The Green Bay Packers and their fans will be cheering for two teams each week during the 2018 NFL season: the green and gold, who will play their 100th season of professional football this year, and whatever team plays against the New Orleans Saints.
The Packers acquired the Saints’ first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft this April, when general manager Brian Gutekunst traded back from the 14th pick to the 27th selection on the day of round one of the 2018 selection meeting. Therefore, the Packers will enter round one with two picks, something Ted Thompson never did. In fact, Thompson only made two first-round selections once, in 2009 when he traded back up into the first to select Clay Matthews.
The Packers are certainly hoping that their own first-rounder ends up being #32, which would be the result of Green Bay winning the Super Bowl, but they also need to hope for a surprisingly poor season from the Saints, which would lead to an earlier pick coming over in that trade. In other words, the worse the Saints do, the better the Packers’ extra pick will be.
Let’s take a look at the moves that the Saints made this offseason as they look to build on a 2017 season that saw them win the NFC South and nearly advance to the NFC Championship Game (which they would have done, if not for Stefon Diggs’ miracle touchdown).
Re-signed: DE Alex Okafor, FB Zach Line, LB Mike Mauti, DE George Johnson, P Tom Morstead
Losses: WR Willie Snead (Ravens), QB Chase Daniel (Bears), OL Senio Kelemete (Texans), S Keny Vaccaro (unsigned), S Rafael Bush (Bills), CB Delvin Breaux (CFL), TE Coby Fleener (released, unsigned)
The Saints basically swapped restricted free agent receivers this year, signing Meredith to an offer sheet and letting Snead walk after he signed an offer sheet with the Ravens. Snead, a three-year veteran, had about 70 receptions and over 100 targets in each of his first two full years with the Saints, but his production dipped to just eight catches last year as he was squeezed out of the lineup. New Orleans is clearly counting on continued development from Michael Thomas and a bounce-back year from Meredith, who missed all of last year following a breakout year in 2016 with the Bears.
New Orleans also jettisoned Fleener and his albatross contract, bringing back Watson on a relatively cheap deal. The addition of Bushrod will help improve the depth on the offensive line, essentially replacing the role that Kelemete played as a spot starter at multiple positions.
On defense, the Saints signed former Jets linebacker Demario Davis to lead the middle of the defense. Davis has been a productive tackler (90 or more total tackles in all five years as a starter) who can provide some pressure on blitzes up the middle (five sacks last year). Interestingly, he spent his first four years with the Jets, then signed a one-year deal with the Browns in 2016 before coming back to New York for 2017. He put up a career year last season, though that may have been helped by some friendly coaching that put him in places to succeed. He can likely be a useful starter, but he hardly projects as an elite off-ball linebacker, and $8 million per year for three years is a pretty steep price.
New Orleans also brought back another familiar face in Robinson, who had a bit of a bounce-back year in Philly. Robinson was bad in New Orleans previously, and spent much of 2016 hurt while with the Colts. He’ll turn 31 before Sunday of week one and just got four years at $5 million per year with an $8 million guarantee. That’s too rich for an inconsistent corner in my opinion. Davis is a likely candidate to start at middle linebacker this year,
On the back end, Vaccaro had played primarily the nickel position last year after rookie Marcus Williams took over a starting job; he remains on the market as part of the inexplicably quiet market for safeties this year.
All told, the Saints made a pair of big moves this offseason — Davis is a starting linebacker who should be solid for a few seasons, while Meredith is at best a #2 guy who’s coming off ACL surgery. Outside of that, there are a few role players and an aging corner who appears to have been overpaid - perhaps a slight net improvement overall.
2018 Draft Class
Round 1 (#14 overall): DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
Round 3 (#91): WR Tre’Quan Smith, Central Florida
Round 4 (#127): OT Rick Leonard, Florida State
Round 5 (#164): S Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin
Round 6 (#189): CB Kamrin Moore, Boston College
Round 6 (#201): RB Boston Scott, Louisiana Tech
Round 7 (#245): C Will Clapp, LSU
Of course, the big move of the draft was for first-round defensive end Marcus Davenport, who was commonly projected to the Packers with that 14th pick. Davenport is a big, physical prospect with excellent physical measurements, and a player who is frequently tagged with “boom-or-bust” potential.
Smith comes with good size and speed at 6-foot-2, 203 pounds, and a 4.49 40, but his change-of-direction skills are lacking as shown by a 4.50-second time in the short shuttle. His college reception numbers were consistent, between 50 and 60 each of his three seasons, but his yards-per-reception number and touchdowns spiked massively in 2017. He’ll likely compete for Meredith for targets opposite Thomas this year.
The remainder of the draft class looks like projects. Jamerson, a former Badger, tested well with a 4.40 40 and 25 reps on the bench. He’ll be a candidate to play early on special teams and contribute down the road in the slot and at safety. Scott could contribute in the first few weeks of the season while Mark Ingram is suspended. He’s a smaller back at just 5-foot-7, but his 4.40 speed and lateral agility numbers. Leonard is likely to be a reserve to back up starters Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk.
The big questions around this class will be how early Davenport and Smith can contribute. Both can fill some needs on the roster, but their development will need to be quick to help supplement their position groups on the Saints’ roster.
In this writer’s judgment, the Saints took a few small steps forward, but will largely be relying on the continued development of the young players on their roster. This is a potent offense, thanks to Thomas, rookie of the year Alvin Kamara, and an aging but still excellent Drew Brees. The defense features a pair of star players in Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore, but the remainder of the unit will hardly strike fear into opposing offensive coordinators. Another middle-of-the-pack finish on defense under Dennis Allen seems like a reasonable expectation, which should keep New Orleans from taking a step forward towards a first-round bye in the NFC.
However, this is a team that made enough moves to likely remain a favorite in their division on paper. If no serious injuries or unexpected circumstances strike, the Packers can probably expect the Saints’ draft pick to come somewhere in the 20s next April.