of Drew Brees’ career, can the Saints pick wisely in 2018 and fill what holes remain to set up a Super Bowl run? Who might they want to target first up to do so?
Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
The scouting community is a bit cool on Hubbard, but I can’t really see why. I see a technically-refined, athletically-able versatile player. Hubbard sets the edge against the run, both holding his ground and playing with his head up to not get suckered in. Rushing the passer, he has speed and size to get around or through most tackles. Most impressively, he already has swim and inside spin moves. He athleticism is enough to get around and inside on stunts. He even showed he can time snap counts and hit tackles before they’re set.
The concern for Hubbard is his ceiling. If all we’ve said is true, why has he only got 10 sacks in two years? Is he merely good at getting pressure but not finishing? I feel like against physical outliers Hubbard will struggle. He doesn’t have the speed and dip to get around athletic tackles. He doesn’t have the strength to get through man-mountains. But with all that said, Hubbard would be the pick for me. He’s basically a more well-rounded TJ Watt. He’s reminiscent of Brandon Graham – has a continual impact without stuff the stat-sheet. And with Cam Jordan across from him, both would benefit from this pick.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
I’ve warmed on Evans, a classic pass-rusher turned versatile linebacker. Evans gets from sideline-to-sideline effectively, making him an asset in coverage. He’s strong against slot receivers, providing underneath double or covering running backs. He was predominantly a weakside ‘backer at Alabama, which, as Tom noted, required less coverage skills, but as much insurance coverage as man.
(Kevin C. Cox/ Getty Images)
At NFL level he looks like a middle linebacker, though his athleticism and football IQ suggest he fits across the second level. Evans needs to work on his instincts, and his body placement when defending passes. He looks enthusiastic but so-so against the run, though this is of decreasing importance for linebackers. Conversely, what he offers as a pass rusher is increasingly important. While Evans will struggle against left tackles, I like him a lot on blitzes or coming across onto right tackles. The Saints aren’t stacked at linebacker, and though they’ll use 2 as often as 3, those 2 will need to have the ability to play all 3 downs. Evans has that in spades.
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
Defensive tackle is still a major position of need for the Saints. David Onyemata can do a job next to Sheldon Rankins but that’s about it. The problem is trying to find a fit at pick 27. Vita Vea will be gone. Da’Ron Payne would probably play a similar position to Rankins (and will likely be gone anyway). Maurice Hurst’s heart issue may have drawn – unfair or otherwise – comparisons to Nick Fairley among the Saints top brass.
So, it’s going to have to be Taven Bryan if anyone. Bryan offers immediate versatility – he can play inside against the run and inside or outside against the pass. He offers a heck of a lot of athletic talents, but is short on refinement. That’s not really surprising for someone being picked at the end of the 1st round. Bryan has the sort of quick first step that with some development in terms of instinct and feel, he can be a terror. In his first year or so he’s going to have to rely on physical talents to get anywhere. Luckily, he has plenty.
Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Tight end is an oft-mocked position to the Saints this draft season, and Hurst is the only TE anywhere near first-round quality. And I do think TE is more likely than WR if Sean Payton wants offensive skill positions in Round 1. Hurst has the fundamentals down– he is a willing blocker, athletic route-runner, and decent catcher. He was effective against linebackers or safeties at South Carolina, and looks by a mile the safest tight end pick in the draft. I’d expect him to contribute the most, early, of any TE.
That said, I’d dislike this pick. Hurst reminds me of Hunter Henry – a good tight end who found his range in the second. Hurst is a mismatch weapon, but like Henry not quite dynamic enough to be a game-breaker. He’s not a technical enough blocker for early snaps – not when the Saints get value from Michael Hoomanawanui and even Josh Hill blocking. If the Saints are win-now, Hurst isn’t really going to be a feature tight end until possibly Year 2, but more likely Year 3.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
I’ve just spent the entire Hayden Hurst piece bemoaning the pick if you’re on Win-now mode. But if you must pick for the future, what do you want, a franchise QB or a franchise TE? I doubt Jackson slides as far as the Saints, but if he does, what a fascinating pick he’d be.
Jackson, despite what his dog-whistling critics might tell you, is an electric passer with a fantastically quick motion and the patience to progress through his reads. He is a threat with his legs on designed runs, but has the awareness and internal clock to not resort to scrambling early. He has the arm, understanding of coverages, some pocket awareness but most importantly the knack of spotting where the playmaking threat is. He’s exciting.
But wherever Jackson lands, he needs a bit of work. In footwork terms, he needs to spread his base and just plant a bit more. He could use some work on his accuracy and timing, particularly on short and intermediate throws on the latter. He struggles to hold firm in a collapsing pocket, though given what else he can do this isn’t necessarily a negative.
(Rich Barnes/ USA TODAY Sports)
Jackson’s the pick if the Saints are sure their offseason additions are already enough. I’ll push on that, but if he is the pick, and if he has a year or two learning behind Drew Brees, particularly on accuracy, footwork and vision. And then appearing behind a strong offensive line? He could be a mighty succession plan.