Saints 2018 NFL Draft Big Board: Goedert and Jackson perfect fits, ranking 11 options

One great draft class: That's all it takes to turn a perpetually mediocre team into a championship contender. As Exhibit A, look no further than the New Orleans Saints and what they did almost exactly a year ago.

Following three straight 7-9 seasons, the Saints finally rebounded in 2017 by winning 11 games and seemingly booking their spot in the NFC title game before they fell victim to the "Minneapolis Miracle." So, what changed in New Orleans? They drafted well. The Saints landed superstar cornerback Marshon Lattimore, superstar running back Alvin Kamara, stud tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and very good safety Marcus Williams in the 2017 NFL Draft. And that made the difference. 

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But there's still work to be done to keep pace with the Eagles and Rams in the NFC. With that in mind, it's time to figure out who the Saints should add to their already stacked roster in next week's draft. 

As it stands, the Saints aren't scheduled to pick until No. 27, a consequence of their 11-win season. With that pick, expect the Saints to address one of the following positions, all of which can be labeled as needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Tight end
  • Defensive line
  • Linebacker
  • Wide receiver

The Saints don't need a starting quarterback with Drew Brees locked in for two more seasons, but they need to begin planning for life after Brees, who turned 39 in January. Taking a developmental prospect shouldn't be out of the question. Tight end has been a need ever since they traded away Jimmy Graham and the signing of Benjamin Watson shouldn't change that. They could use another defensive end to pair with the dominant Cameron Jordan. The bottom line is that they need more guys who can attack the quarterback. Linebacker could use an upgrade. Even after stealing Cameron Meredith away from the Bears, the Saints could benefit by adding depth to the receiving group, which is spearheaded by the great Michael Thomas, but lacking a reliable No. 2 receiver. After all, Meredith is working his way back from a significant knee injury that included a torn ACL. But to be clear, the addition of Meredith makes receiver a lower priority than the other positions listed and the most-likely scenario sees the Saints address receiver after the first round.

OK so, who should the Saints draft with their first pick? Leading our Saints-specific big board is quarterback Lamar Jackson. Right behind him is quarterback Mason Rudolph

Taking a quarterback in the first round might not be a popular move considering the Saints are in the middle of their Super Bowl window right now, but both quarterbacks are way too promising for the Saints to pass up if they're somehow still sitting there at No. 27. In Jackson, the Saints would be getting a former Heisman Trophy winner who looks to be ideally suited for today's NFL considering he comes from a pro-style system while his skillset features incredible athleticism, good arm talent, and tremendous poise in the pocket. I find it tough to believe that Jackson will slip all the way to No. 27 -- I don't see him getting past the Patriots at No. 23. -- but if he does, the Saints should pounce on him. If he has the chance to learn from Sean Payton and Drew Brees for two seasons, he has a legitimate chance to be a star.

As for Rudolph, he's regarded by most as the sixth-best QB prospect in this draft -- one spot behind Jackson -- but he also features clear upside. Our draft writer, though, Chris Trapasso, actually ranked him as the top quarterback on his big board, even comparing him to Dak Prescott. If the Saints can get a quarterback of Prescott's caliber that late in the first round, they should pull the trigger.

Two quarterbacks lead my big board for the Saints, but if they both get picked before No. 27 or if the Saints decide that they want to use their first-round pick on a player who'll help them win in the short-term -- after all, Payton doesn't sound like the biggest fan of this year's crop of quarterbacks --  there should be some intriguing options among the non-quarterbacks. So, let's take a look at the 11 prospects populating the Saints' big board.

1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

For all of the unfair criticism that's been directed Jackson's way during this draft season, the fact remains that this is a quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy, features tremendous athleticism and good arm talent, comes from a pro-style system, and seems like the perfect quarterback for today's NFL. He might need a year or two to learn on the bench, but who better to learn from than Payton and Brees? If Jackson drops to No. 27, the Saints can't pass on their quarterback of the future -- not with 39-year-old Brees under contract for only two more seasons.

2. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Rudolph has been overshadowed by the top-five quarterbacks in this draft, but he shouldn't be overlooked as a first-round pick, which he'll likely become. Like Jackson, Rudolph needs a season or two to adjust to the NFL from the sidelines, but like Jackson, he features clear upside. Learning behind Brees and Payton is really the perfect situation for him. By drafting Rudolph, the Saints would put their quarterback succession plan in place by grooming a quarterback who's been compared to Dak Prescott.

3. Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

The Saints want to bolster their pass rush. They can't get Bradley Chubb, who's a top-five pick. The next best pass rusher is Davenport, who racked up 8.5 sacks in his final college season. The reason Davenport is ranked behind Jackson and Rudolph is that there doesn't seem to be a likely scenario that sees Davenport drop to No. 27. So, if the Saints want him, they'll have to trade up to get him, and it would likely be costly. Still, if they're in any position to draft him, they really wouldn't be doing anything wrong by taking him. He would turn an already good defense into a dominant one, assuming he can cash in on his potential.

4. Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

It's the same kind of story with Landry, who's probably the third-best pass rusher in the draft. In 2016, Landry's upside was on full display, when he notched 16.5 sacks. Like Davenport, it doesn't seem like Landry will make it to No. 27, so the Saints would need to be willing to part ways with draft ammunition to move up to get him. It might be worth it, especially if it's only a few spots. The Saints could use another defensive end to line up along with Cameron Jordan.

5. Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

If the Saints do stay put at No. 27 and if the quarterbacks are off the board, the Saints should draft Dallas Goedert, who is the best tight end in this draft and has been compared to one of the game's best tight ends, Zach Ertz. He racked up 18 touchdowns over his final two college seasons. Since the days of Jimmy Graham, the Saints have been looking for a capable tight end to pair with Brees. In 2017, Coby Fleener led the tight end group with 22 catches for 295 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints need more from that position. Furthermore, while the Saints won't be able to get the best pass rusher or best quarterback at No. 27, they can get the best tight end because it seems unlikely that another team will take one before they're on the clock. So, they should get tremendous value here. Oh, and the Saints have met with him.

6. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

If the Saints are looking to beef up their defensive line, getting a talent like Payne certainly wouldn't be the worst outcome. Payne is often regarded as the second-best defensive tackle prospect behind Vita Vea and it's certainly no guarantee that he'll be on the board when the Saints are on the clock. Payne ranked 16th overall on Pete Prisco's big board, so getting him at No. 27 would be an absolute steal. Remember, the Saints showed interest in Ndamukong Suh, hosting him for a visit, which means they're definitely in the market for a defensive tackle. Payne might not rack up sacks, but he'd bolster the Saints' run defense. Last season, the Saints allowed 4.4 yards per carry, which ranked 28th.

7. Taven Bryan, Florida, DT

Unlike Payne, Bryan can lineup on both the inside and outside. In his final season at Florida, he registered four sacks to go along with six tackles for a loss. Prisco ranked him 18th on his big board. Though Prisco shot down the J.J. Watt comparison, the fact that Bryan's name is even being mentioned in the same sentence as Watt says a lot:

Some scouts have compared him to J.J. Watt, but he isn't that explosive. He is a nice player who can play anywhere on a line. 

That versatility would be key for the Saints, who need help on both the exterior and interior of their defensive line.

8. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

The Saints won't be able to get the top linebacker prospects like Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds, but they might be able to get Vander Esch, who checks in at No. 12 on Prisco's big board:

This kid has been compared to Luke Kuechly by some scouts. That's really high praise. I expect him off the board early.

That's right. He's being compared to Kuechly. The Saints might not need to take a linebacker in the first round, but they can't pretend like they couldn't use an upgrade within a group that features A.J. Klein, Demario Davis, Manti Te'o, Craig Robertson, and Alex Anzalone. They've got some bodies there, but no real studs.

9. Courtland Sutton, WR, Southern Methodist

No, the Saints don't necessarily need a receiver in the first round, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. Michael Thomas is locked in as the Saints' WR1. He's a star. If Cameron Meredith can recover fully from his torn ACL (among other damage suffered in a serious knee injury last August), he should settle in nicely as the Saints' No. 2 receiver. In 2016, primarily catching passes from a bunch of Bears backup quarterbacks, Meredith caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, they'll have Ted Ginn Jr. coming out of the slot. That'd be a mighty fine trio. 

But there's no guarantee that Meredith will be completely healthy. And so, the Saints shouldn't rule out drafting a receiver if one of the best ones falls to them. That brings us to Sutton, who is slowly encroaching on Calvin Ridley's status as the draft's top receiver. In his final two college seasons, Sutton racked up 2,331 yards and 22 touchdowns. 

10. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

Hubbard is a defensive end who notched seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss in his final college season. He might not be flashy, but if the Saints are desperate to upgrade their pass rush without trading up, he might be the best remaining defensive end prospect left on the board. Plus, he's unlikely to be there when the Saints are picking again in the second round. 

He could also be an intriguing pick if the Saints are able to find someone wants to trade up into the late first-round and give them an early second-round pick as part of a package of picks. If that happens, Hubbard could be in play for the Saints in early portion of the second round.

11. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

The Saints don't need another cornerback, but you can never have enough good ones in today's pass-happy NFL. Jackson is a ball magnet, evidenced by his eight interceptions last season. Pairing Jackson with Lattimore could give the Saints a top-tier cornerback tandem in the years to come. But Jackson checks in at the final spot on the big board because cornerback would be more of a luxury pick rather than a pick of need for the Saints.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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