Early Saints 2017 NFL draft -- Mike Detillier (1 Viewer)

Dan in Lafayette

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Early Saints 2017 NFL draft

By Mike Detillier

I know it is very early, but I have been asked about it dozens of times over the past few weeks, so I will give you an early opinion on who I think the Saints may select in the 2017 NFL draft.

Like going through our yearly Sean Payton is going somewhere else next year, I have to go through an early mock draft and with the Saints picking anywhere from 8-15 in Round One I give it my yearly shot.

After going hard after Josh Norman once he was released by the Carolina Panthers, and the Saints trying to deal for Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden at the trade deadline, I feel the Saints will go hard after a veteran cornerback in free agency and that leads to the team going after a pass rusher in Round One.

The perfect fit for the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker in Round One is Alabama outside linebacker Tim Williams.

The 6-4, 250 pounder, who prepped at University Lab in Baton Rouge, selected Alabama over his hometown school of LSU during the recruiting process.

As a junior Williams racked up 10½ quarterback sacks and 12½ tackles for losses.

In 2016 Williams was a second team All-American by the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated and he was in on 27 tackles, a team-best 8½ quarterback sacks, 15½ tackles for losses and 12 quarterback hurries.

Williams would give the Saints the edge pass rush skills they have long sought after to compliment Cam Jordan and he would be a perfect fit for the team.

His closing speed to the football and his ability to run the field are at the highest level. He has bettered his overall strength and become a pretty good pass cover linebacker when asked as well.

Williams does have an off-the-field incident in which he was arrested for carrying a pistol without a permit, but if that incident is clear with a team, his pass rush skills can’t be denied and he has the skills to be a dominant edge rusher at the next level.

One NFL scout told me at the LSU-Alabama contest that Williams is the second best pure pass rusher in the draft class of 2017 only behind Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett.

In Round 2 the Saints must look to rebuild their offensive line with both Jahri Evans and Zach Strief both 33 years old.

In the 2nd round I have the Saints selecting University of Pittsburgh offensive guard Doran Johnson. The 6-4½, 312 pounder was one of the most highly recruited offensive linemen in the country coming out of high school, but he decided to stay in-state and play for the Panthers. He started three games as a true freshman and then became a 3-year starter at left guard for Pittsburgh.

In 2016 Johnson became the first Pittsburgh offensive lineman to be selected to a first-team All-American squad in 22 years. He did not surrender a single quarterback sack in 2016 and when the Panthers needed tough rushing yards they ran right behind Johnson. Some NFL draft boards will have Johnson as the best “pure” offensive guard available for the 2017 NFL draft.

Johnson’s strength is his ability to move his man at the point of attack on running plays and he is also a very good pass protector showing good adjustment skills.

In Round 3, I have the Saints going right back to aiding their offensive line and selecting Temple offensive tackle Dion Dawkins.

The 6-4¾, 325 pounder has started for Temple since his freshman season and he became one of only four true freshman offensive lineman to starter at left tackle in 2013. The three-year full-time starter at left tackle looks best suited for the right side, but in watching him play what you see is an aggressive player who knows how to use his arms and hands well to steer defenders coming off the edge and he is also very strong run blocker.

The Temple coaches rave about his work ethic, his toughness to play through injuries and his tenacity to finish off plays. One Temple offensive coach told me that Dawkins was “the most talented big man he has ever coached” and that he still has a high ceiling to hit as a player in the NFL.

He does have an off-the-field incident in which he was suspended for the 2015 season-opener after he was accused of being involved in a fight with a fellow Temple student at a party.

It is important to have a strong front wall to better the Saints rushing attack and also to protect the 38-year old Drew Brees in 2017.

In Round 4 I have the Saints going after a small-college, but very good free safety prospect in Saint Francis (Pennsylvania)’s Lorenzo Jerome. Jerome, who prepped in Florida, has developed into one of the top free safety prospects in the nation at Saint Francis and he was named to the Walter Camp All-American squad.

The 5-11, 195 pound safety is a very intelligent player with great instincts to the football and he has first rate read and react skills to the ball in flight. Coaches at St. Francis tell me Jerome is one of the smartest players they have ever coached and he is a total “focus” young man on and off the field.

In 2016 Jerome recorded 59 tackles, 5½ tackles for losses, 5 pass break-ups and 6 pass interceptions.
But also what jumps out is how effective he is as a kickoff return man, a spot the Saints desperately need to upgrade. As a junior, Jerome led the FCS averaging 31.2 yards per kickoff return and he brought 2 back for touchdowns.

In 2016 Jerome averaged 28.9 yards per kickoff return on 14 kickoffs and he brought one back for a touchdown.

In selecting Jerome the Saints get a two for one player in selecting a highly touted safety who would play in a lot of their three safety concepts and also return kickoffs.

The Saints traded away their fifth round pick in the 2017 draft in a draft day trade with the Washington Redskins so they could move up to select defensive tackle David Onyemata. Onyemata looks like the real deal as a NFL defensive tackle and he will make a big impact in 2017 after gaining some needed NFL reps and experience this season.

In Round 6 I have the Saints selecting Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

The Saints signed former Colorado cornerback Ken Crawley as an undrafted free agent this spring and he has developed quite well for the team, but there are health concerns with Damian Swann and P.J. Williams and Witherspoon would look like the perfect fit for Dennis Allen’s defense.

The 6-2¼, 195 pounder started out his college career at Sacramento City Junior College after playing just one year of high school football and he grew five inches from his junior to his senior high school season.

In 2015, Witherspoon started 8 games and in 2016 he started 12 games and he led the nation in pass breakups with 22. What jumps out about Witherspoon are his long arms, his great size to match up against bigger ends in the league and he has good plant and drive skills to the football in flight.

While he is still a work in progress as a technician, NFL scouts are excited about his long term potential. Teams have picked on Witherspoon this season, but he never backed down and gained confidence in his skillset each and every week.

In Round 7 I have the Saints selecting Grambling AFCA All-American wide receiver Chad Williams. The 6-1½, 195 pounder caught 96 passes for 1,420 yards, averaged 14.8 yards per catch and scored 12 TD’s as a senior.

Williams, who excelled in both football and basketball at Madison Prep High School in Baton Rouge caught 62 passes for 1,012 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.

The SWAC all-star caught 10 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown versus Southern in the 2014 Bayou Classic.

He is rough around the edges as a route runner, but you can see his excellent size, his quickness off the mark and his ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes.

Williams was suspended for the 2016 season-opener after he was one of three men arrested for simple possession of marijuana and possession of a firearm, but Grambling coaches, including Grambling head coach Broderick Fobbs, have raved about his character on and off the field and his commitment to the game.

It’s early, but it is indeed Christmas food for football thought…

Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeDetillier


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Man, I just love your mock draft. This sounds almost too good for it to happen .. lolol. At pick 7 though, I believe the Saints should look to improve the LB position with someone whose fast and can cover tight ends, or maybe even look to add some quality depth at DT (hopefully they retain Fairley). Anyway, great job, Mike!

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