Las Vegas Bowl Football
Joe Jaszewski, AP
By Jeff Duncan, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
In the past two drafts, the New Orleans Saints have added three Pro Bowlers, eight starters and two other regular contributors to their lineup. That’s an impressive haul of talent.
They had home runs in last year’s NFL Draft with cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara, a pair of impact playmakers who brought swagger to both sides of the ball. They join 2016 second-round pick Michael Thomas to give the Saints three of the best young players at their positions in the NFL.
If 2017 was about style, this draft will be about substance. The Saints bolster depth at several key positions.
One man’s projection of the Saints’ eight picks:
Leighton Vander Esch
John Locher, AP
Round 1 (No. 27): OLB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Typically, I don’t believe in taking linebackers in the first round, unless, of course, it’s a no-brainer stud like Luke Keuchly. NFL defenses spend so much time in sub packages that linebackers have become role-playing specialists instead of every-down commodities. Unless you can find an every-down playmaker like Vander Esch. I like everything about this kid. He’s smart, humble and freakishly athletic. Vander Esch would slot in well at strong-side linebacker next to A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone and also has the ability to rush the passer as an end in sub packages. The bust factor is low on him, and at No. 27 that’s important. The last time the Saints took a linebacker in this spot, they gambled on Stephone Anthony and paid the price. That won’t be a problem with the versatile Vander Esch. He’s the best player on the board at No. 27. The Saints don't have anyone like him on the roster.
Round 3 (91): TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State
Like Vander Esch, another guy who possesses the characteristics the Saints value: intelligence, toughness and discipline. Gesicki displayed his rare athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.54 40-yard dash, 41.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-9-inch broad jump. He’s the kind of mismatch chess piece Sean Payton covets at the tight end position, an athlete capable of stretching the field on seam routes the way Jimmy Graham did during his tenure in New Orleans. With Coby Fleener, Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui nearing the ends of their contracts, Gesicki instantly would become the heir apparent at a critical position in the Saints’ high-powered offense.
Kyle Lauletta, Dewey Jarvis
Brynn Anderson, AP
Round 4 (127): QB Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
The Saints like Taysom Hill and believe he has the ability to be Drew Brees’ eventual replacement. But they also know he hasn’t played a down in the NFL. So they would be wise to consider multiple options during Brees’ final years at the helm. Lauletta possesses the traits Payton likes in his quarterbacks: leadership, intelligence, mobility and the ability to quickly work through his progressions. If he’s still on the board at No. 127, I think the Saints have to pull the trigger.
San Jose Mercury News
Round 5 (147): OT Alex Cappa, Humbolt State
Tackle is a sneaky need for the Saints. With Zach Streif contemplating retirement, the Saints don’t have much depth after starters Ramczyk and Terron Armstead. And Armstead’s injury history is always a concern. Cappa would follow a long line of former small-school offensive line gems (Armstead, Jahri Evans, Jermon Bushrod) the Saints have mined in recent drafts. He’s a terrific athlete capable of playing both tackle spots.