New Orleans Saints new head coach Dennis Allen speaks during a news conference at the NFL football team's training facility, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, in Metairie, La. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

The New Orleans Saints, Mississippi’s favorite pro football team, have two first round draft choices to use or trade in tonight’s NFL draft.

I say: Use them. Use them wisely. The Saints’ future depends on them. The Saints have a Super Bowl-calibre defense and a chance to go deep in the playoffs with a much improved offense. And that’s possible if they draft wisely.

Keep in mind, the Saints also have the No. 49 pick in the second round and the No. 98 pick in the third round. The opportunity is there, with some shrewd selections, to get at least three key starters. 

So you might ask: Who should the Saints pick? What positions?


Rick Cleveland

That’s what many draft experts predict, but, no, I wouldn’t. At least not early. Jameis Winston, first overall pick of the 2015 draft, has as much — or more — upside than any of the quarterbacks available. The Saints were 4-2 and about to be 5-2 last season when Winston went down with a knee injury. Winston had thrown 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. This he did despite not having a single top-shelf NFL wide receiver. It says here Winston is good enough to win with — if he continues the improvement he was making under Sean Payton.

So, let’s get Winston some help, preferably a tackle to protect him and a deep threat to catch his long balls.

The Saints No. 1 priority should be a wide receiver to complement Michael Thomas, who will be back after missing all of last season. Jameson Williams of Alabama would be my first choice, although he may be long gone by the time the Saints choose. He’s the deep threat the Saints don’t have. 

Some will suggest the Saints package the two first round picks and move up higher in order to pick the best wide receiver they can get. I wouldn’t. I believe they can get a high value wideout with the No. 16 pick. If not Williams, then perhaps Chris Olave or Garrett Wilson of Ohio State. The Saints are said to really like Treylon Burkes of Arkansas, who should be available with the No. 19 pick. Burkes has drawn comparisons to the 49ers’ Debo Samuel. The Saints could use a Debo. Who couldn’t?

The Saints could also use an offensive tackle. Indeed, they desperately need one. Terron Armstead, the great but oft-injured left tackle, has moved on to Miami, leaving a gaping hole. My guess is the Saints will move Ryan Ramczyk over from right tackle to replace Armstead. Even so, they still need a tackle. 

Mississippi State’s Charles Cross? I’d take him in a heartbeat if he’s available. But he probably will be gone by the time the Saints pick.

Keep this name in mind: Tyler Smith of Tulsa. The Saints are said to love him. And he could slip all the way to that No. 49 pick of the second round. Many draft experts project Smith as a quality starter two or three years down the road. I am told the Saints believe he is more than that.

Wide receiver and offensive tackle are definitely the Saints’ most dire needs. That said, all bets are off if Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, the physical freak of this draft, happens to slip all the way down to the No. 16 pick. I just don’t believe new Saints head coach, Dennis Allen, a defensive guy, would pass on a 6-foot-6, 340-pound monster with an 81-inch wingspan who runs like a linebacker. Wherever he goes, Davis will command double-teams. In the Saints’ case, that would leave ends Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport with one man to beat to get to the quarterback. It would also create wide lanes through which Demario Davis could blitz.

Jordan Davis could be for the Saints what Aaron Donald has been for the Rams. In other words, you have to take him if he’s available. Some mock drafts predict he will be.

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral runs upfield in open space during the fourth quarter of a NCAA college football Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against the Louisville Cardinals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. Credit: Austin McAfee/CSM (via AP Images)

Some other players to keep in mind:

  • Jason Tolbert, wide receiver, South Alabama. Tolbert, who many experts see dropping into the third round, could be the steal of this draft. He is a big-time talent who will make a difference for some team. If all the Saints’ wide receiver preferences are gone when they pick in the first round, they could do a whole lot worse than Tolbert in the second.
  • Nakobe Dean, linebacker, Georgia (and Horn Lake). Some believe Dean is undersized for an NFL linebacker. I say he’s a tackling machine. He definitely does not fit the Saints biggest needs, but he’s going to be a play-making All Pro for somebody.
  • Matt Corral, quarterback, Ole Miss. Again, I don’t think the Saints should use one of those top three draft picks for a quarterback. Corral won’t last until the Saints pick in the third. But if he does, you almost have to take him. Stranger things have happened.
  • Dameon Pierce, running back, Florida. With Alvin Kamara facing a possible multi-game suspension and Mark Ingram getting on in age for a running back, the Saints might use a mid-to-late round draft choice to pick a running back. Pierce might be that guy. He reminds me of Kamara in this respect: He is highly talented, runs with a burst, and was terribly underused as a college player.  He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and scored 16 touchdowns, despite only 100 carries as a senior.

Bottom line: The Saints need another draft like the one five years ago. Remember 2017? The Saints got cornerback Marshon Lattimore, tackle Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams and running back Kamara, all in the first three rounds. With a similar draft in 2022 — not likely but certainly possible — the Saints become an instant Super Bowl contender.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.