Evaluating each Saints’ potential first-round draft pick
The 2014 NFL Draft season, like every other one before it, is filled with plenty of misinformation. Teams often leak bogus reports in an attempt to propel or deflate the stock of any given draft prospect. At the same time, each team is allocated pre-draft visits with only 30 prospects, so it is difficult to argue that a team doesn’t have at least some level of interest in the prospects they opt to meet with.
In this piece, I will take an in-depth look at every potential first-round prospect who the New Orleans Saints have already met with. From there, I will assess the likelihood of them being available at No. 27 overall, how they fit into the scheme, and finally make my prediction on the chances that each prospect actually becomes a Saint. Without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Jace Amaro, Tight End (Texas Tech)
On March 14th, Gil Brandt reported that the Saints were one of four known teams who attended Texas Tech’s pro day.
Amaro exploded on to the scene in 2013, catching 106 passes for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. Since then, he has only done things to improve his stock. He measured in at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds at the NFL Combine, and his 28 bench press reps were the second-most of any tight end. He posted impressive numbers in the 3-cone drill and in his vertical jump. Also, at his pro day, he improved on his Combine forty-yard-dash by running a 4.68.
For the purpose of this piece, I broke down every snap of Amaro’s from four games in 2013 that include: SMU, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona State.
Although Amaro lined up mostly in the slot in Texas Tech’s offensive scheme, he has the size to become an inline tight end. He is a strong and willing blocker who excels while blocking in space. He has strong hands that are most obviously on display at the catch point, but also help to project him as a plus blocker at the next level. He is a tough player and has no issues going across the middle to catch the ball, something that he was asked to do often in his college offense. Amaro will immediately serve as a red zone threat for any team that drafts him.
Because he lined up in the slot so often, it’s hard to be sure that he will succeed as an inline tight end. Based on the system he played in, there are concerns that his production in 2013 was inflated. Most of the routes he ran were short crossing routes where the quarterback was designed to get the ball out quickly. Also, sometimes he has trouble gaining separation against man coverage.
With Jimmy Graham likely to sign a long-term contract before the season starts, the Saints do not have an immediate need for Amaro. However, as we know, the NFL is all about creating mismatches. Adding Amaro to certain packages will do just that for Sean Payton and the offense. I give the Saints a 15% chance of drafting Amaro if he is available.
Due to his late emergence and lack of experience as an inline tight end, I give Amaro an 80% chance of being available when the Saints pick.
Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver (USC)
On April 8th, safety Kenny Vaccaro tweeted that Lee was in the building for a visit.
Before the 2013 season, many people projected Lee to be a top 10 overall pick. Lackluster quarterback play in 2013 following the loss of Matt Barkley led to a major drop in his production. This drop in production combined with concerns about his injury history has led to a major downfall in his draft stock.
For the purpose of this piece, I broke down every snap of Lee’s from four games in 2013 that include: Hawaii, Arizona State, Oregon State, and Fresno State.
When I watch Lee in 2013, I still see why he was originally billed as a can’t miss prospect. He is a smooth route runner with long strides and incredible lateral agility. He puts that lateral agility on display on screens and whenever he gets the ball in space. He is one of those prospects who plays the game at a speed much greater than what he runs the forty-yard-dash in.
Lee is also a sound technician who rarely drops a pass and displays blocking techniques that translate to the pros. He comes in as the fourth-best wide receiver on my big board.
The release of Lance Moore puts a burden on the Saints to find someone to replace his production. Considering the depth and talent in this wide receiver class, this should instead be looked at as an opportunity to add to Drew Brees’ arsenal. I give the Saints a 90% chance of drafting Lee if he is available.
Due to a disappointing NFL Combine for Lee and the talent in this group of wide receivers, I give Lee a 55% chance of being available when the Saints pick.
Odell Beckham Jr., Wide Receiver (LSU)
On April 9th, Beckham Jr. told reporters that he had an upcoming dinner planned with the Saints.
Beckham Jr. has recently shot up draft boards due to his combination of speed, lateral agility, and vertical route running. Many, including myself, believe that he is in a league of his own when it comes to lateral agility and explosion. He measured in at the NFL Combine at 5-foot-11, 198 pounds, with a 4.43 forty-yard-dash and a 38.5-inch vertical.
For the purpose of this piece, I broke down every snap of Beckham Jr.’s from four games in 2013 that include: TCU, UAB, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss.
As mentioned above, his lateral explosion is unique to this draft class, and I would also call it unique to almost any draft class that I have studied. He reminds me of Percy Harvin and Antonio Brown in his ability to be a dynamic playmaker in the open space. What separates him from those players is that he is also a polished and successful vertical route runner.
If you’re looking for an area of his game that he needs to work on, look no further then his blocking. In all of the four games I evaluated, he was an unwilling and ineffective blocker.
As I mentioned above with Lee, the Saints are likely to target wide receiver in this draft. Based on his unique skill-set, I give the Saints a 95% chance of drafting Beckham Jr. if he is available.
However, prospects like this don’t tend to make it outside of the top 15 picks. I give Beckham Jr. only a 5% chance of being available when the Saints pick.
Justin Gilbert, Cornerback (Oklahoma State)
On April 14, Justin Gilbert tweeted from his official account that he was headed to New Orleans for an official visit.
Many scouts and draft experts are torn on Gilbert, with his ranking among the cornerback class ranging anywhere from first to fifth. Gilbert possesses the ideal size and speed combination that most teams covet at the cornerback position. At 6-feet and 202 pounds, with a 4.37 official forty-yard-dash, Gilbert might be the best overall athlete at his position.
For the purpose of this piece, I broke down every snap of Gilbert’s from four games in 2013 that include: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and TCU.
At times, Gilbert displays off-man coverage skills that go unmatched by any other cornerback in this draft. He shows great ability to play ten yards off the wide receiver and still make a play to break up the pass due to his quickness and length. At times Gilbert has lapses in coverage that you don’t normally see from elite prospects.
However, there is one fatal flaw in Gilbert’s game that become evident once you start breaking down his film’poor tackling. I haven’t reviewed a projected first-round cornerback who was a worse tackler than Gilbert. It is worrisome that you can’t blame his tackling entirely on his technique. He struggles with the physical aspect of football, and often this is not something that can be taught. He is never looking to get off of the wide receiver’s block and make a tackle in the backfield or the middle of the field.
On tape, it is quite obvious that Gilbert is more comfortable in a zone scheme, and when forced to play press-man that is when he struggles. This makes him a poor fit for Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme.
With his elite physical skill-set and his prototypical build for Ryan’s scheme, I give the Saints a 65% chance of drafting him if he is available to them.
Having said that, I believe Gilbert has a 15% chance of being available when the Saints pick. Physical specimens at the cornerback position, like Gilbert, even with spotty production in college, don’t often make it outside the top 20 overall picks.
Bradley Roby, Cornerback (Ohio State)
On April 15, Aaron Wilson from Ravens Inside reported on Twitter that Bradley Roby visited the Saints that day.
Roby is another size and speed freak. At just under 6 feet and 194 pounds, Roby ran an official 4.39 forty-yard-dash. After the 2012 season, many draft experts projected Roby to be a top 15 overall pick. He stayed in college for the 2013 season, and many cited regressions in his game that I also found at times when reviewing him.
For the purpose of this piece, I broke down every snap of Roby’s from four games in 2013 that include: Michigan, Michigan St., California, and Wisconsin.
At times, he displays the size, speed, strength, and quickness to be an elite shutdown cornerback. However, he struggles when used in off coverage. Unlike Gilbert, Roby is a strong and willing tackler. He diagnoses the run and sheds the block to make the tackle better than most prospects at this position in this draft.
So what’s the problem? Roby is prone to getting beat by double moves, which is an aspect of his game that must improve if he wants to hold down a starting job in the NFL. Against Wisconsin, for example, he was matched up almost the entire game with wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who is known for using savvy double moves to get open vertically. Abbrederis torched Roby for 207 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches. While Roby was able to break up two quick slants thrown at Abbrederis, he was burned on several double moves that yielded major yardage downfield.
Roby consistently showed the desire to match up with the opposing team’s number one receiver, and he was most comfortable in press-man coverage. This trait combined with his athletic build, makes him an ideal fit for Ryan’s scheme.
I believe that Roby is a great fit for the Saints from a scheme and value standpoint, and I give the Saints an 85% chance of drafting him if he is available.
Based on his physical tools and for the most part sound game film, I think that Roby has only a 25% chance of being available when the Saints pick.
Calvin Pryor, Safety (Louisville)
On April 15, Aaron Wilson from Ravens Inside reported on Twitter that Calvin Pryor visited the Saints that day.
Pryor has good size for the safety position, at 5-foot-11, 207 pounds, but he lacks the speed (4.58 forty-yard-dash) to be a deep half free safety at the next level.
For the purpose of this piece, I broke down every snap of Pryor’s from four games in 2013 that include: Kentucky, Rutgers, UCF, and Miami.
Pryor projects best as an in-the-box safety at the next level. Even when lined up as a deep safety, he prefers to attack the line of scrimmage downhill. This tendency should make him a great run supporter, but I noticed that at times he takes bad angles that lead to missed tackles. He is always looking to make a play against the run, and play action passes fools him too easily.
As mentioned above, he is at his best when lined up near the line of scrimmage. When they use him to match up with tight ends or bigger slot receivers, he does an excellent job covering shorter routes.
The Saints already have a player like this, in last year’s first-round pick, safety Kenny Vaccaro. The difference is that Vaccaro is a much better in coverage when lined up away from the line of scrimmage, and he is just as good as Pryor in the box. Before signing Jairus Byrd, drafting Pryor could mean that they envisioned Vaccaro transitioning to more of a centerfield-safety type role.
Pryor is not a fit for the Saints based on need, and therefore I give the Saints a 5% chance of drafting him.
Due to his coverage skills away from the line of scrimmage, I think that Pryor has an 80% chance of being available.
Demarcus Lawrence, Edge Rusher (Boise State)
On April 11, Larry Holder Of The Times-Picayune reported that Demarcus Lawrence will meet with the Saints in the near future.
I have long believed the Lawrence was the most underrated edge rusher prospect in the draft, and the pre-draft buzz is finally starting to follow in the last week. Lawrence may not have the ideal size for a 4-3 defensive end, at just under 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, but he projects as a better fit in the 3-4 defense.
For the purpose of this piece, I broke down every snap of Lawrence’s from four games in 2013 that include: Air Force, Nevada, Oregon State, and BYU.
While he doesn’t posses the fastest straight-line speed (4.80 forty-yard-dash), Lawrence wins as a pass rusher with natural strength and length. He measured in with one of the longest arm lengths and the single biggest hands at the NFL Combine among defensive linemen. He uses his length and hands to shed blocks very well from an inside or outside rush position.
Although he doesn’t possess incredible speed or burst, his unique ability to shed blocks makes him stand out among the other pass rushers in this draft.
Lawrence’s versatility would allow him to come right in and play multiple positions in Ryan’s scheme at outside linebacker or defensive end. I give the Saints a 65% chance of drafting him, considering they have other needs at wide receiver and cornerback.
I give Lawrence a 50% chance of being available when the Saints pick. Pass rushers of his caliber usually go in the top 20 picks, but his size and speed limitations may cause teams to worry.
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