A Few Players Saints Fans Should Watch at This Weekend’s 2019 NFL Scouting Combine


U.S. Army photo by Mr. Robert Timmons /IMCOM(Released)

The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine gets underway tomorrow morning (March 1st). The New Orleans Saints will join NFL scouts, General Managers, and front office personnel from all of the League’s other 32 teams to evaluate a total of 338 Draft-eligible college players with on-field workouts and sit-down interviews. These eventually will determine their status for the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft (April 25th thru 27th).

The annual event held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, gives NFL scouts and general managers a chance to closely observe players’ physical performances via their work on-the-field. They also have the opportunity to interview them away from the field in an effort to determine their understanding and overall knowledge of the sport’s concepts and its various schemes and game-planning.

  • What: 2019 NFL Scouting Combine
  • Dates: March 1 (Friday) – March 4 (Monday)
  • Where: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Where to watch: NFL Network (all 4 days; coverage begins at 8 AM Eastern time), ABC (Saturday 1-4 PM Eastern)

On-field workout schedule (by positions)

  • March 1st: Group 1 (place kickers, special teamers, offensive lineman), Group 2 (offensive lineman), Group 3 (running backs)
  • March 2nd: Group 4 (tight ends), Group 5 (quarterbacks, receivers), Group 6 (quarterbacks, receivers)
  • March 3rd: Group 7 (defensive lineman), Group 8 (defensive lineman), Group 9 (linebackers)
  • March 4th: Group 10 (defensive backs), Group 11 (defensive backs)

Keep in mind: at the moment (unless something changes between now and late April), the Saints don’t have a 1st, 3rd, or 4th-Round pick in this year’s Draft due to different trades that they made last year, both before and during the season.

However, they will still have a total of six picks. Of course, there’s always the possibility that team brass (General Manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton) could end up deciding to “wheel and deal” with other teams to gain an additional pick or two (just like they did when they traded up to draft Alvin Kamara).

With that in mind, this morning here at Big Easy Magazine we’re taking a very quick but detailed look at just a few players among the 338 participants that Saints fans should keep an eye on during this weekend’s epic event.

Beginning first with…

FRIDAY (March 1st)

MICHAEL DEITER, OFFENSIVE GUARD / TACKLE / CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

Height / Weight: 6-foot-5 / 322 pounds

Projected Draft Status: 3rd Round

Key Stat: Started all 4 seasons and played 3 different positions

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

The Saints could use some added depth on their offensive line (especially if starting left guard Andrus Peat is released or traded before or during free agency), and they place a big emphasis on targeting O-Linemen that are capable of playing multiple positions when called upon.

Deiter — who went to the same school as current starting Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk — can play left tackle, guard and even fill-in at center. As evidenced by this Twitter highlight, he’s also extremely athletic.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Depending on what they decide to do (or not) in next month’s Free Agency signing period, this is a position that the Saints would probably prefer to address with one of their late round picks. But they’ve taken an O-Lineman in the early rounds twice before in the past few years (Peat in 2015 and Ramcyzk in 2017), and with a really good performance at the Combine, there’s always a chance that Deiter could end up convincing New Orleans to take him at #62 overall in Round 2 (the Saints’ earliest pick) over another position.

DAVID MONTGOMERY, RUNNING BACK, IOWA STATE

Height / Weight: 5-foot-11 / 220 pounds

Projected Draft Status: 2nd or early 3rd Round

Key Stat: Nearly 2,500 yards and 24 rushing TD’s past 2 seasons

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Although Saints team management and unrestricted Free Agent 8th-year veteran RB Mark Ingram both have said that they’d like to reach an agreement on a new contract to keep him in New Orleans, there’s always the chance that they won’t — which means that the Saints would then have to replace him and his production in their running game alongside Alvin Kamara.

Ingram is often thought of as a “power” RB, and it just so happens that Montgomery is considered the #1 “power” RB in this year’s 2019 Draft Class. He excelled and even thrived as the lead back for the Cyclones, despite running behind an O-Line that was composed mostly of freshmen and sophomores last season.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Montgomery rushed for over 1,000 yards in his last two seasons, and that was behind a well below-average Cyclones offensive line filled with underclassmen (so imagine him running behind a top-notch like the one that the Saints have). Additionally, he’s considered a three-down RB who forced 100 missed tackles during his junior season according to the good folks over at PFF. Very few Saints fans want to see Ingram leave, but if he does? Montgomery would seem to be a logical ‘replacement’.

 

SATURDAY (March 2nd)

JACE STERNBERGER, TIGHT END, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

Height / Weight: 6-foot-4 / 250 pounds

Projected Draft Status: mid-2nd-early 3rd Round

Key Stat: School record 10 receiving touchdowns for a tight end as a senior

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

With the official retirement of former starting TE Benjamin Watson, the Saints currently do not have a “true” #1 TE on their roster. They are faced with the prospect of entering into the 2019 Season with just-slightly-above average back-up and 6th-year veteran Josh Hill manning the position, along with young undrafted veterans Dan Arnold and Garrett Griffin.

It goes without saying: this is a position that the team must address before the start of the 2019 Season. A Saints’ selection of Sternberger would do that and more; although he’s still developing as a blocker, he’s considered absolutely “lights out” as a legitimate receiving threat.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Maybe it’s the strange-sounding name or because no one has ever thought of Texas A&M as a “pass-first offense,” but this kid easily is the most underrated TE in this year’s class. He can stretch the seam as a receiver, and he’s a good enough blocker to keep Saints head coach Sean Payton happy with that aspect of his developing fundamentals. Bottom line: this is a young man capable of being a play-maker in the passing game, something the Saints have sorely lacked since trading away Jimmy Graham a few years ago.

KADEN SMITH, TIGHT END, STANFORD

Height / Weight: 6-foot-5 / 253 pounds

Projected Draft Status: 2nd or 3rd Round

Key Stat: Only played 2 college seasons as a red-shirt sophomore

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Unless they sign one in Free Agency, it will be for the very same reason that they’ll be watching every potential pick at tight end in this year’s Draft: because Benjamin Watson is now retired which leaves Josh Hill as the current starter. It’s a position that requires a significant upgrade if the Saints are actually serious about remaining a top-rated offense and a Super Bowl contender.

Smith, though he was hurt for a portion of his career, has demonstrated clear-cut #1 TE capabilities as both a flex TE and as an in-line TE (not surprisingly since he was the 2nd-rated TE in the entire nation coming out of high school); and while he clearly needs to become a better blocker, his receiving capabilities are top-notch except for an issue with dropped passes at times. He very likely should be available when the Saints make their initial pick at #62 overall in Round 2.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Smith has been linked to the Saints in several Mock Drafts that have the Black and Gold selecting him with that 62nd overall selection in Round 2. However, if he doesn’t impress Saints brass and their scouts that will be on-hand watching him work out this Saturday, then all bets are off and will make all of the Mock Drafts projecting him to NOLA a complete waste of time and effort.

TYSHUN “DEEBO” SAMUEL, WIDE RECEIVER, SOUTH CAROLINA

Height / Weight: 6-feet / 210 pounds

Projected Draft Status: 2nd Round

Key Stat: 62 receptions for 882 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns last season

U.S. Army photo by Robert Timmons/IMCOM (Released)

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Opposing teams were able to start shutting down the Saints passing attack late in the season last year; because they lacked another WR either lined up in the slot or on the outside who could be a “complementary weapon” to #1 WR Michael Thomas. With current #2 WR Ted Ginn Jr. turning age 34 this year, the uncertainty of returning injured veterans WR’s Dez Bryant and Cameron Meredith, and further development needed from rookies Tre’Quan Smith and UDFA Keith Kirkwood, the Saints should target another WR.

Samuel is a player we’ve covered previously here at Big Easy Magazine, and although it’s possible that he could ‘fall’ down to the Saints at #62. most believe he could be gone already before the Saints make their pick. However, if there’s any single player you can envision Sean Payton trading up to get, it probably would be this young man; who excels both as a receiver and as a kick-off returner on special teams.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Once thought to be a late 2nd/early 3rd Round pick, Samuel has rocketed up many Draft Boards; there’s a very strong chance that he’ll already be gone by the time that New Orleans finally gets ‘on the clock’ with the 62nd overall selection in Round 2. However, it can’t be stressed enough that if Samuel is anywhere near that spot, the Saints always have the option of trading up to land him.

ANDY ISABELLA, WIDE RECEIVER, UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS

Height / Weight: 5-foot-10 / 190 pounds

Projected Draft Status: 4th-5th Round

Key Stat: an incredible 167 catches for 2,718 yards and 23 touchdowns in his final 24 games

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Isabella is one of the fastest WR’s in this year’s 2019 Draft Class and is considered one of the top players coming out of college at the “slot” position. He’s undersized (listed at 5-foot-10 but closer to 5-foot-8) and very underrated because he played at a “small school” (UMass).

However, make no mistake about it: Isabella looks as if he will become a star playing in that role once he gets to the NFL, and he has drawn comparisons to Patriots WR Julian Edelman. With the Saints looking for a “complementary weapon” to help out Michael Thomas, Isabella could be a player that Saints brass might opt for.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Clearly, the Saints need to add another player to help out in the receiving game with Michael Thomas, regardless of what position it is (a pass-catching flex TE, an outside receiver, or a slot WR). Isabella would add an element of speed that they haven’t had at the WR position in quite some time, and they wouldn’t have to “reach” to get him (Isabella currently is being projected anywhere between the 4th Round and 5th Round, where the Saints pick twice).

The problem for New Orleans would be that Isabella’s size makes his durability a question, and there are many analysts who believe that he might not hold up to the much more physical nature of the NFL. Nevertheless, we’re all familiar with the phrase “speed kills” — and Isabella has plenty of that and then some, at his disposal. With a limited amount of money to spend in Free Agency and less Draft picks this year, Isabella could end up warranting serious consideration from Saints front office brass with a solid performance.

KHALIL HODGE, LINEBACKER, UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALO

Height / Weight: 6-foot-1 / 235 pounds

Projected Draft Status: Currently anywhere between the late 2nd and 4th Round

Key Stat: An unbelievable 419 tackles in 3 seasons

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

With back-up inside linebackers Craig Roberston and Manti T’eo scheduled to become unrestricted free agents within the next two and a half weeks, the Saints defense clearly may need to add some depth behind the starting trio of Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, and A.J. Klein. The Saints coaching staff (as noted many times) places a lot of value on players capable of filling multiple roles, and Hodge can play in any system/defensive alignment as well as any of the LB positions (middle, inside, or outside).

Hodge put up some big-time production in his early career (a remarkable 262 tackles as a high school senior) and several consider him to be a mid-to-late round “diamond in the rough” for the team that ends up taking him.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Make no mistake about it: had Hodge put up his production in the SEC or the Big Ten, he would likely be a 1st Round pick. But playing in the MAC (Mid-American Conference) at “small school” the University of Buffalo raises questions about the level of competition that he faced.

But just know this much: although he isn’t the fastest player you’ve ever seen at the position, he is very good in pass coverage; and he’s an outstanding run defender who is also capable of getting to the quarterback. He very likely will be available when the Saints are on the clock with their initial pick at #62 overall, and the thought of adding Hodge to the LB corps could prove very tempting.

 

SUNDAY (March 3rd)

DRE’MONT JONES, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, OHIO STATE

Height / Weight: 6-foot-3 / 295 pounds

Projected Draft Status: late 1st-2nd Round

Key Stat: 43 tackles (13 for loss), 8.5 sacks, a “Pick 6” TD and a forced fumble in 2018

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

As of this very moment: the Saints defense potentially could be left with only 2nd year undrafted veteran Taylor Stallworth as their starting defensive tackle to begin the season; with starting 3-Technique DT Sheldon Rankins likely out until October (Achilles surgery), David Onyemata facing a possible suspension (marijuana arrest), and Tyeler Davison possibly leaving in Free Agency.

Outside of adding another “complementary weapon” to their offense for Michael Thomas either at TE or WR, finding another DT to play in the interior of the Saints D-Line until Rankins and Onyemata return should be a top priority for Saints team brass. A selection of Jones clearly would help out in that area, but at the moment it would seem he won’t make it to #62 overall.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Like WR Deebo Samuel mentioned up above, Jones is another player that originally was projected to be taken much lower than his current Draft projection, which now ranges anywhere from the late 1st to the end of Round 2 (where the Saints will be picking).

It’s more likely that Saints brass might end up addressing the position in the later rounds (more on that coming up in a minute) or signing one in Free Agency, but because of the notable Saints-Ohio State University “connection” in recent years, you should never discount the possibility that they would make a move to get him.

DANIEL WISE, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, KANSAS

Height / Weight: 6-foot-3 / 291 pounds

Projected Draft Status: Depending on who you ask, anywhere between the 3rd and 5th Round

Key Stat: 17 sacks and 43 tackles for loss in 4 seasons with the Jayhawks

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

If a higher-rated DT such as Dre’Mont Jones is already off the board by the time that the Saints make their initial pick, there are a few other options available; and Wise quite obviously would be one of them as a projected 5th Round pick. But he’s another player that could improve his Draft stock with an impressive performance this weekend.

Bottom line: Wise’s versatility while playing multiple interior D-Line positions (he played the 7, 5, and 3-technique positions, as well as nose tackle) for the Jayhawks program makes him an ideal candidate to fill-in until the return of Rankins and Onyemata.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

The prime example of a player that has developed and continually gotten better over the course of time, Wise seemingly would be the perfect solution to the Saints’ depth issues at DT that they’re facing at the beginning of next season.

No, Wise wouldn’t be a “replacement” for Rankins or Onyemata by any means; but his talent and athleticism is such that he would help solidify the middle of the D-Line for the next several seasons and potentially give New Orleans one of the best interior pass rush groups throughout the entire League.

MONDAY (March 4th)

MALIK GANT, SAFETY, MARSHALL UNIVERSITY

Height / Weight: 6-foot-2 / 200 pounds

Projected Draft Status: 4th or 5th Round

Key Stat: 95 combined tackles (45 solo), 9 tackles for loss, a sack, 2 interceptions and 8 PBU’s last year

WHY SAINTS FANS SHOULD WATCH:

Following the release of veteran Kurt Coleman in a salary-cap related move, some observers feel that the Saints could benefit from adding a player at the safety position with the versatility to play either as the free safety in pass coverage or the strong safety spot in run support.

While safety isn’t necessarily a team “need”, adding an extra one to provide depth behind starting strong safety Vonn Bell and free safety Marcus Williams and especially an underrated one like Gant is, might be a good idea.

THE LATEST BUZZ:

Originally projected to be a 6th to 7th Round pick, Gant is rapidly moving up Draft Boards in a similar manner to some of the other prospects that we’ve mentioned here this morning. And perhaps more importantly, keep this much in mind: Vonn Bell will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, meaning that safety is a position that may require depth no matter what happens next season.

The fact that he still could be available on Day 3 could prove beneficial for New Orleans since they currently own a total of 5 draft picks on Day 3 (Pick numbers 168, 177, 202, 231, and 244 overall). Gant is being labeled potential draft “steal” by a few well-respected Draft Analysts, and the Saints would be wise to snap him up if he happens to still be sitting there on the Draft’s final day.


Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.

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