Saints seven-round mock draft: New Orleans starts with help at tackle

A seven-round mock draft for any NFL team is a conversation. With free agency essentially over, we know positional priorities for every team with much more clarity — what has been addressed, what has been neglected with an eye on the draft — but we don’t know who a team likes within each position group.

The Saints are no different. Their tight salary-cap situation, while familiar, made it tough for them to spend much on outside free agents. Offensive tackle remains a glaring need, between the uncertainty of Ryan Ramczyk’s knee and the uncertainty of Trevor Penning’s continued struggles in two seasons in New Orleans. Whether Penning turns a corner or not, the Saints need help at tackle, and this is a great draft to have such a need.

New Orleans is in much the same position as the Bucs in 2020, picking 14th and knowing they wouldn’t have their pick of the available tackles, but that the depth of the class would allow them to pick a solid starter. The Bucs ended up sliding up one spot and taking Tristan Wirfs, who has played better than the three tackles taken ahead of him.

So before we start making picks, we can identify which tackles likely won’t be there at 14, given the strength of the position and the sheer number of teams that could use an upgrade at tackle. Notre Dame’s Joe Alt, generally seen as the best of this class, won’t likely last beyond the Titans at No. 7 and could go to the Chargers at 5. It’s reasonable to think that New Orleans will get one of the next three: Oregon State’s Taiese Fuaga, Penn State’s Olu Fashanu or Alabama’s JC Latham.

Again, it’s not about whom the Saints like best, but rather who’s left for them at 14, knowing their draft capital is limited this year, which makes it harder to trade up. Realistically, they’ll do well to get the third tackle off the board, though it easily could be the fourth.

With that, let’s take a run through the Saints’ draft.

First round, No. 14: OT Olu Fashanu, Penn State

Fashanu is 6-foot-6, 312 pounds, and that’s a bit small in the context of seven or so tackles likely to go in the first round. He’s a two-year starter, with a dominant 2023 that included being named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and first-team AP All-America. Penning was a small-school guy from Northern Iowa, but Fashanu has proven himself at the highest level and should be more of a sure thing. The investment is big enough to think that he’d step in at left tackle for the Saints and hopefully stick there a long time.

The Saints didn’t give up a ton of sacks, but they ranked 31st in the league in yards per carry, so their tackle pick must fit new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak’s plans for rebranding the line as a whole. Counting this pick, New Orleans will have four offensive linemen they drafted in the first round: Ramczyk, Penning, plus Cesar Ruiz and 2019 second-rounder Erik McCoy on the inside. With that kind of sustained investment, the line should be a strength of the team.

2024 NFL Draft prospect rankings | Top 10 QB prospects | Top 10 RB prospects | Top 10 WR prospects | Top 10 TE prospects | Top 10 OT prospects | Top 10 IOL prospects | Top 10 Edge prospects | Top 10 DT prospects | Joel Klatt’s mock draft

Second round, No. 45: DE Jonah Elliss, Utah

Even after signing Chase Young, the Saints could use help with their outside pass rush. They went from 48 sacks (fifth-most) in 2022 to 34 sacks (tied for fourth-lowest) in 2023, so there’s a real need to upgrade there. They used the No. 40 pick last year on Isaiah Foskey, but he barely played as a rookie, totaling nine tackles with no sacks in 10 games.

Elliss is the younger brother of linebacker Kaden Elliss, who played four years for the Saints before signing with the Falcons last year. Their father, Luther, played 10 years in the NFL and is now a Utah assistant. Jonah had 12 sacks as a senior to earn consensus All-America honors and has a nice lean size at 6-foot-2, 246 pounds. Cam Jordan will turn 35 before the season starts, so New Orleans needs to develop younger options, even if it’s just a rotational role for Elliss as a rookie.

Will Chase Young help the Saints?

Will Chase Young help the Saints?

Here’s where it gets tricky: After this selection, as it stands, the Saints will go 104 picks and three full rounds without another pick. They gave up their second in trading up with the Eagles two years ago, got the 45th pick from the Broncos for Sean Payton but gave up their third-round pick to get it, and gave up their fourth-rounder to take quarterback Jake Haener in the fourth round last year.

What’s more, the Saints got three compensatory fifth-round picks for losing free agents last year, so they have picks 150, 168, 170 and 175. It’s unlikely this team will have seven rookies taken 149th or later make the 53-player roster, so it makes sense that the Saints will try to package two of them to move up into the fourth round and consolidate their draft assets a bit.

Fourth round, No. 122: WR Luke McCaffrey, Rice

I found a smart trade partner in the Bears, who have made enough moves that they don’t have a pick in the final three rounds. So the Saints will send picks 150 and 175 — the highest and lowest of their four fifth-rounders — for Chicago’s final pick, 122nd overall.

New Orleans has two solid young receivers in Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed, another up-and-comer in A.T. Perry and signed two veterans in Cedrick Wilson and Stanley Morgan. McCaffrey is a converted quarterback who has emerged in the past two seasons, catching six touchdowns in 2022 and 13 scores this past season.

What’s more, the Kubiak and McCaffrey families have a long history. Klint’s father, Gary, coached McCaffrey’s father, Ed, with the Broncos, and this past season, Klint coached McCaffrey’s brother, Christian, with the 49ers.

Fifth round, No. 168: TE Tip Reiman, Illinois

The Saints have three solid tight ends in Taysom Hill, Juwan Johnson and Foster Moreau, but Reiman has a unique combination of size and speed. He’s 6-foot-5, 271 pounds and ran the 40 in 4.64 seconds at the combine. His offensive stats at Illinois are modest — he peaked with 19 catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns last year — but as someone who can help in the run and pass game while helping on special teams, he’s a smart use of a third-day pick.

Fifth round, No. 170: CB Jarrian Jones, Florida State

Nickel is a position where the Saints could use competition. Alontae Taylor handled that role last year and ranked 120th out of 127 corners, according to Pro Football Focus. Jones ran a 4.38 40 at the combine and is probably better in the NFL as a nickel or slot. He had three picks in 2023, one returned for a touchdown, and added a sack and forced fumble as well. At the least, he can be a core special-teams player and help the team get younger in the secondary.

Sixth round, No. 190: OL Trente Jones, Michigan

Michigan has had arguably the best offensive line in college football over the past three years, such that a prospect like Jones, limited to 12 starts in his college career, is still a late-round draft pick. Jones has solid size at 6-foot-6, 325, and while he played primarily at right tackle for the Wolverines, he could end up inside as a guard in the NFL. Positional flexibility is a must for a marginal lineman trying to stick on a 53, and he could easily be the sixth Michigan offensive lineman taken. Jim Harbaugh’s Chargers can’t get all of them.

[READ MORE: 2024 NFL mock draft: Surprising rise for 4th QB taken]

Sixth round, No. 199: LB Tyrice Knight, UTEP

Is there a greater need for backup linebackers in the NFL with the league’s new kickoff rules? Tighter spaces in the new format might put a premium on tackling vs. raw speed, and Knight was prolific at UTEP, piling up 140 tackles last season. There’s some versatility here as well, with two picks in addition to 8.5 sacks as part of 33.5 tackles for loss. The size and speed are comparable to Zack Baun, who just left in free agency to sign with the Eagles.

Don’t be surprised if one of these late-round picks is used by the Saints to move up a few slots in the higher rounds. With a draft that isn’t remarkably deep, there’s probably a greater value in making sure they get who they want earlier.

Seventh round, No. 239: DT Evan Anderson, Florida Atlantic

New Orleans once found Trey Hendrickson as a draft steal out of FAU, so why not go back to the Owls? Anderson is 6-foot-3, 326 pounds and was prolific last year, totaling 57 tackles from the interior. The Saints remade their defensive front last year with Nathan Shepherd, Khalen Saunders and rookie Bryan Bresee, and if it helps Anderson make the team, we’ll note that he blocked two kicks in college as well.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.


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