By Charlie Campbell - @draftcampbell
Payton Turner, DE, Houston - Round 1
The Saints tried to trade up into the top 10 during the 2021 NFL Draft, as we reported, to take South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. There were also reports that Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome was their target if they stayed at No. 28, but Cleveland took Newsome in front of them. We also reported during the week before the draft that Turner was a rising prospect expected to go no later than the second round, but it was still a surprise when he ended up being a first-round pick. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder has a good skill set with upside, but is a project.
Turner is developing pass rusher and has the potential to grow in the NFL. He has the strength to fight off offensive tackles and can use his power and length to push around finesse offensive tackles. With a surprising burst, Turner can close on the quarterback when he gets free, and when he arrives at the signal-caller, he puts them down hard. Turner will lay some violent hits that really beat up on the quarterback, but not in a dirty way. Turner is a tough fighter who has imposing size and physicality.
Turner may never be a big sack producer in the NFL because he has some stiffness and lacks pass rushing moves. He could struggle to shed blocks from bigger offensive tackles who won't be overwhelmed by his strength. Improving his pass-rushing moves by adding a club and rip move to the inside would make him more dangerous. In college, he excelled versus some bad offensive tackles who were not NFL candidates, so he will need to develop to be effective against a huge jump in competition.
In the ground game, Turner is tough as he has the size and strength to set the edge. He can get in trouble when he stands up too high, but when he maintains his leverage, he is tough to move and will maintain his gap integrity. Turner is naturally tall, so staying low to play with better leverage is always going to be a challenge for him. If he improves his leverage after some pro coaching, he should be a good run defender to set the edge in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
"He plays tough; I'll give him that," said an area scout. "The comp for him is Marcus Davenport as both were/are very raw. Payton plays more physical, while Davenport wasn't as stiff and had more pass rush. I think bigger offensive tackles in the NFL will be able to handle Payton some, just like they do Davenport. Payton is too stiff to rush from the inside, but I do like him as a Day 2 guy that could turn into a solid pro."
With the Saints losing Trey Hendrickson in free agency, they were thin at defensive end. Cam Jordan is aging, while Davenport has never played up to expectations. After some grooming time, I think Turner could develop into a solid starter for New Orleans.
None: not enough picks
Tre'quan Smith, WR
Ryan Ramczyk, OT
Sheldon Rankins, DT
Hau-Oli Kikaha, LB
Khairi Fortt, LB
Kenny Vaccaro, S
Most Likely To Bust
Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame - Round 4
Like many quarterback gurus, Sean Payton has been a quarterback collector of sorts over the years, so following Drew Brees' retirement, it was not a surprise that the Saints drafted a quarterback. Taking Book in the fourth round, however, was unexpected becayse many had projected him as a late-round pick. For Book to grade out in the fourth round, New Orleans essentially saw him as a backup-caliber player. While Book has third-string potential, he does not have the skill set to beat out Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill. Book is undersized, lacks a powerful arm, and is not a running threat. I could see Book being stuck as a third-string quarterback for a time before Payton eventually looks for an upgrade with more upside and starting potential. It would not be surprising if taking Book ended up being a waste of a fourth-round pick.
Zach Baun, LB
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S
Rick Leonard, OT
Alex Anzalone, LB
Vonn Bell, S
Stephone Anthony, LB
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB
Terron Armstead, OT
Potential Boom Pick
Paulson Adeno, CB, Stanford - Round 3
The Saints wanted Jaycee Horn and then Greg Newsome, but after missing out on themm they waited until the third round before taking Adebo. If Adebo had returned to Stanford in 2020 and showed improvement in eye discipline and not biting on double moves, he could have had first-round potential for the 2021 NFL Draft. Adebo sat out the 2020 season though, so there is no evidence if he corrected his critical flaws. He slid to the third round because of the uncertainty, but he definitely has boom-pick potential.
There is a lot to like about Adebo (6-1, 190) for the NFL because he could have the skill set of a starting outside corner with the ability to defend big receivers. Cornerbacks with Adebo's height, length, coverage ability, and ball skills are hard to find.
The first attribute that stands out about Adebo is his tremendous ball skills. He does a superb job of playing the ball in air, using his long arms and hands to knock passes away or snatch them for interceptions. Adebo does a phenomenal job of avoiding contact and not hitting receivers, going for the ball rather than relying on getting physical to break up passes. That leads to Adebo avoiding pass interference penalties while making big plays for his defense. He has good hands and the ball skills to be a dangerous interception threat.
Adebo is an aggressive corner who drives hard on routes. While he isn't a burner, he has a burst to eat up ground and close on receivers. Adebo's height and length makes him an excellent matchup option against big receivers. Jump balls are no problem for him, and receivers are hard pressed to make a catch over Adebo. He is a valuable red-zone corner and will be an asset to take on the big wideouts who are often No. 1 receivers for their teams. For the most part, Adebo is a willing tackler in the ground game.
Adebo has some areas to improve for the NFL, and the big issue that he should seek to fix is playing with greater discipline. His natural inclination is to be aggressive and jump the route to make a play on the ball, allowing opponents to exploit his aggressiveness with double moves - see his outing against Central Florida in 2019. Eye discipline and not biting on double moves are the big issues Adebo has to improve as a pro. A cornerback who gives up long touchdowns is very troubling for NFL coaches, so Adebo will have to fix this issue in practice to become a starter. Because he skipped the 2020 season, whether he has improved on his issues is simply unknown.
After cutting Janoris Jenkins, the Saints had a big hole at corner. and Adebo could end up being the long-term starter to go with Marshon Lattimore. If he can earn that spot, Adebo is in a good position for success because Lattimore will draw the No. 1 receiver, which will give Adebo the No. 2 receivers consistently. If Adebo can fix his discipline and vision issues, he has real boom-pick potential for the Saints.
Adam Trautman, TE
Erik McCoy, C
Marcus Davenport, DE
Marshon Lattimore, CB
Michael Thomas, WR
Andrus Peat, OT
Brandin Cooks, WR
John Jenkins, DT
Future Depth Player
Pete Werner, LB, Ohio State - Round 2
After losing Alex Anzalone in free agency, the Saints were in the market for some linebacker help to go next to Demario Davis. Werner was a solid, but not dominant, linebacker over his time at Ohio State. He contributed in run defense, but was not a tackling machine and was not a standout pass-coverage linebacker or blitzer. Therefore, Werner could end up being more of a rotational linebacker behind Davis and Zack Baun. Baun showed more special ability in coverage and as a pass rusher at Wisconsin. Most teams play the majority of the game in their nickel defense with only two linebackers, so Werner could be limited if he is unable to beat out Baun for a starting job.
Tommy Stevens, QB
Alize Mack, TE
Natrell Jamerson, S
Alvin Kamara, RB
David Onyemata, DL
Garrett Grayson, QB
Ron Powell, OLB
Kenny Stills, WR
Walt's 2021 NFL Draft Grades:
28. Payton Turner, DE, Houston - C- Grade
Charlie Campbell was on point with his report that Payton Turner was rising up draft boards, but I didn't think he'd go this early! I was thinking the middle of the second round, but the Saints pulled the trigger on Turner because Greg Newsome was snatched off the board. I'm all for teams upgrading their pass rush, and the Saints needed to do so in the wake of Trey Hendrickson's departure. However, the Saints probably could've moved down about a dozen spots and still gotten Turner or someone of his caliber.
60. Pete Werner, LB, Ohio State - B- Grade
Pete Werner is a stout run defender who played well down the stretch this past season, but I didn't ever have him in the second round. I had always mocked him in the third frame, but this is close enough for it to not matter much. Werner certainly fills a need in a dubious linebacking corps.
76. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford - B Grade
Paulson Adebo was once a mainstay of my first round, but he fell initially because of speed concerns. Then, he didn't help himself by foolishly sitting out the 2020 season. That said, the Saints are buying low on Adebo, so they could potentially be getting a starter across from Marshon Lattimore, which would fill a big need.
133. Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame - F Grade
The Saints are paying big money to two young quarterbacks, so it makes sense that they would pick a signal-caller with this pick. OK, maybe not. The Saints have so many needs and so few resources that they couldn't afford to make a luxury pick like this.
206. Landon Young, OT/G, Kentucky - B+ Grade
Landon Young appeared in the final couple of rounds in some mock updates. He's an athletic offensive lineman, but isn't very lengthy, so there's a chance he'll have to move to guard. This is fine, as the Saints needed some help at that position.
255. Kawaan Baker, WR, South Alabama - B+ Grade
Part of the reason why the Ian Book pick was so bad was that the Saints couldn't address their many needs, including receiver. Better late than never, I guess. Kawaan Baker's level of competition is a big question mark, but he's an extremely athletic player.
2021 NFL Draft Team Grade: C-
. Follow Walter @walterfootball
New Orleans Saints Season Preview
2022 NBA Mock Draft - June 23
Fantasy Football Rankings - June 15
2023 NFL Mock Draft - June 14
NFL Power Rankings - June 5
NFL Picks - Feb. 13