New Orleans Saints Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

The Saints only had five draft picks and none in the first, third, or fifth, so there isn’t a prospect worthy of having a solid-starter projection. I think second-round center Erik McCoy could be a boom pick and believe fourth-round safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has bust potential. The other three picks were Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton in Round 6, Notre Dame tight end Alize Mack in Round 7 and Idaho linebacker Kaden Ellis in Round 7. Saying a sixth- or seventh-round pick has the potential to be a solid starter is an extreme long shot.

2018: Tre’quan Smith, WR
2017: Ryan Ramczyk, OT
2016: Sheldon Rankins, DT
2015: Hau-Oli Kikaha, LB
2014: Khairi Fortt, LB
2013: Kenny Vaccaro, S

Most Likely To Bust

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida – Round 4
I don’t like to select third-day players as a “most likely to bust” because the odds are that the vast majority of picks from Day 3 don’t pan out in the NFL. Thus, it is not much of a prediction. The Saints only had two picks in the first four rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft, so there weren’t many options to consider for solid starter, boom pick, or most likely to bust. Of those two players, however, Gardner-Johnson stood out as being the most dangerous selection to not work out in the NFL.

Gardner-Johnson is a cornerback/safety tweener. As a cornerback, he has to play in the nickel. If not, he will get run by if he plays on the outside. As a safety, Gardner-Johnson has some issues with instincts and could have problems in coverage playing free safety on the back end. While he has a nice build, Gardner-Johnson (5-10, 210) does not fit as a traditional strong safety. He is a good athlete with speed, but he didn’t have natural position at safety or cornerback. His best position was playing slot corner, but I could see shifty slot receivers giving him problems in the NFL.

The Saints landed a stud young corner in Marshon Lattimore a few years ago, but over the years with Sean Payton as their head coach, the Saints have had issues in the secondary. They also do not have a good track record of developing talent. Some early-round picks like Kenny Vaccaro, P.J. Williams, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Tracy Porter, and Patrick Robinson were all disappointments for the Saints. It would not surprise me if Gardner-Johnson ends up being just a backup quality player for New Orleans.

2018: Rick Leonard, OT
2017: Alex Anzalone, LB
2016: Vonn Bell, S
2015: Stephone Anthony, LB
2014: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB
2013: Terron Armstead, OT

Potential Boom Pick

Erik McCoy, C, Texas A&M – Round 2
While the New Orleans staff has struggled to develop good players in the secondary under Sean Payton, the team has done a phenomenal job with the offensive line. New Orleans has taken some mid-round picks at guard and tackle and have turned them into some the best players in the NFL at their positions. That group includes the likes of Terron Armstead, Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks and Jermon Bushrod. I think the Saints landed one of the best steals in the draft with Erik McCoy as the Aggies center could easily have been a first-round pick, and he was a great addition for New Orleans in the second round.

McCoy had some good tapes in 2018, including an impressive showing against Alabama when taking on future first-round picks Quinnen Williams and Raekwon Davis. McCoy also played well against Clemson, taking on the Tigers’ early-round talents at defensive tackle.

In the ground game, McCoy is not a people-moving road-grader. He does not have the strength to move the pile and does not generate a ton of movement in the rushing attack. However, he is athletic in the open field, showing some quickness to the second level and being able to hit blocks in space. Off the snap, McCoy is agile on zone runs to get in position while also showing the ability to get a block at the line of scrimmage and peel off to the second level. McCoy does a nice job on screens, quickly getting in position and showing the agility to get blocks in the open field.

As a pass blocker, McCoy has some talent for the NFL. He is athletic with the ability to move his feet while maintaining his block. With strong hands at the point of attack, McCoy is able to control defenders when he latches onto them. He sustains blocks through the whistle and doesn’t lose on second efforts. He has good feel, awareness and intelligence. Against powerful tackles, McCoy shows some ability to anchor and stonewall some bull rushes. On double teams, McCoy is very good to tie up defenders with his guards and keep them from getting after the quarterback. With his athleticism and ability to sustain blocks, McCoy shows a nice ability to handle speed rushers.

I think McCoy is a tremendous scheme fit for the Saints and is a plug-and-play starter to replace Max Unger. With the excellent coaching he will receive in New Orleans, I think McCoy could end up being one of the top centers in the NFL and make a number of Pro Bowl appearances during his pro career. Even the Saints did not have a lot of picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, I think they likely came away with a boom pick in McCoy.

2018: Marcus Davenport, DE
2017: Marshon Lattimore, CB
2016: Michael Thomas, WR
2015: Andrus Peat, OT
2014: Brandin Cooks, WR
2013: John Jenkins, DT

Future Depth Player

Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame – Round 7
New Orleans is rather light at the tight end position, so there’s a chance that Mack becomes more than just a depth player and contributes much more than expected for a seventh-round pick. The Saints signed veteran Jared Cook in free agency, and he is a dynamic receiving threat, but he struggles as a blocker and also has some character issues. Thus, the Saints could rotate their backup tight ends more to help them in blocking with more trust that they will be assignment sound over the shaky Cook. Mack (6-5, 247) has some athleticism to go along with quality size, and at Notre Dame, he showed he has some upside for the NFL. He could be a second or third tight end who contributes in a variety of ways for the Saints. In the seventh round, Mack was a nice pick who could provide good depth and rotational backup potential for New Orleans.

2018: Natrell Jamerson, S
2017: Alvin Kamara, RB
2016: David Onyemata, DL
2015: Garrett Grayson, QB
2014: Ron Powell, OLB
2013: Kenny Stills, WR

Walt’s 2019 NFL Draft Grades:

48. Erik McCoy, C/G, Texas A&M A+ Grade
This is one of the best picks of the draft thus far. There was a team in the teens that was considering Erik McCoy, so to have him drop all the way to No. 48 is a major steal. The Saints needed to replace Max Unger, who retired so unexpectedly. McCoy should fill in very well. The Saints surrendered a 2020 second-round pick to select McCoy, which is not ideal, but they had to do it because McCoy was not dropping to them at the end of this round.

105. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida A+ Grade
There was some chatter that Chauncey Gardner-Johnson could sneak into the opening round, but I always had him mocked in the second frame. Gardner-Johnson is small, but he’s a terrific play-maker. I heard that he fell because he didn’t handle himself well during top-30 visits, but the Saints are getting an exceptional defensive back.

177. Saquan Hampton, S, Rutgers B- Grade
Saquan Hampton doesn’t have good instincts, so he’ll need to be coached up very well for him to make it in the NFL. There are also injury concerns that are worrisome. However, the potential is certainly there, as Hampton has nice size (6-1, 206) and athleticism.

231. Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame B+ Grade
The Saints signed Jared Cook, but needed a long-term solution. Alize Mack has the athletic upside to eventually take over for Cook in a couple of years. Mack has great upside, but needs to be developed. He drops too many passes and can’t run routes, but perhaps he can learn. If so, he’ll contribute in the future. If not, the Saints are just losing out on a seventh-round pick. The potential is worth it.

244. Kaden Elliss, LB, Idaho B Grade
Kaden Elliss is still learning how to play linebacker – he was a quarterback in high school – so he’s raw and needs development. However, he has very good athleticism, so there’s definitely some upside. It’s worth taking a shot on him near the end of the draft.

2019 NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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