There’s not a game on tap until early August yet the last week in April is one of the most important in the entire NFL, a time when unsuccessful franchises lay the foundation down for the rebuilding process while perennially successful teams like the New England Patriots simply reload their roster.
And there’s not a better person to talk with about the draft than south central Louisiana’s very own Mike Detillier, author of the definitive 200+ page NFL Draft book, WWL 870 AM radio host, and now contributor with ESPN.
Fortunately one of America’s leading draft gurus was kind enough to spend a few minutes taking questions about the what we can expect to hear from the draft podium on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
In the first installment of this two part pre-draft interview, Mike Detillier offers his thoughts on the first overall pick, where the Saints need to go with their two selections in the first round, the probability of the Malcolm Butler trade happening, and whether the Saints front office is going to be hunting for a successor to Drew Brees in the 2017 NFL Draft.
MB: Let’s start with the number one pick in the draft. Have you had a change of heart on your earlier prediction that Texas A&M Defensive End Myles Garrett will be the first selection?
MD: The Browns can’t overthink this. It’s Myles Garrett from Texas A&M. Period.
MB: The New Orleans Saints had a fairly active off season but aside from a certain trade, nothing too spectacular. Has General Manager Mickey Loomis significantly improved the roster during the free agency period?
MD: I wouldn’t say the front office significantly improved the roster in free agency.
They got help at guard with Larry Warford-who is a really good run blocker and a pretty good pass protector too, to replace Jahri Evans.
I think a lot of A.J. Klein. He’s a good player, very smart and instinctive to the ball. A.J.’s a good player at middle linebacker. Ted Ginn, Jr. fills the “speed” role that Devery Henderson did for years and he can certainly help in the return game, but he is just part of the puzzle to fill the production of Brandin Cooks.
Alex Okafor can help at defensive end, but he has fought injury issues the last two seasons, the same can be said about MLB Manti Te’o. They are “role” players on this team, which has a place, but really the best players are Warford- a really good NFL starting guard and I think highly of A.J. Klein as a starter inside.
MB: Where do you see the Saints going with the 11th overall draft pick?
MD: Before I went to print it came down to Tennessee DE Derek Barnett and the fast-rising OLB/ILB Hassan Reddick from Temple.
The Saints need to get a presence to influence the quarterback off the edge. Barnett is a favorite for me and Reddick is versatile and talented and he played defensive end in college, as a standup outside linebacker and then he went to the Senior Bowl and was terrific when they moved him to inside linebacker. I’m sticking with Derek Barnett.
MB: Going back to the big move the Saints executed with their favorite trading partner in the northeast, was moving wide receiver Brandin Cooks an inevitable move after last season?
MD: Yes, I thought it would happen. His eventual money demands and his being critical on how the offense was being run in a blowout win versus the Rams told you his story. He wanted out. He knew which button to push to get out of New Orleans. But the Saints didn’t get full value for him.
MB: Who got the better end of the swap: the Saints or the Patriots?
MD: Without a doubt, the Patriots. They get a young speed wide-out who can open up the deep areas of the field for Tom Brady and they give up the 32nd overall pick and a 3rd rounder and get Cooks and while they lost the 4th rounder from New Orleans due to the DeflateGate punishment-they did get back the 4th rounder they acquired from Seattle. Right now, there’s no question the Patriots got the better of the deal, but for the Saints it was the best deal on the table.
Most teams were playing hardball with the Saints knowing they were trying to deal him off.
MB: Do you think there’s a second component of that trade around the corner involving cornerback Malcolm Butler and the same first round draft pick the Pats shipped over or do you think the Saints will make a less ambitious deal to land Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman?
MD: I would pass on Richard Sherman. I firmly believe the Saints deal for Malcolm Butler and give back the 32nd overall pick in Round One to New England in exchange. Need is the worst negotiator and right now the Saints NEED a quality starting cornerback and Butler is that and they also need to address that issue via the draft too.
MB: In the event the Saints stand “pat” with both first rounders, which position do you see them targeting with the last selection of the first round?
MD: Well, assuming they get an edge pass rusher at defensive end or outside linebacker with the first pick and if the Butler deal fell apart then no question it would be cornerback.
MB: New Orleans really haven’t had much luck snagging that heir apparent to Drew Brees. Do you think they invest a 2nd or 3rd round pick on a quarterback or do they have enough confidence in number Nine to stick around a couple more seasons?
MD: What would selecting a quarterback early do to help a head coach who knows he needs to win now and get back into the playoff hunt in 2017? Not at all.
The Saints need help at defensive end , cornerback-even if they deal for Butler, a young right tackle, depth at halfback, outside linebacker, safety and they need someone either at wide receiver or tight end to fill in the catches that they lost with Cooks.
You have your insurance policy for Drew Brees in Chase Daniel in 2017. Coaches want immediate help. I could see them draft one late, but there are other need areas that have to be addressed, more so than quarterback.
MB: Aside from defensive end and cornerback, what do you believe is the third most important need position on this team?
MD: Either outside linebacker or a hybrid tight end-like Ole Miss TE. Evan Engram.
Part 2 of the Mike Detillier interview will run Tuesday.