Uncertainty abounds in the NFC South, and the Saints are no exception. After their bid for a postseason berth fell short, longtime head coach Sean Payton retired just a year after franchise legend Drew Brees called it quits. To keep some continuity, New Orleans promoted Dennis Allen, the team’s defensive coordinator since 2015, to head coach. The front office brought back Jameis Winston at quarterback, but made a legitimate pursuit of Deshaun Watson, creating what Winston described as “tough conversations.” Now facing the upcoming season with a competitive, but aging, roster, the draft should give plenty of insight as to the Saints’ future plans. Here’s what their strategy should be on draft night.
Who Should the New Orleans Saints Draft in 2022?
Round 1, Pick 18: Bernhard Raimann, T – Central Michigan
Now that Terron Armstead is a Dolphin, the Saints have a major hole to fill at left tackle. In this spot, given the team’s needs, Raimann makes a ton of sense. A former tight end, the CMU product only learned the position starting in 2020, which makes his rapid ascension up the ranks of prospects all the more impressive. While the Austrian native doesn’t possess the instincts of a veteran tackle, he has exceptional quickness for his size, which allows him to make key blocks further up the field. Combined with an imposing 6’7″ frame, and it’s no wonder why organizations are high on Raimann. Saints fans may shudder at the thought of taking a project in Round 1, and that’s understandable. Still, the potential upside is simply too much to pass up here.
Round 2, Pick 49: Jalen Tolbert, WR – South Alabama
This is not the premier talent at wide receiver most Saints fans are probably hoping for. However, Tolbert’s small-school background shouldn’t dissuade teams from picking him as early as the mid-second round; he had the sixth-most receiving yards in the nation in 2021. While his South Alabama Jaguars were crushed against Tennessee last November, Tolbert put up 143 receiving yards and a touchdown on seven catches, showing that he can still produce gaudy stats against SEC competition. For a lesser-known prospect, Tolbert offers a pretty solid floor, and should at minimum fit in alongside New Orleans’ current collection of just-ok pass catchers. Aside from the oft-injured Michael Thomas, Tolbert has a real chance to quickly top the depth chart. His field-stretching ability (fifth in the nation in big plays in 2021) also fits for a team in need of some explosiveness on offense.
Round 3, Pick 98: Dameon Pierce, HB – Florida
Remember when the Saints simply ran opposing defenses into the ground? When their backfield was a two-headed monster of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram? Well, even though a much older Mark Ingram returned last season, the team had the sixth-fewest rushing yards in the league. With a veteran defense that needs its rest, and a capable but not exceptional starting quarterback, New Orleans should make running the ball a priority. It’s reasonable to expect more of a bruiser as the team’s second running back, especially since his 5’10″ height is similar to Kamara’s, but Pierce has plenty of strength to go with his outstanding elusiveness, powering through for thirteen touchdowns in thirteen games last season. Additionally, Pierce made the most of his opportunities, averaging 5.7 yards rushing on 100 carries. By adding another big-play threat (sensing a pattern here?), defenses will be more likely to stack the box against the Saints’ run game, giving Winston more room to operate as a passer. There are bigger needs that need to be addressed for New Orleans, but there aren’t many players this talented to be had at the end of the third round.
Round 3, Pick 101: Romeo Doubs, WR – Nevada
Similar to my Falcons mock draft, the Saints should strongly consider doubling down in second and third rounds on an exceptionally deep class of wide receivers, rather than reaching for one in the first. He may not beat out the likes of Thomas, Tolbert, Deonte Harris, or Marquez Callaway immediately, but Romeo Doubs has real potential to thrive in the NFL. Having recorded consecutive 1,000-yard receiving campaigns with Nevada, Doubs separates himself from most other wideouts by running crisp routes from anywhere on the field. With the Wolfpack’s top QB prospect Carson Strong looking his way early and often, Doubs was tasked with lining up on the outside and in the slot, showcasing that scheme versatility that front offices covet. Bulking up and improving as a blocker will be important for Doubs, but don’t be shocked if he carves out a role in this Saints offense relatively quickly.