New Orleans Saints training camp begins this week, signaling that the return of football is just around the corner. WWL 870 AM commentator and college football expert Mike Detillier answers questions lingering on the minds of Who Dats. In the first half of the two-part interview with the NFL draft guru, Detillier sizes up the Black and Gold’s 2019 NFL Draft class and what role their first pick will be expected to have in the regular season.
1. Let’s start off with the 2019 NFL Draft in general, did the first round pretty much go as you expected?
Well there are certain elements that fell like I thought it would, but there are always surprises with player selections. It’s the intrigue of the draft-everyone has different opinions about players.
For me, it was clear cut that there were 22 1st round pick grades and then from 23-48 it was real close. The shocker for me was QB. Drew Lock not going in Round 1. This is a quarterback-driven league and he has all the tools. He has a chance to be a starter and a good starter in the NFL. The Broncos stole him in Round 2.
The other was OT Jawaan Taylor from Florida and he went to Jacksonville with the 35th overall pick. I don’t see how he lasted that long. Some were concerned about his weight issues, but he was a dominating player upfront for the Gators.
2. It seems Sean Payton and the front office just can’t let draft picks for the following year sit in their pocket, can they?
It’s part of their persona. It’s “The Future is Now” mentality. Folks remember that George Allen did that with the Los Angeles Rams and then with the Washington Redskins. George collected older players. Payton wants certain players from the draft that can help him win now. I don’t have an issue with what the Saints are doing, especially when you can get quality players. And I liked the 2019 draft class more than the one in 2018. We spoke about that a year ago. I liked Marcus Davenport a lot, but picks that make it in the NFL, but don’t help your team does nothing to make your organization better.
3. Were you surprised that the Saints would go for a center with their first selection in the draft, and then trade up to get Texas A & M lineman Erik McCoy?
Not really. We were talking about this 6 to 7 picks before they traded up and there was a rumor the Saints were trying to trade up and I said I thought a trade up would be for Erik McCoy.
Some folks don’t realize just how good Max Unger was with the Saints. He’s the best center this organization has had in 20 years. He was that good.
Those are big shoes to fill.
Nick Easton is a solid center/guard, but he isn’t as talented as Unger was. And he’s had some injury issues. Nick gives this team versatility, he’s a good pass blocker and very smart, but talent-wise Unger is a Pro-Bowl player.
Jimbo Fisher, the head coach of Texas A&M, told me in the summer that McCoy was the best player on his team. A three-year starter at center, Erik gave up zero quarterback sacks last season and one during his career. He went up against the duo from Clemson in Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, the guy I rated the top player in the 2019 draft in Quinnen Williams from Alabama and Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons. All four went in Round One in April.
McCoy is a good run blocker and watch the LSU game vs A&M. They went after LSU’s inside. Trayveon Williams rushed for 204 yards versus the Tigers. He’s a quality player, very smart, tough physically and mentally and while he will need to upgrade his technical skills, he’s a big-time player.
4. Does McCoy go into the season as the starting center?
I would be surprised to see Nick Easton beat him out. Erik is a player and he won’t watch for long on the sidelines.
5. The Saints made another move to snag Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, targeting a position I thought they would use their first pick in the draft on. Do you see the Gator contributing immediately?
Yes, he’s a great fit for the Saints. The Saints play nickel/quarters coverage about 75% of the time in the NFL. You rarely see a team in “base” defenses. Chauncey played cornerback, in the slot, free safety, strong safety, like a linebacker on the line of scrimmage and Florida had him rushing off the edge like an outside linebacker.
First thing is Gardner-Johnson is “football smart” and he has excellent football instincts. He has a feeling for where things are going to break down on the field. Tough guy, good open-field tackler, and he’s a ballhawk. He fills that role that the team thought Kurt Coleman was brought in to do last season though he was disappointing in that role.
It didn’t take long for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to make his presence felt early on in practices. He’s going to play and play early for the Saints in their 3-safety alignment and on special teams.
6. During the WWL 870 AM Draft Program, there was a lot of discussion about Notre Dame tight end Alize Mack’s lack of “heart”. Do you see Mack sticking around or being another draftee discarded on the final preseason cutdown?
With Mack I saw a lack of focus and commitment, especially early on at Notre Dame. Athletically he is similar to Jared Cook. Now, he has to go out and prove it.
He has talent and he’s a good fit for the Saints offense. We all mature at different levels and age-wise. The Saints brought him and worked him out with TE Coach Dan Campbell. Dan was one tough guy in the NFL at tight end and he signed off on Alize. It’s in Mack’s corner. He is athletic, he has good hands, he can run and stretch the deep middle offensively. He is a willing blocker, but at times he is not consistently effective doing it. Some guys are so talented they don’t realize you really have to work at it. Mack is very talented and he’s a more mature player now than early on at Notre Dame. He caught 36 passes last season for the Irish and came out early for the draft.
7. Idaho linebacker Kaden Eliss displayed a tremendous amount of moxie in his post-draft interview. Eliss is pegged to be a special teams player but could you see him cracking into the Black and Gold’s linebacker corps?
Kaden is an interesting player in watching him. Some games Idaho dropped him back in coverage a lot and other games they rushed him off the edge. He’s smart, he has great genetics with his dad playing in the NFL for a long time in Luther Elliss-who is now Idaho’s defensive line coach and his younger brother, Christian, is a stud middle linebacker for Idaho.
Kaden is an excellent overall athlete. Former prep quarterback, who came to Idaho as a “gray shirt” and waited on a scholarship and then became a 4-year starter for Idaho. What I see from Elliss is a player who runs the field well, very instinctive to the ball, gets off the edge very well, drops back well in coverage, and he was also used as a flex tight end. He has to make his mark on special teams. Good athlete and he’s versatile. But early on his special teams play will be paramount to make the team.