What Will Saints’ Rookies Contribute?

What Will Saints’ Rookies Contribute?
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After falling just short in the divisional round in 2017 and then the championship game last season, the Saints are clearly so close to ultimate success. The problem for them is they have already mortgaged their future in the hope of winning now, leaving them unable to chase a blue chip difference maker in the first round of the draft. Regardless, with their five picks they filled some holes, despite not addressing some of their biggest issues – cornerback, D-Line and receiver.

2nd Round Training camp battle – Erik McCoy (C)
McCoy was battle tested against both physicality and athleticism in college last season. He is a good addition to add depth to a solid offensive line and will no doubt see snaps this year through injury, if not start ahead of Nick Easton. McCoy is agile, powerful and controls his body well, though he is vulnerable if left in space. How good a relationship can he forge with Drew Brees in training camp compared to Easton?

4th Round Sub package player – Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (S)
The star of the Saints draft is Gardner-Johnson as the Saints stole the former Florida Safety at pick 105. He can be physical and play one on one against big receivers or Tight Ends and blitz against the defensive line effectively but he is also athletic enough to play deep Safety as a centre fielder. While he has all the tools physically, his biggest improvements need to be mentally, as he can get caught being a step late, allowing receptions that shouldn’t happen. He needs to improve footwork to increase his production but he is a versatile hybrid that could see snaps across the defensive backfield. He may start as a backup, with snaps in the dime package but under the right coaching he could become a Saints starter long term.

6th Round Backup – Saquan Hampton (S)
The Saints doubled up on Gardner-Johnson by taking Safety Saquan Hampton in the sixth round. The Rutgers alum has shown great talent but injuries badly hurt his draft stock. He is a mature leader and will fit well in the locker room, as well as having the build to play at the pro level. He is versatile and can play in nickel or dime, including at Linebacker, and tracks the ball well. Injuries aside, his aggression and physicality let him down, allowing additional yards. It will be interesting to see if Gardner-Johnson or Chris Banjo convert to Free Safety, as they are more talented it would be bad news for the former Rutgers Safety, but if they don’t Hampton is fairly locked in as a backup behind Marcus Williams.

7th Round Roster bubble flyer – Alize Mack (TE)
After addressing the defensive backfield in the mid rounds, the Saints went after a receiving option for Drew Brees. Given the dropoff that Brees had late in the 2018, another option at Tight End could be critical as a safety blanket, almost like you do with a rookie QB but for different reasons, of course. Mack is a keen route runner and quick but he is a tell for the defence, as he lacks any physicality as a blocker, especially in the running game. Mack is quick in a straight line but lacks dynamism on more complex routes. He struggles to create separation and needs to drop fewer targets. That being said, with Benjamin Watson retiring, Mack will be in a battle to make the roster as a third or fourth Tight End.

Roster bubble flyer – Kaden Elliss (LB)
The Saints final pick at 244 addressed the defence further by drafting Kaden Elliss. The Idaho linebacker will likely practice at weakside linebacker, though he is flexible, and will add depth to the roster as well as special teams. Elliss has the size to produce in the NFL and has the speed and know how to get into the backfield, with 31 tackles for loss in the last two years, proving his credentials as an edge rusher. That being said, he doesn’t always play to his true ability, especially against blockers and struggles with change of direction. Elliss will be a typical designated pass rusher if he makes the roster. While the Saints have solid starters at linebacker, there is a lack of talented depth, but Elliss will have a battle to make the roster over Vince Biegel, Darnell Sankey and Craig Robertson.

Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove, USA Today Sports

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