Breaking down the New Orleans Saints' 2018 draft class.
Round 1, No. 14 overall: Marcus Davenport, DE, UT San Antonio
My take: After last year’s draft, I asked general manager Mickey Loomis if the Saints were “too hard to please” at the edge rusher position. Apparently not. The Saints made one of the boldest -- and therefore riskiest -- moves of the entire draft by trading away next year’s first-round pick and a 2018 fifth-rounder to move up from No. 27 to No. 14. That’s a ton to pay for any one player, especially considering New Orleans is already missing a second-round pick this year. But how could I possibly criticize the Saints for going after an edge rusher after I ranked it as their No. 1 need in each of the past two years? Davenport is considered a bit of a raw, developmental talent (the Detroit Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah is an enticing comparison). But he has the size (6-foot-6, 264 pounds) to play end in a 4-3 system, which the Saints always covet from their edge players. Coach Sean Payton called his size and speed the “prototype” for the position. And it’s the kind of impact position that could help push a top NFC contender over the top.
Moving on up: This move really shouldn’t have come as a surprise for New Orleans, which has now traded up six times in the first round under Loomis, dating back to 2006. This one was pricier than most, since it cost two first-rounders. But Payton explained that the price won’t really be that high if both of those picks end up being late in the round. And he cracked that people may say it “appears to be a lot ... but, shoot, what’s our country’s national debt?”
Still developing: Payton said it was “fair” to label Davenport as more of a raw, developmental prospect than some of the other rookies who will enter the league this year. But he said the coaches are eager to work with him because of those “prototype” measurables. Davenport, who was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year with 8.5 sacks in 2017, ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.58 seconds at the scouting combine. He also impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl and was widely projected to go around this stage of the draft. The Saints clearly coveted him since they chose him ahead of another highly rated edge player whom Payton said they also liked in Tremaine Edmunds.
Local ties: Davenport's father is from New Orleans, and his grandfather, Artis Davenport, is in the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame as a former track and field coach at Southern University of New Orleans. Davenport took pride in helping to put another city on the college football map, though, at the University of Texas at San Antonio: "I don't think of it as a small school -- more of a young school, on a learning curve. And you just have to work hard to get over that." And he's aiming high now that he has joined a top contender. "I want to shoot big. I want a Super Bowl."
What's next: Barring another surprise, the Saints won’t pick again until No. 91 in Round 3, since they traded away this year’s second-round pick to get Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara last year (another bold trade that clearly panned out for them). Payton was clearly telling the truth to the media earlier this week when he listed a pressure player as a “must” for the Saints. He also ranked a sixth offensive lineman, linebacker and tight end among New Orleans’ biggest remaining needs.
Round 3, No. 91: Tre'Quan Smith, WR, UCF
My take: The receiver position is getting crowded now after the Saints also signed free agents Cameron Meredith and Brandon Coleman earlier this month. But there is room for Smith to develop into a No. 2 option alongside Pro Bowler Michael Thomas, particularly with fellow starter Ted Ginn Jr. now 33 years old. And the Saints definitely needed to add more reliable pass-catchers this offseason after finishing an uncharacteristic 19th in the NFL in third-down conversion rate last year. GM Mickey Loomis said the Saints liked everything about the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith throughout the scouting process, from his college performance to his Senior Bowl performance to his meetings with the team. And he thinks Smith has the intelligence to play outside or inside.
How he fits: It’s way too early to predict whether Smith can beat out guys like Ginn or Meredith for a primary role from day one. But his upside is high, even if the Saints give him time to develop. Smith called himself a “late bloomer” who doesn’t think he has reached his full potential yet since he didn’t start playing football full time until he was a junior in high school. That’s why he thinks he got better in each of his three years at UCF, finishing with 59 catches for 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns during last season’s undefeated run. Smith also showed good athletic traits for his size, running the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the combine and tying for the second-best broad jump of any receiver at 10 feet, 10 inches.
Round 4, No. 127: Rick Leonard, OT, Florida State
My take: Sean Payton listed a sixth offensive lineman as one of two “musts” earlier this week, so this pick obviously makes sense. The Saints won’t need Leonard to start right away, since they have LT Terron Armstead, RT Ryan Ramczyk and recently-signed swingman backup Jermon Bushrod on the roster. That should give the 6-foot-7, 311-pound Leonard time to keep developing after he just converted from defensive end to right tackle after his sophomore year at Florida State. “This is where I’m supposed to be, on this side of the ball,” Leonard said. “I’m still growing at tackle obviously, I’ve only played two years. But I’ve learned a hell of a lot.”
How he fits: So far, Leonard has only played right tackle, which is fine since Armstead, Ramczyk, Bushrod and starting left guard Andrus Peat all have experience at left tackle. But Leonard insisted that he could play either tackle spot or guard if needed. He could also contribute early as a sixth offensive lineman in jumbo packages if he looks ready. Leonard said it was Florida State’s renowned offensive line coach Rick Trickett who pushed him to make the switch during his first two years of college, and, “I owe it all to him for teaching me this game.”
Round 5, No. 164: Natrell Jamerson, DB, Wisconsin
My take: It’s hard to argue with a versatile athlete that ESPN’s Todd McShay said could be a “steal” in the fifth round, while referencing New Orleans' 2017 steals such as Alvin Kamara and Alex Anzalone. But Jamerson obviously projects as a backup/special-teamer in the short term. The 5-foot-11, 201-pound Jamerson is listed as a safety, where he played his final year at Wisconsin. But it was really more of a nickelback role after he spent his sophomore and junior seasons as a cornerback (and his freshman year as a receiver). Jamerson said the Saints told them they see him as a cornerback initially. Jamerson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds at the combine -- second-fastest among all safeties -- and he tied for first among safeties with 25 reps in the bench press. He had 51 tackles and two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) as a senior for one of the best defenses in the nation. He was named Defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine Game.
How he fits: The Saints have loaded up on secondary depth this offseason, signing third safety Kurt Coleman and nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson, among others. And they still have physical backup cornerback P.J. Williams, who was a high school teammate of Jamerson in Florida. So he’ll have to really impress to crack the lineup as a rookie. But the Saints have learned painfully how important depth is in the secondary in recent years, and Jamerson could also be a big special-teams asset.
Round 6, No. 189: Kamrin Moore, CB, Boston College
Prospect Profile: Kamrin Moore
Watch cornerback Kamrin Moore shine in Boston College's secondary during his time as an Eagle.
My take: The Saints have now used back-to-back picks on defensive backs, so the secondary is getting awfully crowded. But like fifth-round pick Natrell Jamerson, Moore could also become a special-teams contributor. Moore (5-foot-10, 203 pounds) said he was a four-year starter on special teams at Boston College, along with being a three-year starter on defense. He had two interceptions and 22 passes defended in his four-year career and was invited to both the Senior Bowl and scouting combine.
How he fits: Cornerback is shaping up to be the hardest position to project when we start writing up those 53-man roster predictions this summer. The Saints have learned the painful lesson that you can never have too many defensive backs because of a rash of injuries in recent years. But unless those injuries come in the preseason, they’ll have some tough roster cuts to make. The Saints also signed third safety Kurt Coleman and nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson in free agency to join returning starters Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell. They also have returning backup corners P.J. Williams, Justin Hardee and Arthur Maulet and safety/special-teams standout Chris Banjo on the roster, among others.
Round 6, No. 201 overall: Boston Scott, RB, Louisiana Tech
My take: Saints GM Mickey Loomis said this week that assistant GM Jeff Ireland talks about the value of “building on a strength.” That’s what they did in Round 6 by adding Scott behind the history-making duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. So Scott will likely have to show some special-teams value early to crack the active roster. But don’t rule him out as a future part of the offense. His college film is a lot of fun (Pro Football Focus said Scott was their third-highest graded college running back in 2017 behind only Ronald Jones II and Saquon Barkley). The 5-foot-7, 195-pounder ran for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. And when asked about his size, Scott said his response is, “Go look at the film.” He said he can run over guys, make people miss and use his height to his advantage.
How he fits: Scott doesn’t seem to fit in the running back picture immediately. But if he shows some flashes as a rookie, the Saints could potentially have an opening when Ingram becomes a free agent in 2019. In the meantime, Scott will battle for a role alongside Trey Edmunds (who earned a roster spot as an undrafted rookie last year because of his special-teams ability), Jonathan Williams and Daniel Lasco.
Round 7, No. 245 overall: Will Clapp, OL, LSU
My take: I wouldn't have been surprised to see this move happen earlier on Day 3, since Clapp showed the kind of versatility as a three-year starter at LSU that the Saints are looking for after losing backup G/C/T Senio Kelemete in free agency. The 6-foot-4, 311-pounder started 13 games at center, 12 games at left guard and 11 games at right guard. He was a first-team all-SEC center in 2017 and a first-team all-SEC guard in 2016. ESPN/Scouts Inc. had him rated 212th overall -- and Pro Football Focus rated him all the way up at No. 67. Perhaps best of all, Clapp finally ends the conspiracy theory that the Saints don't like drafting LSU players (he's the first since 2010). Clapp, who grew up as a Saints fan just outside of New Orleans and went to the same high school as late owner Tom Benson, said he is pretty "pumped it was me that broke the streak."
How he fits: The best-case scenario is that Clapp could develop into a future replacement for standout center Max Unger, who is 32 years old. But at the very least, the Saints would love it if Clapp can emerge as a reliable backup at all three interior line spots like Kelemete was. Saints coach Sean Payton said earlier this week that a sixth offensive lineman was one of two "musts" for the Saints -- and they wound up drafting two potential candidates Saturday. They also drafted right tackle Rick Leonard in Round 4.