NFL Draft: A closer look at Lamar Jackson and other possible Saints draft targets
Each NFL draft there seems to be at least one player surrounded with intrigue. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to the draft.
I don’t claim to know more than anyone else, but I have gotten input from a few NFL minds who don’t have a horse in the race but know talent when they see it.
The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner stwals headlines. Baker Mayfield is a talented quarterback who has many fans but has also drawn scrutiny. Still, he is a sure-fire first rounder who may be zooming up draft board.
What about the 2016 Heisman winner, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson? How good can he be in the NFL? We won’t really find out until he takes the field in the league but the speculation surrounding him has been more than just a little interesting.
At 6-foot-2 1/4 and 216 pounds (NFL Combine measurements) with 4.34 forty speed, Jackson is 21-years old. Throwing for 3,660 yards with 27 touchdown passes last season, Jackson tossed 10 interceptions with four of his picks coming in Louiville’s Belk Bowl loss to Mississippi State. He also accounted for 1,601 yards rushing this past season, averaging 6.9 yards per carry with 18 scores. One draft service termed him as an “electric runner.”
Many comparisons align Jackson with Michael Vick because of his style. Vick possessed a stronger arm, but he has admitted that Jackson is more advanced than he was at the same stage of his career.
Part of a very structured offense under Bobby Petrino, Jackson was also allowed some leeway in his decisions. Neither Petrino nor Jackson have ever been considered him just a dual threat who can only run to succeed.
Jackson has not been helped by the Louisville receivers, a group who at times dropped catchable offerings. He has not been blessed with super talent surrounding him in general but it was he who raised the level of talent of the entire Cardinals offense.
The strengths of Jackson include poise, underrated skill to make timing throws, natural instincts, good vision in surveying the field, elite running ability and necessary confidence. Some have called him a smaller version of Cam Newton, while others feel he could follow in the footsteps of DeShaun Watson.
Patience by a staff will be vital to Jackson’s development. His technique as a passer needs fine tuning. He is not a run-first quarterback on designed passing plays but he needs to focus on mechanics. He does not always release the ball over the top. Surprisingly, he is not overly accurate on the move, better suited to set and throw. His footwork needs polishing but can be addressed. He throws with his feet too close together.
Jackson will have to be respected as a legit running threat in the NFL. He won’t necessarily be spied by the defense, but opponents will have to be cognizant of the danger of him taking off to open space. That could slow down pass rush and loosen up the secondary.
Rumors have been swirling that the Pittsburgh Steelers have keen interest. The organization brought head coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner to his workouts. Kepp an eye on the Bills, Cardinals and Bengals in round one even earlier than the when the Steelers pick at No. 28 overall.
Most fans don’t feel like it’s a good idea for the Saints to consider a QB with their first pick. Sean Payton’s offense fits the skills of Drew Brees but nothing remains the same forever. One insider tells me that Jackson is definitely on the board for New Orleans.
Payton said this week that there was no quarterback in this draft in the class of Andrew Luck or Carson Wentz when they were picked. But that opinion may not necessarily keep Payton and the Saints form picking a developmental talent like Jackson with the 27th overall selection.
New Orleans has eight picks in the upcoming draft – 1st round (27th), 3rd (91st), 4th (127th), two in the 5th round (147th & 164th), two more in the 6th round (189th, 201st) and 7th round (245th overall).
Receiver is a spot that jumps out as an area the Saints could use more young talent. Cameron Meredith was signed from the Bears earlier this month but his injury makes him an uncertainity. Ted Ginn, Jr. is 34 years young but one can never be sure when his game-breaking speed falls off due to age.
One to keep an eye in the first round is Maryland’s D.J. Moore (5-11, 214), an enticing combination of strong, fast (4.42 forty), explosive (39 1/2″ vertical and a 11′ standing long jump). He’s good in the slot where the Saints wanted to improve their options. Moore benefited from great instruction at Maryland from former NFL receiver Keenan McCardell, who served as the Terrapins’ receivers coach.
The Big Ten receiver of the year in 2017 is a well-rounded player who can also return kicks. Some compare him to former Maryland and current Minnesota Vikings standout Stefon Diggs. Jackson has great upside, super work ethic and fearlessness against physical pass coverage. Once thought to be available in second round, he has really moved up boards to the point where the Saints might feel fortunately to have Moore as an option at No. 27.
It is no secret the Saints view edge rusher as another area of need. Keep an eye on Kemoko Turay, a native of Guinea, West Africa. A somewhat raw prospect out of Rutgers, he only played two years of high school football bbut set a New Jersey state record with 19 sacks as a senior. Turay had just two scholarship offers – Rutgers and James Madison.
Turay still made an instant impact in college as a freshman All-American. In 2017, he totaled 65 tackles, 7 TFL and four sacks while playing both the edge and off the ball as a linebacker. Turay (6-4 1/2, 252) says he studies tape of Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Lawrence Taylor, always looking for tips to get better.
Explosive and shown to take good angles to ball, Turay runs a hot motor and plays snap-to-whistle. He takes instruction very well and does not duplicate the same mistake. He can be an outstanding pass rusher but is he is still learning the game and requires some patience from his NFL team. He opened eyes at Senior Bowl so expect his to be a Day 2 pick. Maybe he falls to New Orleans in the third round.
As for the Day 3 talent, here are just a handful of names to remember in rounds four through seven for Saints fans.
TE Troy Fumagali (6-6, 248) Wisconsin
Had 46 grabs for 547 yards and 4 TD’s last season. Made 32 starts for Badgers.A former walk-on who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Improved blocker, consistent hands, good into his routes, hard worker, high football IQ, determination and a fierce competitor. Could slide into fifth round.
CB Parry Nickerson (5-11, 182) Tulane
Slotted to go in 4th round, he should be the 10th player in West Jefferson High School’s history to make it to NFL. Nickerson turned heads with a blazing 4.32 forty at Combine. Can play nickel (where the Saints may target depth behind Patrick Robinson). He had 16 INTs and made 188 career tackles while at Tulane. Good hips, transitions well, very confident, good in press coverage. A ball hawk. Plays with good positioning. I’m told the Patriots have been monitoring closely.
LB Shaquem Griffin (6-0, 229) UCF
Remarkable success who has grabbed the nation’s attention playing with his disabilty (only one hand) to become AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a clearly draftable prospect. He did 20 reps on bench press, ran a 4.38 forty and posted a 9’9″ standing long jump (elite numbers for a linebacker) at the Combine. Great closing speed, football IQ, blitz talent off the edge, capablity as a “stack” LB or in a 3-4 alignment. Always seems to be in right spot, great instincts. He can be utilized in a variety of ways as an attacker on defense
RB Ito Smith (5-9, 205) Southern Miss
Ran a 4.55 forty. Ended his Golden Eagle days with 4,536 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns. Great pair of hands, 133 career catches for 1,370 yards. Great effort as a runner, patient when needed and able to turn simple play into a long gainer. Tremendous balance. Low center of gravity.
OG Maea Teuhema (6-5, 315) Southeastern La.
Began his career at LSU where he started 21 games as freshman and sophomore. Great pop out of stance, mean streak, talent to dominate opponents, plays with balance. Not great foot speed. More of a hip bender than knee bender. Has NFL ability.
DE Justin Lawler (6-4-262)
Has real talent as a pass rusher with a high motor. Runs 4.8 forty, can bend the edge, great character guy, capable special teams player. He checks all boxes for a Day 3 choice. Lightly recruited player who worked himself into a draftable prospect. Weight room junkie. Was on high school power lifting team. Has an appetite for making plays, evidenced by his 74 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks last season. His Mustangs career produced 40.5 TFL and 20.5 sacks.
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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…