New Orleans Saints Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Hau’Oli Kikaha, OLB, Washington – Round 2
There were some writers who said that Kikaha could go undrafted, but in speaking with multiple teams, they had a second-day grade on him because he is a natural pass-rusher. Over the past two seasons, Kikaha was a consistent quarterback hunter. While he doesn’t have exceptional size or speed, Kikaha just knows how to get to the quarterback.

Kikaha broke out with 13 sacks in 2013 and took the Pac-12 by storm. In his senior year, he was even better despite teams trying to send some double-teams his direction. Kikaha totaled 19 sacks to lead college football and also had 25 tackles for a loss with three forced fumbles. He played out of position at the Senior Bowl, but he showed his dedication with lots of extra reps after practice. The 6-foot-2, 253-pounder should be a situational pass-rusher at least to start his NFL career.

With Junior Galette and Cam Jordan commanding the blocking attention, Kikaha should see one-on-ones throughout his rookie season. The Saints needed a rusher on the other side from Galette, and Kikaha is a great fit in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense. Kikaha could use some time to develop at the next level, but in time, I think he is going to be a quality NFL starter.

Most Likely To Bust

Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson – Round 1
There is some boom-or-bust to both of the Saints’ first-rounders, but I think Anthony is more likely to be a bust. Both Anthony and Peat have good athletic skill sets, but Anthony’s talent didn’t flash as often as tackle Andrus Peat. At Clemson, Anthony was a quality linebacker, but he never was a dominant defender. Sources with other teams said they had a third-round grade on Anthony, so this pick was a reach by the Saints. They’re taking a player based on potential rather than consistent production, and that has led to a ton of draft busts over the years.

As a senior, Anthony only notched 69 tackles with one interception, two forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks. He had 86 tackles as a junior and 63 as a sophomore. For a middle linebacker though, those aren’t great numbers. Anthony did have a strong week at the Senior Bowl and showed potential to operate in pass coverage. Still, he needs to improve on his pass coverage and overall game for the NFL.

Not only did some teams grade Anthony in the third round, they had him graded behind other linebackers the Saints passed on for Anthony. That group consisted of Bernardrick McKinney, Denzel Perryman and Erik Kendricks. Sources said that Anthony has size and speed, but he never displayed great instincts in college. Instincts are essential to any linebacker panning out in the pros.

Another factor to consider will be pressure on Anthony. He was selected with the pick that the Saints received in the Jimmy Graham trade, so the fans will be loud if Anthony doesn’t play up to making that trade appear worthy. I think Anthony will be solid pro, but I don’t think he’s going to be much different than what the Saints got out of Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. If that’s the case, Anthony would be considered a bust.

Potential Boom Pick

Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford – Round 1
It shouldn’t take long for Peat to displace Zach Strief as the starting right tackle for New Orleans. Strief has been a weak link at times for Drew Brees’ pass protection, while Peat has a tremendous skill set. Peat didn’t always play with consistency at Stanford, but he has the physical talent to be a good NFL tackle, so breaking in on the right side shouldn’t be too big of a challenge after two quality seasons at left tackle for the Cardinal.

If the Saints keep Peat at right tackle in the long term, he could be one of the top right tackles in the NFL. The 6-foot-7, 313-pounder is a strong run-blocker who can push defensive linemen out of their gap. He has a thick lower body that generates a lot of power and has a ton of upside to develop athletically. Peat also has the feet, length and athleticism to be a good pass-blocker. At right tackle with some tight end help, Peat could quickly be ready to play in the NFL. If he excels on the right side, he has the potential to become a franchise left tackle.

The Saints have been excellent at turning talented athletes on the offensive line into good pros. That list includes mid- and late-round picks like Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod and Terron Armstead. Athletically, Peat can do it all, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Saints turn him into a Pro Bowl offensive lineman. Peat could be a boom pick for New Orleans who causes many to say he should have been a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Future Depth Player

Garrett Grayson, QB, Colorado State – Round 3
If Grayson doesn’t develop into Drew Brees’ heir apparent, he should at least become a quality backup quarterback. Grayson (6-2, 213) has a strong arm along with field vision, mobility and anticipation. He is a hard worker and good teammate who comes from a pro-style offense. The Saints were the perfect landing spot for Grayson as he will have great mentors with Brees, Luke McCown and Sean Payton to help develop him at the NFL level. Grayson could end up becoming the starter of the future for New Orleans, but if he doesn’t reach that, he has the potential to be one of the top backup quarterbacks in the NFL.

Walt’s 2015 NFL Draft Grades:

13. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford: B Grade
Andrus Peat looked shocked to be chosen at this spot, and I’m just as surprised. The Saints were projected to pick a defensive talent, so Peat is a bit of a shocker. I don’t think it’s a bad choice, however. Peat was projected to go between Nos. 10 and 19, so this is the right range for him. Protecting Drew Brees, especially as he enters his late 30s, is paramount, and Peat will definitely offer an upgrade on the offensive line.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

31. Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson: B- Grade
Not Eric Kendricks? I had Stephone Anthony going to the Saints in the second round once upon a time, so I’d have to think this is a slight reach. However, there are some who believed that Anthony was the top inside linebacker in this class, so I’m not going to argue this too much. New Orleans obviously had a colossal need at inside linebacker because Curtis Lofton was terrible, so Anthony figures to be an upgrade.

44. Hau’oli Kikaha, DE/OLB, Washington: MAYMILLEN BOXING KIELBASA Grade
WHOA… I didn’t even have Hau’oli Kikaha being drafted, and there were teams that didn’t even have him on their boards because of numerous knee injuries. The Saints could’ve A) obtained safer players who are close in terms of talent, or B) waited several rounds to draft Kikaha. This is a major head-scratcher.

75. Garrett Grayson, QB, Colorado State: B Grade
I guess Ian Rapoport won’t be punching anyone in his no-no-special-place (see the NFL Draft Day 2 Preview for that reference). The Saints were rumored to take Bryce Petty, but I never bought into that. Garrett Grayson makes more sense, as he was the third-best quarterback available behind Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Grayson will learn behind Drew Brees for a few seasons and should be able to step in at some point down the road.

78. P.J. Williams, CB/S, Florida State: A Grade
P.J. Williams was once viewed as a first-round prospect, but was arrested for a DUI. He was cleared of those charges, so I thought his draft stock could bounce back, but apparently not. The Saints aren’t complaining. Williams is a talented cornerback who could emerge as a starter down the road. The Saints added Brandon Browner at corner this offseason, but they still needed to address this position.

148. Davis Tull, DE/OLB, UT-Chattanooga: B+ Grade
I may have been a bit too harsh on the Hau’oli Kikaha pick, but I like this one more. Davis Tull has been linked to the Saints, as he’s a good fit for Rob Ryan’s scheme. He’s highly athletic and has a good chance of eventually emerging as a starter.

154. Tyeler Davison, DT, Fresno State: B+ Grade
I had Tyeler Davison going a round earlier than this in most of my mock updates, so I like this selection. The Saints hadn’t addressed their defensive line yet, so Davison definitely makes sense at this juncture.

167. Damian Swann, CB, Georgia: B Grade
This is the second cornerback the Saints have selected, but given their need at the position, it’s hardly a surprise that they’ve decided to double up. Damian Swann was a productive player at Georgia, but his poor athleticism sunk his draft stock. He has a chance to succeed in the NFL despite this, however, and the range here is right for him.

230. Marcus Murphy, RB/KR, Missouri: B- Grade
A borderline draftable prospect, Marcus Murphy will contribute on special teams if he makes the final roster. He could be the Saints’ kick returner at some point, so this pick makes sense to me.

2015 NFL Draft Team Grade: B- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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