New Orleans Saints Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Cesar Ruiz, C, Michigan – Round 1
The Saints only had four picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, but fortunately three of them were in the first three rounds, so there are some real possibilities this year for a boom pick, bust potential, and solid starter. Ruiz could definitely be a solid starter, and it looks like New Orleans will be forcing him into the starting lineup after cutting veteran guard Larry Warford. Ruiz should step in immediately to start at guard or center with Erik McCoy and Andrew Peat.

The Saints are a passing-driven offense, which portends well for Ruiz (6-3, 307) to become a good starter in New Orleans. There are a number of traits that Ruiz possesses that allows him to be a good pass protector. He has very quick feet and is able to play the typewriter to mirror defenders and keep them from charging down the pocket. Ruiz plays with excellent leverage, bending at the knee and using his thick lower body to absorb bull rushes. He could stand to improve his awareness, his ability to sustain blocks, and at not letting second efforts get free. Ruiz can be a little slow to react to speed rushes, but with coaching, he has the upside to improve.

As a run blocker, Ruiz uses his athleticism and quickness to fire to the second level or join guards on double teams. His speed to hit the bump block can take defensive tackles by surprise, and he is effective at manipulating them to push open holes. Ruiz has developed upper and lower body strength that combine with his leverage to manipulate defenders. He is not a true road-grader who overpowers tackles, but he has functional strength for the next level.

Teams liked Ruiz’s versatility to play guard or center in the NFL. While he could play guard, center is his best position. The Saints basically drafted a duplicate of Erik McCoy with Ruiz, so it will be interesting to see which one starts at center. Over time, Ruiz should become a quality starter for New Orleans.

2019: None: not enough picks
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

Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin – Round 3
During a lot of the leadup to the 2020 NFL Draft, many mock drafts had Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun being a first-round pick. In a Hot Press entry from late March, reported that sources at a handful of teams did not have a consensus projection of Baun in the first round and those team contacts thought he belonged on Day 2.

Team sources indicated there were a number of issues that caused Baun to slide in the 2020 NFL Draft. First of all, a lot of teams did not see him as a first-round talent. At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Baun faces some size limitations as an edge rusher for the NFL, and teams felt that rushing the passer was what Baun did best. He was viewed as a tweener by some. They felt he would have to be an off-the-ball linebacker in a 4-3 or an inside linebacker in a 3-4, but neither of those positions fits what Baun does best: rushing the quarterback. Some sources said Baun’s fit and issues were similar to what has led to Kamalei Correa not finding a proper role in the NFL after being a second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2016.

For years, the Saints have been looking for a steady pass-rushing complement to Cam Jordan, and Baun could offer them an option to line up on the other side from Jordan to hunt the quarterback. New Orleans also was in need of some linebacker depth and competition. Baun could compete with Alex Anzalone to be the starting Sam – strong side – linebacker. Anzalone is a solid player when healthy, but he has a very hard time escaping injury, so Baun could end up playing even if Anzalone beats him out.

Baun will have to transition to being a traditional linebacker who rushes in the sub package. It will be interesting to see if he can master that role and be effective for the Saints, or perhaps the tweener issues will lead to Baun not fitting in the NFL similar to Kamalei Correa. Of New Orleans’ early-round picks, Baun looks like he has the most bust potential.

2019: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S
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

Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton – Round 3
The Saints gave up a lot to get back into the third round to draft Trautman, and he was an excellent pick for them. Trautman is not a workout warrior, but he is a pure football player who I think he could end up being one of the steals of the 2020 NFL Draft. Trautman falt out can play the game, and after he adjusts to the NFL, he could be a superb player in the Saints’ passing-driven offense.

Trautman has the potential to be a dangerous receiving tight end who contributes well to an NFL passing attack. He has a well-rounded set of tools as a receiver to beat defenses in a variety of ways. Trautman possesses mismatch size and is very adept at going up to make contested catches over defenders. He high points the ball well and has strong hands to control the ball while getting hit. Trautman has a nose for the end zone and should be an asset in the red zone as he was very good at producing touchdowns in college. On top of good hands, Trautman has good feel as a route runner and knows how to separate. Trautman gets open running down the seam, on crossing routes, and underneath. While Trautman does not have elite speed or athleticism, he is effective and is a pure football player.

Trautman still has room for improvement as a blocker for the NFL. He has the size to be effective, but he needs to get more physical and seems to lack the desire to take on a block. NFL coaching could help him to get better with his technique and definitely could employ the motivational tools for Trautman to utilize a more aggressive demeanor.

The Saints have a need at the position as well. Veteran Jared Cook is a talented receiver, but he is a journeyman because of being unreliable and inconsistent. Aside from Cook, New Orleans does not have much at tight end, so Trautman could see the field early in his career. I think he is a pure football player who could be an overachiever and surprise at the next level.

2019: Erik McCoy, C
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

Tommy Stevens, QB, Mississippi State – Round 7
After the trade for Trautman, the Saints were out of draft picks, but they traded back into the seventh round to take Stevens. Obviously, the Saints really liked Stevens to move into the draft for him considering they weren’t willing to risk trying to sign him as an undrafted free agent.

Taking a shot on a quarterback is a smart move on the Saints’ part given the status of their signal-callers. Drew Brees could be entering the final season of his amazing career, and Taysom Hill is in the last year of his contract. Additionally, Jameis Winston only signed a 1-year deal. I think Stevens could be developed into a backup quarterback for New Orleans.

2019: Alize Mack, TE
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 2020 NFL Draft Grades:

24. Cesar Ruiz, C/G, Michigan – B+ Grade
Some will say this is a reach, but I don’t think so. I had Cesar Ruiz slotted to the 49ers at No. 31, so this is just seven picks earlier. I’ve written this many times, but we’ve been told that Drew Brees hates interior pressure much more than the edge rush. The Saints had one hole in the middle of the trenches, so it makes sense to obtain a solid offensive lineman who can play both guard and center.

74. Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin – A+ Grade
The fall has ended. Zack Baun was good enough to go in the first round, and the Bengals, at one point, was considering him at No. 33 overall. I don’t know why he fell, but I’m looking forward to Charlie Campbell’s Why the Slide segment in May. The Saints won’t be complaining, as they’re getting the linebacker upgrade they could have easily obtained at No. 24 overall.

105. Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton – A+ Grade
It’s baffling that so many scrub tight ends were chosen prior to Adam Trautman, especially when considering that some teams had Trautman graded as the top tight end in the class, even above Cole Kmet. Trautman should’ve been chosen in the second round, so the Saints are getting a tremendous steal at this spot. This is an A+ grade despite the trade up.

240. Tommy Stevens, QB, Mississippi State – B- Grade
Taysom Hill will take over for Drew Brees in the future, but the Saints needed a developmental quarterback for the future. Or rather, a developmental Taysom Hill. Tommy Stevens is a lot like Hill, minus the passing ability.

2020 NFL Draft Team Grade: A- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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