Saints hope to mine diamonds in late rounds, undrafted free agency
The top NFL draft picks are expected to be star for franchises but the mid-late draft picks, along with undrafted free agents, are the meat and potatoes of a roster.
The New Orleans Saints have shown a propensity for uncovering draft bargains and undrafted sleepers who become productive players.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s crucial to cash in on high picks.
Back in 1973, the Saints turned the 29th overall pick into an individual who played 12 seasons for New Orleans, recording 48 sacks and ultimately landing in the Saints Hall of Fame. The front office hopes to turn the 29th choice this year into another Derland Moore. In fact, it may be a defensive tackle just like him.
As for the late picks who repaid the franchise with stellar careers, the list is a solid one.
Zack Streif was a sevrnth round selection in 2006 who played in 158 NFL games as a Saint, including Super Bowl XLIV. Thomas Morstead was grabbed in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. Carl Nicks was a fifth round bargain in 2008 who turned into a two-time Pro Bowler and Saints Hall of Fame inductee.
Going back further, Eric Martin slipped to the 7th round (179th overall) in the 1985 NFL Draft. Until Marques Colston, another seventh rounder, arrived in 2006, Martin was the franchise’s all-time receiving leader.
The organization has also demonstrated a knack for striking gold following the draft with undrafted free agents.
In 2022, rookie receiver Rashid Shaheed, tight end Juwan Johnson and guard Calvin Throuckmorton played prominent roles in the Saints offense. Deonte Harty, although injured, had previously proved his worth as a return specialist and playmaking receiver as well.
As for past heroes, Undrafted free agent Pierre Thomas signed with the Saints following the ’07 draft. He paced the team in rushing twice, including the 2009 campaign that ended with a Saints Super Bowl victory.
The Saints are looking high and low for any player who can upgrade their roster. Here are a list of draft prospects who seem to fit the profile as Day 3 picks or undrafted free agents:
-CB Starling Thomas V (5-10,194) UAB
Thomas has blistering 4.25 speed. He was targeted 58 times and allowed just 22 receptions. Thomas plays with a chip on his shoulder and technically sound with good leverage. He maintains step for step with receivers and thrives in press coverage. In high school, Thomas was the Alabama state sprint champion, boasting a 10.4 time in the 100 meters.
-LB Nick Herbig (6-2, 240) Wisconsin
A riser who could end up taken as an early Day3 pick, he has 4.65 speed and managed 25 reps on the 225 lbs. bench press test. In 31 games for the Badgers, Herbig accounted for 134 tackles, 80 QB pressures, 45 hurries and 21 sacks. He drops into coverage, locates the ball quickly, provides good pass rush and he packs a wallop as a tackler. Is he a position fit here? It’s unclear but he’s asolid football player.
– DT Moro Ojomo (6-2, 294) Texas
With a 4.98 forty and 29 reps on the bench press, he could be 4th-5th round pick. In 49 college games, he had 75 pressures, 62 hurries and 7.0 sacks. Explosive as a pass rusher and technically sound, Ojomo uses his hands very well, fights through blockersand appears strong enough to hold his ground at the point of attack. He can play 1 tech (A gap) or 5 tech (outside of OT).
– DT Broderic Martin (6-4 1/2, 337) Western Kentucky
Currently with a 6th round grade,Martin received a 77.5 pass rushing grade from Pro Football Focus this past season. He can move well in open space and shows a great first step. In ’22, Thomas played 57% of his snaps in the “A” gap, 41% in the “B” gap, some others over the tackle and a few more on his outside shoulder. That’s versatility that bolsters a roster. PFF also gave him a 71.9 grade against the run. Martin had 39 pressures, 31 hurries and 6.0 sacks at Western Kentucky.
– RB Dwayne McBride (5-10, 209, 4.52) UAB
Perhaps able to sneak into the third round, he had 1,713 yards rushing (7.3 yard average) and 19 touchdowns in 2022. In 480 carries, he broke 170 tackles. McBrode runs with power and is a good pass blocker. In 2022, he led the nation (according to reporter Bruce Feldman) averaging 4.72 yards following contact. A violent, downhill type of runner, he has great acceleration and is very patient.
– TE Luke Schoonmaker (6-5, 251, 4.63) Michigan
Mature with a muscular frame, he will be a 25-year old rookie. Last season, he snared 35 passes for 418 yards and three scores. Schoonmaker can play H-Back. He runs precise routes.
– DT Dante Stills (6-3, 289, 4.85) West Virginia
In 59 games, he totaled 112 pressures, 65 hurries and 23 sacks along with 53 tackles for loss. Stilis plays with lots of energy and provided versatility upfront. He could be a top 100 pick. A relentless rusher with his quickness can help a defense.
– DE Thomas Incoom (6-2, 262, 4.66) Central Michigan
A 5th-6th round projection, he tallied 11.5 sacks last fall. in 25 career games, he had 72 pressures, 39 hurries and 18.5 sacks. His quickness on the snap and closing speed impress. Incoom tackles through the ball, stops the run and shows out with backside pursuit.
– WR Duece Watts (6-2, 193, 4.51) Tulane
A big target, he is also capable of being physical. In 2022, he had 33 catches for 657 yards and eight touchdowns. Watts has flown under the radar. During his three seasons with the Gree Wave, he made 85 catches fir 1,500 yards and 17 scores. Watts catches away from his body, locates an opening in the secondary and gets physical once he catches the ball.
– DE William Fehoko (6-3, 276, 4.82) San Jose State
Pro Football Focus gave him an 87 grade against the run and 90.2 versus the pass. In 47 contests, Fehoko managed 166 pressures, 115 hurries and 26 sacks (12 sacks in 2022). He can line up ias 3 tech or 5 tech. Flexible with violent hands, he has good dip on edge. A valuable pass rusher, he can do a little of everything. He’s currently a 5th round projection.
-WR Michael Wilson (6-2, 215, 4.58) Stanford
A likely early 3rd day pick, he has a 37.5 “vertical and can be a deep threat. Wilson runs precise routes and shows th sability to perform at all three levels. An outstanding gunner on special teams, he also loves to block. His 23 reps on the bench press test was the most by any receiver at the Combine. For his Stanford career, he ended up with 134 catches, 1662 yards and 11 TD’s for an offense one would not consider pass-happy. Wilson is simply solid in all areas. The scouts are very familiar with him.
– DB Jarrick Bernard-Converse (6-0, 205, 4.53) LSU
The product of Evangel Christian in Shreveport had a good showing at the Senior Bowl. In 61 college games (Oklahoma State and LSU), he racked up 241 tackles. The former All-Big 12 selection has good ball skills, is very aggressive and tackles reliably. He’s a strong defender in space and plays with lots of confidence. He could be a late 3rd day pick who ends up hard to cut if he proves capable of playing safety and cornerback while providing special teams value.
– OT Mason Brooks (6-6, 315, 5.25) Ole Miss
A 5th-6th round projection, the transfer from Western Kentucky (where he protected QB Bailey Zappe) is experienced. In 55 games (2,188 snaps), he allowed 6.0 sacks and just four other QB hits. He plays with leverage packs a violent punch, uses good hand placement, anchors against bull rusher,s and recognizes both stunts and twists.
-OT John Ojukwu (6-5, 309, 5.24) Boise State
A 6th-7th round projection, he played 52 college games. In 2022 with 860 snaps, Ojukwuallowed no sacks and only two QB hits. He can turn and seal inside. Ojukwu sets up quickly, anchors against bigger opponents in the middle and mirrors outside rushers. He plays with power, nasty, can pul and get to 2nd level, Spent 2 seasons at RT and 3 years at LT.
-TE Zack Kuntz (6-8, 255, 4.55) Old Dominion
The transfer from Penn State has a 40″ vertical and 10’8” standing long jump. He can also take the top off of a defense. He has a quick release off of the line and shows good burst. Scouts want him to be a mismatch. Kuntz makes tough catches and adjusts to throw well but must improve blocking to be more than a situational piece. He has a wide catching radius and the body of an NBA power forward. A 6th-7th round projection, his physical gifts are similar to Jimmy Graham.
– LB Carlton Martial (5-9, 210, 4.65) Troy
The former walk-on is a real underdog story. He became the 2022 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. He is the all-time FBS leading tackler with 578 tackles. When you look at him, you might see a player who is too small, but don’t sell him short (pun intended). He is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker who excels was a read-and-react player. Martial also lays down the law (yep, I did it again) as a Violent tackler. He will light up the ball carrier. In one game against Army back in November, he recorded 22 tackles. A special teams dynamo, he may force his way onto a roster. He evokes memoriers of the great Sam Mills.
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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…