Saints mock draft: Trading up for QB after missing on Derek Carr


While the potential for Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to end up in New Orleans continues to pick up steam, it's important to remember that nothing is guaranteed. Much like last year's Deshaun Watson pursuit, the Saints could wind up empty-handed at quarterback while Carr agrees to be traded or agrees to free agency terms with another team. If that happens, the Saints would likely have to turn back to Andy Dalton, the passer that started the majority of the team's games in 2022.

If that were to happen, New Orleans would be justified in being aggressive in this year's draft in order to land a potential quarterback of the future. Now that they are back in the first round after trading the rights of former head coach Sean Payton to the Denver Broncos, there are a lot of possibilities open. They could stand pat at No. 29 and grab a second-tier passer early to have the benefit of a fifth-year option on that player. They could wait around until the second round and select a signal-caller at pick 40. Or, if they really liked someone higher up in the draft, they could make a bold move to grab them.

That's what we did in this seven-round mock draft. In this simulation, the Saints do not land Carr or any other big-ticket quarterback on the market. Thus, they re-sign Dalton and look to the draft to grab a prospect from a program they love that could be ready to start by 2024, if not sooner.

TRADE: Saints move up to pick No. 6 after trade with Lions



Detroit Lions via AP

Saints receive: Detroit picks Nos. 6 (Round 1) and 154 (Round 5)
Lions receive: New Orleans picks Nos. 29 (Round 1), 71 (Round 3), 2024 first- and fifth-rounders

With no certainty that a quarterback would be available at the bottom of the first round, the Saints make a drastic move up. The trade terms are based around the 2011 Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns trade. That move allowed the Falcons to move from No. 26 overall to No. 6 and draft wide receiver Julio Jones. This mock trade accounts for updated draft pick value, allowing the Saints to move up and get their guy.

Round 1, Pick 6: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State


John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Widely considered one of the top two passers in the 2023 NFL draft, Stroud was still on the board at No. 6 after quarterbacks Bryce Young of Alabama and Kentucky's Will Levis went in the top five. Levis has been picking up steam and that works out well for the Saints.

Stroud has thrown more than 40 touchdowns in each of the last two years while surrendering just 12 total interceptions. He has an NFL-caliber arm, the mobility needed in today's game and good size listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. It's not mystery that the Saints love their Ohio State Buckeyes and Stroud could be a long-standing example of that pipeline as the team's franchise quarterback.

TRADE: Saints trade back for first time since 2007


Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports


Saints Receive: Tampa Bay picks Nos. 50 (Round 2), 121 (Round 4) and a 2024 fifth-rounder
Buccaneers Receive: New Orleans pick No. 40 (Round 2)

A trade within the division is much more likely when built around draft picks than players and the Saints get the benefit here. New Orleans has not traded back in a draft since 2007, but this was too good to pass up. We were able to recoup the Saints' future fifth that they traded to move up to No. 6 for Stroud and add another fourth-rounder this year. At No. 40 there was not a selection we were particularly excited about, so moving back ten spots was an easy choice.

Round 2, Pick 40: OL John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota


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Schmitz played center at Minnesota, but he would follow the path of Saints right guard Cesar Ruiz by moving to left guard in New Orleans. With current left guard Andrus Peat's injury history and contract, having someone like the Minnesota Golden Gopher ready to go is wise.

Schmitz is a powerful and durable player who made 36 career starts for the Gophers. He's a fluid mover, fast processor and understands the assignments of the entire offensive line thanks to his experience at center. He will be a 24-year old rookie, but this is a position where you will take the experience especially when not accompanied by overly-concerning injuries.

Round 4, Pick 115: DT Zacch Pickens, South Carolina


Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints are going to need a lot of help on the interior of their defensive line. As of now, they have no defensive tackles on contract in 2023 and their have the unique challenge of the former co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen waiting across the division to poach outgoing free agents that he knows well. Pickens offers the Saints an opportunity to infuse more youth back into the position and allows them to have a perennial starter among the group one way or another.

Pickens measured in at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds at this year's Senior Bowl. He's an athletic interior defender with imposing physical traits that has proven to be very disruptive in the passing game. He has experience taking snaps from various interior alignments which makes him a perfect fit for head coach Dennis Allen's defensive scheme.

Round 4, Pick 121: RB Tyjae Spears, Tulane


Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Spears did himself a ton of favors in Mobile this year, but the value of running backs is always a volatile market. The Green Wave playmaker could be drafted as high as the second round, but could also fall out of the top-100. Here, the Saints were able to take advantage of that and get the perfect fit for their backfield.

Spears ran for 1,586 yards while gaining 1,052 of them after contact. He's a bruising runner that also has more than enough finesse to his game as well. He totaled 63 broken tackles, per Pro Football Focus and is a viable receiver and pass-blocker out of the backfield as well. Not to mention that he also took 14 snaps from the slot and 16 out wide in the Tulane offense in 2022. His versatility could be of substantial benefit to New Orleans both in concert with and in place of starting running back Alvin Kamara who has a potential suspension looming.

Round 5, Pick 148: WR Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia


Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Racking up on the Senior Bowl prospects here. Wicks would give the Saints a bigger-bodied, contested catch threat that the team lacked in 2022 after star receiver Michael Thomas was ruled out for the year. Wicks sands at 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds but plays much bigger than that thanks to his expanded catch radius.

Wicks was the only wideout in Mobile whose wingspan measured in the 80's and it shows on the field. He has excellent ball tracking ability and can be a downfield threat at the next level. But his 40.8% career contested catch rate is above average and could put him in position to be a 50/50 receiver as he continues to develop. Ideally, the Saints add a wideout in free agency which would allow a Day 3 prospect like Wicks to come along at a manageable pace.

Round 5, Pick 154: S Rashad Torrence II, Florida


Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Much like defensive tackle, New Orleans is going to need some help at safety this offseason. Currently, the only two players at the position under contract are 2022 free agent additions Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu. Thankfully, those are the team's starters. But there is also an impending suspension looming for Maye, much like Kamara. New Orleans is going to need to rebuild its depth at safety by retain in-house free agents and adding some new talent.

Torrence would give the Saints an active safety that plays best in sideline-to-sideline situations and single or two-high safety sets. New Orleans is a heavy man coverage team, which demands a lot from the safeties playing zone over the top, though his production numbers are not flattering. You wouldn't want to rely on Torrence in the box, but ideally the return of safety Smoke Monday from injured reserve could help sure up depth there.

Round 5, Pick 168: DE Ali Gaye, LSU


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"But the Saints don't draft LSU players!" Yes, yes. But at this point, it is an entirely new regime in New Orleans, so let's just throw the helmet out of the window for a moment here. Honestly, the player we wanted here was Thomas Incoom, the edge rusher from Central Michigan. Unfortunately he went one pick ahead at No. 167. But Gaye is far from a consolation prize.

A high-motor, violent and powerful athlete, the former LSU Tiger can go on some real mean streaks. The combination of his physical play along with his speed are a lethal combination for his position. So what makes him a fifth-round pick? Inconsistency. Something the Saints have dealt with when it comes to former draft picks at defensive end as well, but this time they could address it without investing first-round draft capital in the player. With Gaye's tools and variety of pass rushing moves, it wouldn't surprise us if he quickly surpassed the development of his predecessors much like edge defender Carl Granderson has.

Round 5, Pick 188: Isaiah Land, Florida A&M


Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK

There was strong consideration of trading these last few picks at an earlier point in order to move up, but getting to know more prospects is a good thing, so I held off. Instead, with the Saints final fifth-round selection, Land was hard to pass up. The HBCU prospect played much lighter at Florida A&M (more colloquially referred to as "FAM U", but showed up in Mobile with much better size.

He also put on display more abilities than just his pass rushing prowess that made him a star at FAMU. He work off-ball quite a bit at the Senior Bowl and did so to high marks. His trajectory can't help but remind some of Saints linebacker Kaden Elliss. If Land can continue to bulk up and reach the 235-245 pound range, he will be hard to pass up in the later rounds.

Round 6, Pick 229: FB Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State


Erin Woodiel / Argus Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK-Argus Leader

Will the fullback still be alive in New Orleans? One can expect so until we learn otherwise. Last year, the Saints relied on veteran Adam Prentice who is widely considered a sixth offensive lineman. Luepke though has a bit more of a versatile skills set. Yes, he is a reliable blocker, but he is also of value in the passing game. Surprisingly good hands for his position, which allows him to sneak into the open field on play action plays and pick up big yardage. If the fullback is going to remain alive and well in the NFL, athletes like Luepke are the ones that will get it done.

Round 7, Pick 260: S A.J. Finley, Mississippi


Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

With the short-lived success of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, some will start to develop unreasonable expectations of "Mr. Irrelevant". While the Saints could earn the final pick of the NFL draft in 2023, what you are really trying to find here is a solid special teams player with upside. Finley is exactly that.

As a reliable and aggressive downfield tackler, Finley could easily earn a role as a core special teamer. Especially if the Saints lose some of that talent this offseason. The former Rebel can also play well in man coverage, giving him some upside as a potential ox or slot safety as well. Though as his size (listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds), trying to move about in congested areas may be a little tough.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire


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