David Billiot’s Rookie Mock Draft

Welcome to my first ever mock draft. The word “rookie” in the title isn’t referring to the obvious fact that the NFL draft is full of rookies, but because that’s what I am in this situation. I tried to combine a little of what I believe each team should do, along with their needs and what they should do on paper. I did not incorporate any trades, although I’m 100% certain they’ll be at least one to shake things up. Without further adieu, here it is…

#1 Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina - He’s as solid as it gets at the top in my opinion and I believe new Head Coach Bill O’Brien wants the sure thing with his first ever draft selection. They can get a QB in the second round at #33.

#2 St. Louis Rams – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson – They could go with Greg Robinson, but I believe they can get a good tackle at #13. Sam Bradford hasn’t had a legitimate big weapon since he arrived in St. Louis. They drafted Tavon Austin last year, but a mid-season injury to Bradford didn’t allow them to fully gel. Add Watkins to an offensive core of Austin, Jared Cook,  and Zack Stacey, and you have a very good core to go with an excellent defense.

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo – Jacksonville would love Watkins and may consider Manziel, both to add excitement, but ultimately I believe Head Coach Gus Bradley goes with arguably the second best player in the draft.

#4 Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – They can hint that they may go in another direction all they want. I don’t buy it. They have a talented young core with Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and now Ben Tate, so I believe they look to get their long awaited established quarterback while providing excitement for their franchise.

#5 Oakland Raiders – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M - The spirit of Al Davis lives on. While they could use a solid tackle like Greg Robinson, Evans is just more of a Raiders type of pick. They hope Watkins falls, but when he doesn’t, they pull the trigger on Evans to give desperate help to a boring offense and new quarterback Matt Schuab. Continue reading

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Potential Early Round Draft Picks: Corner Backs

Darqueze Dennard

Position: Corner back

College: Michigan State

Height/Weight: 5’11″ / 200 lbs

40 yard dash: 4.41

Strengths: Well-built for the position with broad shoulders, long arms and good overall musculature. Confident, physical defender on the perimeter at his best providing man to man coverage and when attacking in run support. Doesn’t extend an arm in press coverage, instead quickly turning to run with receivers, demonstrating the fluid hips and acceleration. Leans into receivers and uses the sideline to help narrow the space in which quarterbacks can attack. Good patience and body control to adjust when the ball is thrown. Doesn’t panic, instead reaching to rip the ball away as the receiver attempts to catch it. Good ball skills. Locates the football and shows the hand-eye coordination to pluck it outside of his frame. Very good awareness and competitive spirit against the run. Fights through blocks and will take out the knees of oncoming blockers if necessary to leave teammates in position to make the splashy play. Physical and reliable open-field tackler who wraps his arms to secure the stop.

Weaknesses: Is a good, not great athlete. Wasn’t challenged by many top-flight offenses this season and played behind a very physical front which limited how often quarterbacks could attack him deep. Some question about his straight-line speed, though he plays fast due to his fluidity. Extends his arms slightly as he runs with receivers, which could draw holding penalties.

Comparison: Keenan Lewis

Availability: Could go anywhere from #10 to Detroit to New Orleans at #27. With the top tier of corner backs being five deep, they could end up going in any order and it’s possible Dennard could be the one to drop. Continue reading

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Potential 1st Round Picks: Defensive Ends/Outside Linebackers

Kony Ealy

Position: Defensive end

College: Missouri

Height/Weight: 6’4″ / 273 lbs

40 yard dash: 4.69

Strengths: Ealy’s athleticism jumps off the tape. He shows good initial quickness off the snap to force right tackles into respecting his speed rush, but saw time all over the defensive line and even as a stand-up linebacker. He has a quick spin move back to the inside to complement his speed and has developing pass-rush technique, including an over-arm swim and a power slap. Perhaps best of all, Ealy possesses the flexibility to turn the corner efficiently and closes quickly, demonstrating the ability to rip the ball free from the quarterback with a powerful chop or with an explosive collision. Impressive straight-line acceleration for a man of his size. Good recognition to get his hands into passing lanes when he can’t get to the quarterback. Times his leap well and long arms and good hand-eye coordination.

Weaknesses: Ealy is prone to coming off the snap too high, making himself vulnerable to cut blocks and is a more effective pass rusher than run defender, at this time. While possessing the burst and balance to attack off the edge out of the two-point stance, Ealy looks uncomfortable dropping back into coverage and offers minimal experience in this area.

Comparison: Robert Quinn

Availability: Likely to be available at #27 and to be drafted somewhere in that area. Continue reading

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Potential First/Second Round Draft Picks: Offensive Lineman

Yesterday we discussed some possible wide receivers that we could see the Saints select in the first two rounds. Today we are going to shift to the big guys that protect the quarterback. With sub-par play coming from the center and tackle position last year, both positions could be possible targets for New Orleans. Terron Armstead filled in nicely at left tackle, Zach Strief signed a long term deal at right tackle, and both Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs are in the middle of their long term deals. The only real position of need as of now is center, but I could see the Saints using one of their early picks at any of the positions on the line to sure up the future. It’s more likely that they wait until rounds 3-5, considering the enormous amount of success they’ve had drafting lineman in that range, but some of these guys could end up in black and gold if they are high on the Saints’ board and they fall to the right spot.

Taylor Lewan

Position: Tackle

College: Michigan

Height/Weight: 6’7″ / 309 lbs

225 Bench: 29 reps

Strengths: His size and length, along with his athleticism, give him the frame to make an immediate at left tackle in the NFL. His aforementioned nastiness has become very useful on the football field, though he has the ability to turn if off once he unbuckles his chin strap. Was a great leader at Michigan. He excels in one on one battles, and does an excellent job of keeping his head on a swivel, allowing him to better read blitz pickups and stunts that defenses will try to use to cause confusion and a missed assignment. Shows great side to side mobility to go along with his strong face up blocking. 

Weaknesses: At times, he tended to drop his head during blocks, allowing an athletic rusher to capitalize with a quick move to get past him. He was penalized more often than what you’d like, at times getting a bit lazy and trying to use his natural ability rather than his learned fundamentals. Needs to better his timing with the snap count and not get caught standing so upright on some plays.

Comparison: Jake Long

Availability: Lewan is one of the players that has flown up the draft boards within the past few weeks. The consensus had him as a mid to late round pick in the first, but recently he’s been mocked in the top 10. It’s pretty unlikely that he ends up in black and gold, unless he starts to slip and the Saints have high praises for him. Continue reading

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Potential First/Second Round Draft Picks: Wide Receivers

Good afternoon, folks. Today I’m starting a multi-part series leading up to next Thursday that will highlight some of the potential players that could become Saints within the first couple of rounds. I’ll be covering the main positions of need. Those positions are the most likely to be filled by Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton within the early rounds on Thursday and Friday. We’ll start with receivers today, then follow with offensive tackles, centers, defensive ends, outside linebackers, and corner backs. Each review will be short and to the point, giving you the generals of what areas each player succeeds in and what they could do better. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with loads of small details. Please enjoy!

Odell Beckham Jr 

College: LSU

Height/Weight: 5’11.25″ / 198 lbs

40 yard dash: 4.43

Ball Skills: Beckham has the ability to make tough catches look very easy. His hands are very soft for the most part and he makes plucking the ball out of the air look routine. He has very good body control, giving him the ability to adjust to balls when going up in to the air to get them. He must work on pass catching efficiency. While he has the ability to come down with just about anything he can get his hands on, he drops way too many easily catchable balls. Though his leaping ability is above average, he must also work on cutting down on his mis-timed jumps.

Route Running: He’s already coming from a pro-style offense under LSU Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron, so he’s a step ahead knowing an NFL-style route tree. He has a very good initial burst coming off of the line of scrimmage. Great body control in his routes. His fluid hip movement propels him to snap quickly in and out of his routes. Has shown ability to get off of press coverage, but has struggled at time with some of the top corner backs that he has faced. Despite not having great size, he has shown the ability to be physical. Must learn not to rely on hand and body contact to get open at times.

Playmaking: Beckham is very good at getting to his top-end speed in a hurry, then keeping it up. Has the ability to beat man coverage over the top. He excels in making defenders miss once having the ball. Has the skill to take a short pass in to a long gain with just a couple of jukes.

Intangibles: In addition to being one of the best wide receiver prospects, he will step in to the NFL as an instant return threat. He returned two punts for a touchdown in his career, but he consistently set up LSU with great starting field position.

Comparison: Has been compared to players such as DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown.

Availability: His hype has steadily risen since the combine and has been projected to go as early as #10 overall to Detroit. His more likely position will be in the late teens, so if the Saints really want him, they’ll likely have to trade up. Continue reading

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The Past, the Present, and the Future: How the Saints Have Positioned Themselves for Free Agency

Free agency is set to begin when the new league year officially starts at 3:00 PM central this afternoon. Agents have been able to speak with teams since Saturday, but players can officially negotiate and agree on new contracts starting in a few hours. While most teams are prepared to begin adding multiple players at this time of the year, there are always a few that have to do the opposite first. This year, the New Orleans Saints are one of them.

After finishing the season with a Divisional Round loss to the eventual Superbowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, the Saints headed in to the off-season nearly $13 million over the cap. No team ever likes to be in that situation, especially when you have a player like Jimmy Graham set to become a free agent. Graham is just one part of why the Saints have had to start making tough decisions, although many fans have immediately tagged him as the culprit of what’s happened so far. With that being said, let’s look at what the Saints have done.

The Past

Back on February 12, New Orleans officially started their off-season and they did so in a big way. The Saints cut ties with four of the most notable names on the defensive side of the ball in recent years. Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, and Jabari Greer all had their contracts terminated after long stints in New Orleans. These moves saved about $16.9 million in cap space, which was the first step in being able to give a long-term deal to a player such as Jimmy Graham.  Continue reading

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Divisional Round Preview: Saints Defense vs. Seahawks Offense

Stopping Marshawn Lynch could be the key in pulling off the upset for the Saints.

The match up on the defensive side of the ball for the New Orleans Saints very well could be where they win or lose when they take on the Seattle Seahawks later today. For the most part, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect on the other side. Both the Saints offense and Seahawks defense are the units that traditionally win each respective team the majority of their games, but when you have a match up on one side of the ball featuring each team’s bread and butter, it’s sometimes better to look on the other side for the difference maker. You can’t take the first meeting between these two teams as an example, considering Seattle dominated on both sides of the ball. Since the New Orleans offense and Seattle defense play well more times than not, it’s tough to predict which side will budge. In many cases, it’s neither side that wins outright. In that situation, it’s the “other” unit that usually makes the play(s) that will make the difference. That may just be the case in the battle between the Saints and the Seahawks, with the right to move on to the NFC Championship Game on the line.

New Orleans Saints – Total Defense: 4th (305.7 yards per game), Scoring: 4th (19.0 points per game)

Seattle Seahawks – Total Offense: 17th (339.0 yards per game), Scoring: T-8th (26.1 points per game)

Pass Defense

As they did all season, the Saints pass defense stepped up and played a crucial role in last week’s big victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles went in to the game having finished the season as a  top-5 passing offense and had been playing even hotter than that through the second half of the year. Playing their second full game without rookie standout Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints defense held Nick Foles and the vertical passing attack of the Eagles to 195 yards through the air. Actually, if it wouldn’t have been for Keenan Lewis getting injured in the third quarter, it likely would’ve been much less than that. Once Lewis went out, Foles instantly began attacking Corey White, who had to step in to the role of covering speedster DeSean Jackson, who had been held without a catch up until Lewis’s exit. Thankfully, Lewis is listed as probable to play today. The Saints didn’t generate as much pass rush as usual, but they did get to Foles twice. Cameron Jordan picked up right where he left off in the regular season, recording 1.5 of the 2 sacks.  Continue reading

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Divisional Round Preview: Saints Offense vs. Seahawks Defense

The Saints offense will be hoping for a much better day than the first time these teams played this season.

The New Orleans Saints said they wanted a rematch and they got one. After a last minute victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs, the Saints return to Seattle for a rematch with the Seahawks. The Saints were dominated by the Seahawks by the score of 34-7 back in Week 13 on Monday Night Football. Heading in to that game, the Saints were arguably playing their best football of the year. They were 9-2 and sitting at #2 in both the standings and the power rankings, but the loss was the start of a 2-3 stumble in to the playoffs. During that skid, not only did New Orleans lose the #2 seed and the chance at a home game in the Divisional Round, but they also lost the division, which many thought they had wrapped up just five or six weeks in to the season. Fortunately, they were able to bounce back just in time to notch their first ever road playoff win and now…here we stand.

Not only are the Saints looking for revenge for the embarrassing loss on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago, but New Orleans would love to pay back Seattle for the 2010 playoffs. If you don’t know what happened in that game, you either live under a rock or you don’t watch ESPN. After winning the NFC West with the record of 7-9, the Seahawks hosted the 11-5, and current defending Super Bowl Champions, New Orleans Saints in a game that no one, including the Saints, gave Seattle a chance in. New Orleans learned the hard way not to take any one lightly, especially in the playoffs. The ever-haunting legend of “Beast Mode” was created when Marshawn Lynch absolutely embarrassed the entire Saints defense on his way for an unbelievable game-clinching touchdown run. There are 31 teams in the NFL that can watch that highlight and truly appreciate what happened, but unfortunately, the Saints were the victims. Well, this may be the best chance New Orleans will ever get to return the favor, with not many giving the Saints a chance. Honestly, their performance in the Week 13 game really doesn’t warrant the right to have anyone show enough respect to give them much of a chance. Regardless, the roles are reversed and the Saints are going in as big underdogs with zero to little respect. Here’s your chance, New Orleans.

Seattle comes in to this week’s game after a dominant 13-3 season. Even when they played bad, they were still very good. They’re as confident of a team that you can find in the NFL and they won’t hesitate to let you know. Second year starter Russell Wilson had been 14-0 in his young career at home, until the Arizona Cardinals finally broke that streak in Week 16 this season. We all know how tough it is for opposing teams to come in to the Superdome, so we can relate to how hard they make it at Century Link Field in Seattle. Their fans are loud and they cause a lot of issues for opposing offenses. They refer to themselves as “the 12th man” and they add another challenge on the hike up the monstrous challenge of beating the Seahawks in Seattle.  Continue reading

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Grading the Saints and Sinners; Wild Card vs. Philadelphia

Although it was mostly a team effort, Mark Ingram did his best to carry the Saints on his back when needed.

Offense

Pass Offense: B-

It’s unusual to look at the stat sheet and see Drew Brees complete just 20 passes and still finish with a 67% completion percentage. It’s also weird to see just one player have more than 3 receptions. Well, those things are unusual to see in a Saints victory, at least. That was the case from Saturday night, though. Thankfully, the passing game didn’t have to be at it’s peak performance and it’s probably a good thing they didn’t have to, because, well…they weren’t. Brees looked awful in the first half, throwing two costly interceptions. Only one turned in to points for Philadelphia, the Riley Cooper touchdown catch, but they both very likely cost the Saints points on their side of the scoreboard. Both interceptions came with the ball around mid-field. Brees found his groove in the 3rd quarter, but finally had some weight taken off of his shoulders by the running game. As for the pass protection, they were pretty good. Brees was sacked twice, but only for -1 total. He was likely trying to begin to scramble on each of them, getting out of a big loss. All-in-all, the pass offense did what they had to do to help, but they weren’t the stars for once.

Rush Offense: A+

It’s not very often that the Saints’ rushing attack is graded out higher than their passing game after winning a game. Actually, I can’t think of the last time I graded it that way off of the top of my head. It couldn’t have come at a better time, though. Heading in to the game, just about everyone in the country believed said that the Saints had no chance in the playoffs if they didn’t find their running game. I mentioned in the offensive preview that I believed they needed to get the ground attack going, but I honestly didn’t believe they would. I didn’t think that they’d necessarily not be able to, I just didn’t think they’d try that hard. Whether it was the game plan going in or Payton took notice of it’s early success, coupled with two first half interceptions from Drew Brees, but it showed up. It showed up big time. I don’t mean to go overboard with a perfect grade, but I can’t help but believe that things could have been played any better. When you average 5.1 yards per carry as a team, including four quarterback sneaks, you had a pretty good day. The high rushing average is surely great and all, but it could end up meaning nothing if you can’t close out a game by picking up a couple first downs on the ground. Hell, the only reason why the Saints were playing in the Wild Card round is because they failed to do just that in two games this season. They didn’t fail on Saturday, using nine runs as part of their ten play drive to set up the game-winning field goal. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson were huge on the final drive. Ingram easily had his best, most complete game of his young career, carrying the load with 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. His 5.4 yards per carry average was actually the lowest among the running backs. Robinson added in 8 carries for 45 yards and a 5.6 yards per carry average. Darren Sproles didn’t run it much, but his 4 carries for 29 yards certainly helped. Watching the Saints win a ball game with the rushing attack was refreshing, to say the least. If they have any chance of beating Seattle this weekend and advancing any further, this performance will absolutely have to become a trend in these playoffs.  Continue reading

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Graham Lifts Saints to First Road Playoff Win in 26-24 Victory

Shayne Graham became an instant hero in New Orleans after kicking the game-winning field goal to clinch the first ever road playoff win for the Saints.

There are now two beloved Grahams residing in the city of New Orleans. Shayne Graham won over the hearts of Who Dat Nation with is game-winning 32 yard field goal to give the New Orleans Saints their first ever road playoff win in franchise history. Graham proved exactly why his presence is warranted in New Orleans, even after his signing was considered questionable by many.

Just a few weeks ago, Coach Sean Payton made a move that was not necessarily surprising, but somewhat surreal. Following a horrendous outing in the Week 15 loss loss to the St. Louis Rams, former Saints kicker Garrett Hartley was released by Coach Payton and the New Orleans Saints franchise. Whether it be emotional ties to the kicker who booted the NFC Championship clinching field goal in 2009 or level-headed beliefs that a change at the position that late in the season is strange, there were many fans in New Orleans who criticized Payton and the organization for making the move. If there was anything Graham proved on Saturday night, it’s that NFL coaches and general managers like Payton and Mickey Loomis have their jobs for a reason.

Saturday’s victory was somewhat of a combination of the team’s Week 11 game against San Francisco and their Week 16 game against Carolina. In the first half, the Saints dominated the stats column. Even watching the game, it felt like New Orleans should have been ahead by two scores. Instead, late in the half, Drew Brees through an interception that led to the Panthers taking over in Saints territory and breaking in to the end zone shortly after. The Carolina touchdown gave them the lead going in to halftime, leaving New Orleans feeling the effects of settling for field goals and giving the ball away. Saturday night was almost the spitting image of those circumstances. The Saints could not cash in to the end zone on their first visit to the red-zone, settling for a 36 yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Late in the first half, New Orleans had possession of the ball and was nearing mid-field with the opportunity to extend their lead before half time. Instead, Brees threw an interception right to linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who returned it inside of Saints territory. A couple plays later, Nick Foles found Riley Cooper for a 10 yard touchdown pass and Philadelphia would eventually take the lead and momentum in to half time, despite being out-performed.  Continue reading

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