Saints enjoyed close look at Senior Bowl prospects
With some of the top NFL draft prospects showing their talents in Mobile, Ala. last week, the Saints may have been able to not only see them play but also work with them directly during Senior Bowl activties.
New Orleans had four staff members (although at least one looks to be headed elsewhere this offseason) coaching at this year’s Senior Bowl, providing them witn an up-close-and-personal look at this year’s talent.
The Mobile event has been a big one when it comes to past New Orleans draft classes, particularly since 2015. Since then, the Saints have selected 16 Senior Bowl players in the NFL Draft and have brought in a few more via undrafted free agency. This year’s group could provide another set of intriguing prospects.
Starting with quarterback, the truth is that the group in Mobile was remarkably underwhelming. Aside from Fresno State’s Jake Haener, no signal caller really raised their stock last week, aside from one that didn’t even participate in the on-field action.
Injured Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker had some great interviews according to scouts and executives that were present. Hooker was not able to take part in the practice week or game as he recovers from knee surgery, but he did take advantage of his opportunities to attend team meetings and speak with representatives from NFL teams.
Saints offensive assistant D.J. Williams worked as the National Team’s quarterbacks coach and thus led the meetings that Hooker attended. “Above the shoulders football” was a term thrown around quite a bit in reference to the former Volunteers passer who apparently put a lot of focus on his mental preparation during his interviews. Hooker will be one of the best pre-snap quarterbacks in this year’s draft since he understands how to read the leverage of defenders. He is a strong spot-thrower and has the mobility that the NFL loves for the modern game.
Moving to the skill positions on offense, the Saints have a sizable need at running back. With a potential suspension awaiting starting back Alvin Kamara in 2023, the team will need not only someone to rotate with their star player but to lead the backfield in his stead as well. That’s where Tulane running back Tyjae Spears could come into play.
Spears was the star of the Senior Bowl, voted the event’s Practice Player-of-the-Week by NFL executives and scouts. With 1,586 rushing yards and 1,052 yards after contact this past season, Spears is the perfect blend of finesse and power that New Orleans could use.
BREAKING: Tulane RB Tyjae Spears was named @seniorbowl Practice Player-of-Week in vote of NFL executives & scouts.📈#BestoftheBest #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/NzGlghAPfU
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 3, 2023
The Green Wave legend also has a solid acuity in the passing game as a route-runner and pass-catcher, noted qualities the Saints love. He is also trusted in pass protection, another big emphasis for the team.
Tulane RB Tyjae Spears just lit it up in his one on one.
The keep Tyjae in New Orleans train keeps getting stronger. 🚂 pic.twitter.com/vW6C2VJtm1
— Ross Jackson (@RossJacksonNOLA) February 2, 2023
If not Spears, Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh also fits the team’s prototype at the position. At 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, McIntosh is a lethal receiving threat and outstanding pass-blocker who piled on an average of 3.3 yards after contact for the Bulldogs per Pro Football Focus. His unique blend of speed, receiving, protection and power in the run game make McIntosh a great fit for New Orleans.
On the defensive side of the ball, the trenches will be a very important focus for the Saints’ offseason. With defensive end Marcus Davenport and interior defender David Onyemata possibly on the way out this spring in free agency, New Orleans could be left with few edge defenders and without a single defensive tackle on contract going into the 2023 league year.
Northwestern defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore and defensive tackle Keeanu Benton both had standout performances and check boxes both as pressure players in the passing game and as run defenders.
One more fantastic fit on the offensive side may not be necessary, depending on if the Saints invest at wide receiver in free agency. If there is still a need at the position or if he’s the best player on the board at some point in the draft, SMU wideout Rashee Rice is a name to watch.
Saints head coach Dennis Allen said it plainly in his end-of-year presser that a contested catch receiver was something the team lacked in 2022 after Michael Thomas’ season came to an end. With the possibility Thomas and the team may part ways this offseason, that need would remain going into 2023. Rice was one of the most targeted wideouts in the nation last year and tied for the most contested catches in the FBS with 16.
The bottom line is that whether it’s at quarterback, an offensive skill position or in the trenches, the Saints will have seen several players coming out of this year’s Senior Bowl that should intrigue them.
The annual event in Mobile has been a constant focal point for New Orleans in their draft plans and with the talent on display, that trend doesn’t seem likely to change this offseason.
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Ross Jackson has been the host of the daily Locked On Saints podcast, covering the New Orleans Saints since 2018. Since then, his host role has expanded to include co-hosting Locked On NFL on Tuesdays with a focus on in-depth analysis on the biggest stories across the NFL and fantasy football. Ross is also a contributor for Saints Wire, part…