Eyeing sleeper 2019 NFL draft prospects

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Andy Isabella, UMass
Andy Isabella, a product of UMass, has the speed and playmaking skills NFL scouts notice.

Analyzing college football talent for the NFL is a tedious process vital to be successful. Looking in nooks and crannies hoping to uncover a gem or two is part of the process for franchises across the league.

The New Orleans Saints are one of those teams that has demonstrated a propensity to recognize talent in the lower rounds of the draft, some of whom did not perform in the limelight of college football.

The NFL Combine in Indianapolis is a time of evaluation and discovery but just part of the process leading up to late April.

The Saints will need to be selective and creative in this year’s draft since they currently have a late second round choice as their highest pick and then don’t pick until the fifth round. Two picks in the sixth and a couple in the seventh round amount to lotto tickets more than the likelihood of reliable help.

Here a some names you need to know as a Saints fan looking for one of the those lotto tickets to hit the jackpot. Some were invited to Indy, while others will have tougher road to hear their name called on draft day.

A player who is rocketing up the charts is UMass receiver Andy Isabella. The 5-foot-8, 186 pounder possesses blazing sub-4.3 speed. He is a possible late second or third rounder who will evoke comparisons to recent superb slot receivers in the mold of Julian Edelman.

Among the three finalists for the 2018 Biletnikoff Award, Isabella totaled 231 career grabs for 3,526 yards and 30 touchdowns. In ’18 alone, he had 102 catches for 1,698 yards and 13 scores on a team that posted a 10-26 record the past three years.

Isabella, who currently working out with Randy Moss, participated in the Senior Bowl. He can take the top off of a defense with his 10.51 hundred meter speed and also averaged 8.6 yards per carry as a runner in 2018. Skill set comparisons are made to Antonio Brown. The best part? The Minuteman has only played wideout for the past three years, so he is a bit of a novice with super upside. Could Isabella be the perfect complement to Michael Thomas in New Orleans?

Keelan Doss (6-2, 205), a wide receiver from Cal-Davis, gains great separation in route, high points passes, shows good body control and footwork with great effort. Key to play for the Saints, Doss will block on the edge. The tireless worker in 2017 tallied 115 catches for 1,499 yards and seven TD’s before making 118 grabs for 1,334 yards and nine scores last season. Dooss has terrific upside, making him a third or fourth round possible.

Davion Davis (5-11, 185), receiver from Sam Houston State, had 78 catches for 1,206 yards and 17 TD’s last season. He makes off-the-charts level plays with an impressive catching radius. Davis is also steady, displaying good concentration and running consistent routes. Capable of monster games at the FCA level, Davis shows velcro-like hands and quick twitch reflexes.

Let’s talk about offensive guard Larry Allen (6-3, 290), who made 40 starts for the Crimson. If name sounds familiar, his dad Larry, Sr. may have been the best offensive guard in the history of the game, a 10 time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer who starred for the 1990’s Dallas Cowboys.

The younger Allen is a two-time All-Ivy League selection who did miss 2017 due to injury. Allen is a force, standing out as a pulling guard who also excels in both run and pass blocking. He delivers a thump while also a technician who grew up learning from the best. Interior o-line is an area of need in New Orleans.

Georgia’s Lamont Gaillard (6-2, 308) arrive with Bulldogs as defensive tackle in 2014 but switched to offense, first as guard and then center. He made 14 starts at guard and 29 at center where he was first team All-SEC. Gaillard is an agile zone blocker, able to make tough reach blocks. The Saints, Vikings, Dolphins, Panthers and Ravens have been keeping tabs on him. I’ve seen a third round grade so far.

Daniel Cooney (6-8, 315, 5.35 forty), an offensive tackle who played at San Diego, was once 343 pounds but shaped up to become a two-time FCS All American. He has good reach for a developmental NFL pass blocker with a late round grade, Cooney is a bit of a project but has potential if placed in the right system.

A local product on defense to watch is B.J. Blunt (6-1, 220), a star at linebacker for McNeese State out of McDonogh 35. He signed with McNeese in 2014 but did not qualify so he went home and got a job. Came back to McNeese after attending Garden City JUCO where he recorded eight interceptions in 2016.

Despite looks from Tulane, LA Tech, Mississippi State, Southern Miss and Texas Tech, he had something to prove in Lake Charles. Blunt added strength, moved from safety to outside linebacker and terrorized the Southland Conference. He can find a way to get his uniform dirty on a artificial surface. Blunt created violent collisions, practices full speed, covers in space and makes plays as a blitzer. Blunt sets the tone for the defense. He’s a fourth or fifth round possibility who I bet will bring his desire to special teams assignments if asked.

Defensive end Kahzin Daniels (6-4, 242) out of Charleston could go anywhere from the third to fifth rounds after tallying 31.5 career sacks. Despite being blind in right eye from a childhood accident, Daniels is effective on the field. Remember, Shaquem Griifin made an NFL roster with only one hand so scouts are willing to give Daniels a second look. He has caused a buzz among scouts, similar to Griffin in 2018 draft. Burst off edge and able to use his hands well, Daniels uses a superb swim move. and tries to mimic Dolphins pass rusher Cameron Wake.

Justin Green (5-10, 206) hails from St. Francis College. A experienced running back who played in 47 college games, he did missed six in 2018. yet still leaves school with 4,912 career yards (6.2 yard average) and 54 touchdowns. Green is clearly consistently productive, making yards after contact. He explodes through the line, shows lots of wiggle and blocks well. Scouts like how Green has burst, reaching full speed on his second step.

Another runner, Lehigh’s Dominck Bragalone (5-11, 228, 4.55), had three consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing. The 2014 Parade All American was the first freshman at his school to exceed 1,000 yards on his way to over 4,000 career yards and 42 touchdowns. Bragalone is a classic workhorse, power runner who gives 110 percent effort. He squats 640 pounds with a 465 lbs. bench press. Not on dimensional, he also averaged almost 15 yards per catch as receiver. Models his running style after Marshawn Lynch.

Rashad Robinson (5-10, 185, 4.4 speed) out of James Madison. missed 2018 with foot injury which occurred late in August. He could have redshirted and returned for 2019 but the feisty cover cornerback with 20 starts for the Dukes believes he is ready to take on the pro. Robinson was a FCS All-American in 2017 after recording seven interceptions. His highest possible draft position may be late third round.

Thomas Costigan (6-2, 240, 4.7) played for the Bryant Bulldogs. He has long hair similar to another rangy linebacker, Alex Anzalone (Saints). In 2018, Costigan managed 81 tackles, four sacks and an interception after making 103 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 2017. He is an intense player who buries ball carriers as well as the hardball as a power hitter on Bryant’s baseball team.

Outside linebacker Terrill Hanks (6-3, 230) shined at New Mexico State, making 43 starts. The Miami, Fla. native missed three games in 2018 with an ankle injury but came back to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (Jan. 19th) and Senior Bowl (one week later). Hanks has the range of a safety (which he played for the Aggies), racking up 395 career tackles, 11 sacks and eight interceptions. Extremely quick and athletic with good upside, Hanks has a third round projection.

RT Oli Udoh (6-6-355) was 384 lbs. Elon College. Runs 5.2 forty. Played in East-West game Jan. 19th. 46 starts, either RT or OG. 3rd day draft option ( maybe 5th or 6th round). Dependable pass or run blocker. Squats over 600 lbs. 4 year starter. Physical. Diamond in the rough.

How about some project quarterbacks?

Maybe he’s not a true project but Easton Stick (6-2, 225, 4.55) followed in the footsteps of Carson Wentz at FCS superpower North Dakota State with great success The native of Omaha, Nebraska had 8,693 career passing yards for the Bison with 88 TD passes and 41 more as a runner. He graduated Summa Cum laude in jsut three and a half years with seven semesters on the Dean’s List. Smart and skilled, Stick started 52 games with a 49-3 record. Stick may be more advanced at this point in his career than top overall pick Went was. Cool under pressure, Stick goes through progressions and is a tough, effective runner when needed.

Amir “Showtime” Hall (6-4, 180) starred as th quarterback at Bowie State, taking home Division II HBCU National Offensive Player of the Year honors last season. Some scouts compare him to former NFL starter Tarvaris Jackson. In 2018, Hall threw for 3,519 yards and 49 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Teammates refer to him as “Superman in shoulder pads.” He also ran for 661 yards the past two seasons. You can argue with the level on which he played but not his level of production.

Samford’s Devlin Hodges (6-1, 210) threw for 4,283 yards and 32 TD’s with 16 interceptions to cap a college career that included 14,584 yards passing with 111 TD passes with 41 picks and a Drew Brees-esque 70.5 completion percentage. He broke Steve McNair’s FCS passing mark. Not afraid to tuck it and go, Hodges ran for 1,017 yards. He has a tight wind up and quick delivery, making good placement on throws and capable of tear drops on target deep down field.

Anthony Lawrence (6-0, 185), University of San Diego quarterback, made 48 starts with a 40-8 record. He has a classic delivery and follow through but not the preferred build for the position. 12,628 career yards, 120 TD’s and just 24 interceptions while highly accurate at 65.6 percent. Lawrence is said to have leadership skills, a high IQ and unshakable temperament.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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