If you’ve spent any time on this site in the past, then this man needs no introduction. We’ve got a nice little tradition going now where every year I catch up with NFL draft guru/expert and Bloguin cohort Kris Brauner to discuss the NFL draft. Below we’ll talk Saints, draft prospects, and of course LSU. Brauner is the owner/writer of Saturday Night Slant, the LSU blog on Bloguin. If you’ve never been over there and you don’t follow him on twitter, do it now. The guy is as good as there is, and he’s got other terrific writers on staff. You cannot go to a better place if you’re an LSU fan, especially to go get news on the recruiting front which is Kris’ specialty. Kris also is a St. Paul’s School alumnus, much like myself, so he clearly boasts a superior education. Many thanks again to Kris for really dealving into this stuff and helping Saints fans get a better picture of what to look forward to in the upcoming draft. This one is a MUST READ for Saints fans.
Here’s my Q&A with Kris:
1. Kris, thanks so much for spilling more knowledge on Saints Nation. I know the Saints fans really value this contribution you make to the site every year. My first question is always the same, who are your top 5 SEC prospects this year?
1. Morris Claiborne CB LSU – Claiborne made a name for himself in 2010 as a sophomore. Teams went after him in efforts to stay away from Patrick Peterson, but they soon learned that was a mistake. In 2011, Claiborne stepped up as the top dog and he more than lived up to the billing. While not quite the overall athlete as Peterson, he is probably a little better in coverage. He plays with great technique and has a knack for always being in position. When teams do throw his way, he has great ball skills, frequently “high pointing” the ball and just taking it away from the receiver. He also has elite speed which lets him play catch up on deep balls, if he finds himself behind. It also lets him close quickly when he’s playing off and the offense hits a quick pass. He’s not afraid to play physical and stick his nose in on a tackle, but his one on one tackling skills could probably use some improvement. Although he returned kickoffs for LSU, I don’t see him as a return guy in the NFL. Despite one huge return against West Virginia, he was just OK in that role. With the ever increasing presence of big-time passing games in the NFL, elite cover guys like Claiborne are seeing their value rise.
2. Trent Richardson RB Alabama – Richardson is probably the most impressive SEC player in the draft this year, and he is probably more of a sure thing than Claiborne. However, I put him at #2 simply because of the de-emphasis of the running back position in the NFL and due to the ever decreasing life span of a running back’s career. If you were molding the perfect running back out of clay, your end result probably wouldn’t be too far off from Richardson. He’s strong, quick, athletic, and has breakaway speed. He also blocks well, makes good reads while running, catches the ball well, etc, etc. He is an instant impact guy in the NFL and, depending on which team he ends up with, will compete for Rookie of the Year honors.
3. Mark Barron S Alabama – Barron presents the complete package at safety and contains both ideal physicality and coverage skills. I see many draft sites force Barron get into the mold as a strong safety type who needs work in coverage, but that’s not what I see at all. Barron led the SEC in interceptions with seven as a sophomore and then added five more over the next two years. He can definitely play center field, play it smart, and use his speed and intuition to make big plays against the passing game. But he absolutely does excel in run support too. To me, he looks like an instant starter and a future Pro-Bowler who is worthy of being drafted in the top half of the first round.
4. Melvin Ingram DE South Carolina – Ingram is an incredible overall athlete that could fit in just about any defense. I can see Ingram playing outside linebacker in a 3-4. He could play end in a 4-3. He could even play inside at tackle in a 4-3 in passing situations. Some say that he may be a jack of all trades but a master of none. I think that’s fair, but instead I see a guy that is ultra talented and versatile enough to impact a game in a number of ways. Ingram has the production to match his impressive physical skills. Over his last two seasons, Ingram totaled 26 tackles for loss and 19 sacks. He measured just 6’1” 264 pounds at the Combine, but he’s still best suited on the outside where he can rush the passer in my opinion.
5. Dre Kirkpatrick CB Alabama – For the same reason that Claiborne got the nod as the #1 guy on this list, Kirkpatrick gets the nod ahead of several other very worthy guys for inclusion in the Top 5. At a legit 6’2” Kirkpatrick, shows off the feet and change of direction skills reserved for guys typically under six feet. He has “good enough” speed and long arms that give him the near perfect skill set for a NFL corner. He could stand to fill out his frame a bit more and add strength but that’s nitpicking. The guy can cover. Three years ago, he stepped right into a loaded Alabama defense and started. Since he’s 6’2”, some think he could make the move to safety if needed, but I don’t see him there. He currently does not have the physicality to play safety in the NFL. He’s a corner and should be a pretty good one….one worthy to start on most NFL teams after he gets his feet wet.
6. Courtney Upshaw OLB Alabama
7. Michael Brockers DT LSU
8. Fletcher Cox DT Mississippi State
9. Stephon Gilmore CB South Carolina
10. Cordy Glenn OT Georgia
Next Five In No Order:
Rueben Randle WR LSU
Dont’a Hightower LB Alabama
Alshon Jeffrey WR South Carolina
Joe Adams WR Arkansas
Orson Charles TE Georgia
(editor’s note: I love how I ask for 5 and Kris always gives me 15. That’s like ordering 12 oysters and getting 15 huge ones hooked up. I feel like I paid less and got more, so thanks Kris for leaving me satisfied beyond expectation. Twss.)
2. Any Non SEC players that have really impressed you?
Aside from the obvious guys such as Andrew Luck and RGIII, a few players have stood out to me.
Miami running back Lamar Miller is a guy that I believe can make a difference in the NFL. He’ll probably be available any time after the first round and at that point, I think he’ll be a great value. He has track speed and can take it the distance whenever he gets to the secondary. But he also showed off pretty good vision, running skills and a toughness that you may not expect. In his only season as the primary
back at Miami, he rushed for 1,272 yards. He could compare to a guy like Jahvid Best or C.J. Spiller, but I think he’s a more complete back than those two. I bet he makes some noise as a rookie if he lands in the right situation.
Sticking at running back, Washington’s Chris Polk is a guy that just does everything well. I saw him in person during Polk’s sophomore season and have kept up with his career ever since. He has been ultra-productive, never rushing for less than 1,113 yards. He’s also a great receiver, catching 78 passes in three seasons as Washington’s primary back. Most project Polk to go somewhere in the second to third round, and I think some NFL team may find their primary back when they select Polk.
West Virginia defensive end / outside linebacker Bruce Irvin is another guy that I saw in person and one that I think can make an impact in the NFL. Irvin is a bit limited in that he really only does one thing well, which is rush the passer. But he is SO effective at it that I think he’ll find a home in the NFL. He racked up 22.5 sacks in two years at West Virginia. At under 250 pounds, he’s best suited for a team that plays the 3-4. But I just don’t see all THAT much drop off from guys like Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram to Irvin. Against LSU this year, Irvin notched four tackles including 1.5 for loss.
It’s tough not to notice Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who came out of nowhere in 2011 to have a sensational season. With a staggering 22.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks, Mercilus made a name for himself as one of the top defenders in college football. He has a nice frame for a defensive end at 6’4” 260 pounds and looks perfect to play on the outside in a 4-3. He’s got an awfully quick first stepand exceptional athleticism. While once projected a second or third round guy, he has shot up draft boards recently and now could end up in the first round.
3. The news just came out that Morris Claiborne’s wonderlic score was atrocious and embarrassingly bad. Does this hurt his stock? Where do you see him going?
I don’t think this hurts Claiborne’s stock one bit. It’s a shame that this came out since that information is intended to remain private, but it is what it is. Why did Claiborne do so poorly? It’s tough to say. Some have said that he has a legitimate learning disability, but his agent refuted that, so who knows what to think? Regardless, Claiborne never blew coverages and was always in position to make a play. So his poor score on the Wonderlic does not translate to a lack of football smarts. Furthermore, he was a great leader in the secondary, was a phenomenal teammate, and a standup guy off the field. NFL teams have overlooked much, much worse in the past.
I really think he will go to Cleveland at #4. I don’t see Cleveland going with Tannehill and it could come down to Claiborne or Trent Richardson. Both guys make sense for them but for the same reason I put Claiborne ahead of Richardson in your first question is why I think Cleveland takes him. Regardless, it’s real tough to see him slipping past St. Louis at #6, so that’s the absolute lowest I think he’ll go.
4. How about the other LSU players? When can we expect them to get drafted?
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers will almost certainly be the second Tiger off the board. Brockers was once considered someone that would go in the Top-12 picks but a sub par performance (according to some) at the Combine dropped him a bit. Now, he looks like a middle to late first rounder. I think that drop was motly due to scouts overthinking 40-times. Brockers is a beast…plain and simple. And he’s versatile enough to play in any system. He has also only started one year of college football, so he has a ton of room for improvement. I think he has a pretty high floor as a prospect and very little chance to bust.
Wide receiver Rueben Randle is a fringe first rounder right now. He is battling with guys like Kendall Wright (Baylor) and Alshon Jeffrey (South Carolina) for draft position. I think Randle will make a very good NFL wideout. He does everything well when he wants to. At LSU, he tended to pout a bit if he didn’t see the ball, and it affected his effort as a blocker in addition to his attitude. He could have really benefitted from another year at LSU, especially since the Tigers now have a legitimate passer at quarterback. A year with great stats would have only propelled Randle well into the first round. But he was ready for the next stage of his career. He’s definitely a first round talent and if he lands in the right situation, he can have a very productive career. Houston’s pick at #26 has been a popular landing spot for Randle on mock drafts.
After Randle, safety Brandon Taylor is likely next. Taylor had a very good senior season for the Tigers. Once a cornerback, he has really transformed his body and now looks the part of a NFL strong safety. In a league that is moving more and more towards the passing game, Taylor’s skills actually translate better to stopping the run. He gets better as he gets closer to the line of scrimmage, not too unlike Roman Harper. And while that certainly hurts his stock some, he has actually been rising up many draft boards. He is likely looking at a fourth round selection right now.
Defensive back Ron Brooks should hear his name called too, and some have said it may even come as early as the third or fourth round. Brooks was never a full time starter but there is no shame in playing behind some of the corners that have recently come through “DB U”. Brooks spent the last two seasons as LSU’s dime back and made a ton of big plays. He started a game in 2011 due to some players being out and stood out, knocking down one pass and then intercepting another and returning it for a touchdown. In fact, Brooks had three Pick-6s over the last two seasons. Brooks was also a standout on special teams, both as a gunner and a return man. With teams playing so much nickel these days, Brooks adds a ton of value due to all of the things he can do for a NFL team.
Linebacker Ryan Baker definitely has a shot to get drafted in the mid to late rounds. Baker’s calling card would be his speed, but he unfortunately did not run real good at the Combine. He did much better at LSU’s pro day, turning in a 4.61. He also measured in at a tad under 6 feet tall, so that won’t help either. But I’d be a little surprised if he went completely undrafted.
Tight-end Deangelo Peterson has a chance to hear his name called. Peterson is a great overall athlete, but his skills never fully translated to the field. He was inconsistent catching the ball, and he played soft at times…looking almost afraid of contact. But some team will likely take a chance on his athleticism, especially with the tight-end becoming more and more a part of the passing game in the NFL.
A team could also take a chance on defensive end Ken Adams and offensive lineman Will Blackwell. I don’t expect either quarterback, Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee to get drafted.
At the end of the day, I see five certain draft picks with four others that have a chance to get picked. The LSU record for most draft picks in a single draft is seven…so with some luck, this group has a chance to match that.
5. The Saints don’t pick till 89 overall, which is, just… yeah. Anyone you can see being realistically available that far down that the Saints have to take if he’s still on the board? Mo Isom is not an acceptable answer.
I’m not sure about a “have to take”, but the Saints can absolutely land some quality players in that spot. I wonder if the Saints won’t try to use next year’s first round pick in efforts to move up in this draft. Without a second rounder, this year or next, it will be tough to package next year’s first to move up this year. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they try, especially if there is a guy on the board late in the first that they love. Even though Mickey Loomis has said they would not try to do this, it fits with their recent strategy of “win now”.
But if we assume that the Saints are still making their first selection at 89, they’ll obviously be going with the “best player available” approach. But they will still try to target a few positions which, in my opinion, could be safety, cornerback, receiver, or a pass rusher.
If Mercilus (mentioned above) is still there at the end of the third round (highly unlikely), then the Saints shouldn’t think twice about taking him. The Saints did well, in my opinion, with an Illinois player in the third round last year in Tez Wilson.
Another guy I love is Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles. His stock has fallen due to an injury he suffered his senior year, but the kid is a natural receiver and is electric. He would be great in the Saints’ offense. His draft stock has been slowly creeping back up into the second round range recently, but if teams are scared away by his injury, the Saints should pounce.
Oklahoma defensive end Ronnell Lewis is another guy that intrigues me. He’s got a ton of physical ability, but just hasn’t QUITE been able to put it all together yet. Some injuries have hampered his development, but he has a very high ceiling in my opinion.
At receiver, I also love wide receiver T. Y. Hilton. He played at Florida International, so he’s flying under the radar a bit more than he would if he came from a big name school. He’s a tad undersized but is electric and knows how to get open.
6. Can the Saints get a starter out of that pick in your opinion? Or is it a lost cause?
Absolutely they can. I’m not sure that any front office in the league is better suited to find a starter at pick #89 than the Saints’. Jahri Evans was a fourth round pick. Carl Nicks was picked in the fifth round. Marques Colston was a seventh rounder. It’s definitely not a lost cause. I’m confident the Saints will find a quality contributor with their first pick in the draft.
Shame on you Juge for asking that.
(editor’s note: I’m glad Kris didn’t let me off the hook here. I deserved it)
7. Last year you felt the draft was very top heavy. I feel like the talent pool is maybe a little diluted this year. Do you agree? Is it just me or is the quarterback position in particular really poor after the top 2?
I agree with you. I think this draft is on the weak side. I just feel like we don’t have enough first round talents to fill the entire first round, and I feel like we only have about seven guys worthy of receiving the “Top 10” label. So the scouts and evaluators will really earn their money this year in trying to identify which players of that 2nd/3rd round talent level are the right fits for their team.
As for the quarterbacks, I agree again. As you’ll see below, I believe this draft has a very good top two and then a significant drop to the next group.
8. Who is the most underrated player in the draft? Last year you said Randall Cobb and wow, he had an explosive year, starting in week 1 with a 109 yard kickoff return against the Saints.
I really think it’s Ryan Broyles, who I talked about above. Oddly enough, he’s a pretty similar player to Cobb but he’s more of a technician at receiver and just a tad less explosive. I just feel that many forgot about him after his injury, and I think that’s a mistake. He was one of the most productive wide receivers in college football history.
9. Who is the most overrated player in the draft? Last year you said J.J. Watt who ended up having a very solid rookie campaign, so try again
Yea, I whiffed on Watt, didn’t I? He looked really great as a rookie.
This year, I’m going with Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He’s tall, athletic and has a nice arm. He seems like a smart guy. And he has only played quarterback for a few years, so he has ALL this room to improve, etc. But having watched him play in college, I never once saw anything to indicate that the guy was a first round pick, much less a Top-10 pick. He threw 15 interceptions last year, which is not good. Against the only Top-10 teams on his schedule (Oklahoma State and Oklahoma), he threw three interceptions each. He also threw three picks against rival Texas. His offense was known for folding late in big games. Laughably so. For the life of me, I just don’t see how he’s worth a pick in the Top-10. But some team will probably reach for him since they’re desperate for a quarterback. They’ll rush him into the starting job before he’s ready, and he may never get straightened out.
10. Give me some value picks later in the draft the Saints should target.
One guy I like is Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander. He is a local guy who played on the same high school team as Chad Jones at Southern Lab in Baton Rouge. He has been an ultra productive player for Oklahoma for a few years now. As a senior, Alexander had 8.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. That follows a junior season with seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He has good size at 6’4” 270 and is well equipped to be an every down player in a 4-3. We know Spags likes pass rusher and using a sixth round pick (or similar) on Alexander would be great value in my opinion.
I love TCU linebacker Tank Carder. He was all over the place for the last two years at TCU. He plays very fast. He’s got decent size but uses his speed to shoot gaps and disrupt plays. He’d be a good fit in any defense. I know the Saints just loaded up on linebackers in free agency but if Carder slides a bit, he could be worth a pick as an investment in the future at the position.
I already talked about LSU’s Ron Brooks earlier, but if he’s still on the board in the fourth round, or especially the fifth round, he’d be a great fit as a dime back / special teams do it all for the Saints.
Lastly, keep an eye on McNeese State safety Janzen Jackson. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, Jackson hailed from Barbe high school and after being verbally committed to the LSU Tigers for nearly a year, he spurned LSU a day after Signing Day for Lane Kiffin and Tennessee. He showed a ton of promise as a true freshman but struggled with various off the field issues. He eventually ended up at McNeese. He hasn’t played a ton of college football, so he’s inexperienced. Plus, you’re obviously taking a risk because of his off the field foolishness. But in what is a weak safety class…if you can nab a talent like Jackson in the sixth round, it could very well be worth it. A team like the Saints could be patient with him since their starters at safety seem relatively settled for the time being.
Hope you enjoyed the Q&A, thanks again to Kris who, per usual, knocked this one out of the park. I’d expect nothing less. Again, make sure you check out Saturday Night Slant for all your LSU news, and be expecting a post draft Q&A with Kris as well once the picks are made so we can revisit with him and get his thoughts and how the Saints came out.