“Best available” could mean draft surprise by Saintsby J.W. Miller on 04/23/18
I will admit that I am no different from you when it comes to an opinion on who the Saints should draft when the 2018 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday night. All things being equal, I would pick a pass rusher or a tight end. Options will be available at both positions when the Saints are on the clock at No. 27 in the first round. However, the players still available at those positions might not necessarily be the best overall player left on the board.
There is inevitably a run on one or two positions that often leaves a ruby shining at another position. For example, if teams see a need for offensive linemen and five or six are drafted early, that might leave a linebacker or a wide receiver on the board who is rated higher as a better long-term prospect. Teams can get lucky when higher rated players fall into their lap. That is why you will hear several times on draft night that a team will either draft for need or will take the “best available” player, regardless of position. The latter is how the better teams approach the draft.
With injuries, free agency and other factors, teams can’t have enough depth, even at a position that appears secure. Last year, the Saints were extremely fortunate when their need and the best available player happened to coincide when cornerback Marshon Lattimore was still on the board at No. 11. The pick was more than validated by Lattimore’s play that earned him defensive rookie of the year. That was the Saints’ good fortune. So how about this year? Will the Saints get lucky again and have the best player available at a position of need? Or Not?
I went through an exercise to see just what might happen if every team picking before No. 27 chose the “best available” player. I took the draft rankings of five organizations or individuals that posted their top 50 or 100 draft prospects and looked at who they have at No. 27 or the vicinity. The results are interesting and somewhat surprising.
Coincidentally, two of the selectors had Alabama WR Calvin Ridley as the 27th ranked player, although he is predicted to go much higher in most mock drafts. I am sure the Saints would not mind if Ridley fell down the board to them since wide receiver is a position of modest need, but that is not likely. Another player ranked at 27 was South Dakota TE Dallas Goedert who would be a logical selection for the Saints. Some experts believe the team can find an adequate tight end beyond the first round, as they did with Jimmy Graham in the third round.
Another predictor had Georgia RB Sony Michel at 27. I doubt the Saints would take a running back that high, especially with Mark Ingram and last year’s offensive rookie of the year, Alvin Kamara, coming off fantastic seasons. But the next two players are at a position of need - defensive tackle – in Michigan’s Maurice Hurst and Florida’s Taven Bryan. Hmmm!
My fifth predictor’s 27th-ranked player was a true surprise; Wyoming QB Josh Allen, who is also rumored to the first overall player selected, by the Cleveland Browns. I doubt Allen will still be there at 27, but it poses an interesting question for the Saints. Would they draft a quarterback if the right guy fell to them? I believe they would, but it would have to be a player like Lattimore, whose grade last year far outkicked the Saints’ slot.
Of course, this was just an exercise and not an attempt to match team needs with a dwindling draft board, which still leaves my prediction. I think the Saints will again try to match ranking with need. The two positions of need that should have players rated sufficiently high enough for the Saints are defensive line and tight end. My pick: Florida tackle Taven Bryan in the first round followed by a trade-up into the second round to pick a tight end. Bryan is an elite 3-down run defender and an accomplished pass rusher who would fit right into Coach Sean Payton’s expressed need for another defensive stopper.
That’s my pick. So who do you like?