NFL Draft: Saints may tab Queen or Murray in first round to boost linebacker position

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Patrick Queen
(Photo: Terrill Weil)

Will the Saints draft a linebacker in round one? It certainly seems possible.

The Saints don’t have a history of drafting a linebacker in the first round. They drafted linebacker Stephon Anthony in round 1 in the 2015 draft and that didn’t work out too well. They tend to look to free agency for linebacker help.

Many mock drafts now have New Orleans drafting LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, a natural athlete with sideline to sideline range. He is effective in zone pass coverage but I am a bit hesitant about taking a prospect who came on late and rose up the draft board because of it.

Queen lacks experience in man pass coverage and split time at LSU. The Livonia product was not a full time starter so lack of snaps and inexperience is a negative. Queen is also undersized and lacks length, is 6-0 and only 228 pounds. On the plus side, he is fast, diagnoses plays well and makes plays as he did in the national championship game against Clemson.

Kenneth Murray, the junior linebacker from Oklahoma, rates ahead of Queen on my board. Murray is bigger (6-2, 240) but right in Queen’s range with 4.52 speed. He had a very good 2019 season.

Possessing a nice blend of size and speed, Murray is also effective in pass coverage, making him a three-down linebacker. I doubt if he will last until the 24th pick but I suspect the Saints favor Murray over Queen due to measurables.

If the Saints do go defense with their first selection, cornerback makes sense as well.

Kristian Fulton (6-0 190 with 4.45 speed), the Archbishop Rummel and LSU product, is a well-built cover corner with speed and athletic ability. He is explosive when closing on the receiver and is physical at the catch point.

C.J. Henderson out of Florida is another prospect the local team may consider. He is a long-lanky corner with vines for arms and a history of success in the tough SEC much like Fulton. Henderson has fine ball skills and is also effective on the blitz. He did miss some time in 2019 with an ankle injury.

As of now, I am sticking with former Destrehan and LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson as my first-round selection for New Orleans. With less than two weeks left until the draft, I don’t really think the Saints know yet who will fall to them. Of course, it all depends on how the draft goes before they pick in a year when more uncertainty in virtual war rooms will occur due to the truncated pre-draft process caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other wide receivers in the mix potentially at No. 24 are Laviska Shenault (6-2, 220), Colorado’s big play receiver with a thick chiseled body. Strong at the catch-point, he is very versatile having also lined up at H-back and even running back at Colorado. Shenault runs after the catch like a running back but he has had numerous injury issues.

Brandon Alyuk (6-0, 210), Arizona State’s go-to receiver, helped himself with a solid week at the Senior Bowl. A competitor with good athletic ability and 4.48 speed, Aiyuk also has some punt and kick return skills although that appears less important for the New Orleans due to the presence of young Pro Bowl specialist Deonte Harris. Aiyuk is a good NFL fit as a slot receiver who can run any route with strong hands to pluck the football.

It may be a longer shot but I would not be shocked if the Saints look at the quarterback position as well. Head coach Sean Payton has said he wants to carry three quarterbacks. They haven’t picked up a veteran free agency so they may look to the draft.

The Saints have been in contact with Utah State’s Jordan Love (6-3, 226). I think Payton likes him as a developmental talent with great ability.

Love has nice size, athleticism and mobility. He can extend plays with his legs and is adept at throwing on the move. He has enough arm strength to make all the throws needed at the pro level. Love is not ready to play right away but that is not an issue for the Saints with Drew Brees on the roster.

If need wins out for the Black & Gold, don’t be surprised if linebacker is the call on Day 1 but I’ll stick with Jefferson.

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