The current New Orleans Saints 2019 Off-Season has been one of the more memorable ones ever in the team’s 52-year history; particularly with Who Dat fans following every move made by the team after seeing them come so very close to winning the Super Bowl for the past two years.
And although the Black and Gold is still looking at signing veteran players in the ongoing Free Agency signing period, the team is also preparing to target several college stars in next month’s 2019 NFL Draft; which takes place in Nashville, Tennessee (April 25th thru 27th).
As of this moment, the Saints front office brass and the team’s Scouting Department has interviewed, will interview, or has worked out at least 17 different players at college campuses or the team’s Training Facility in Metairie, though that number could actually be higher, considering not all of the prospects they’ve interacted with over the course of the last several weeks (such as a handful of LSU prospects last week at the Tigers’ Pro Day in Baton Rouge) have been “officially” confirmed by credible or verifiable sources.
Here are the players they are confirmed to have spoken with or worked out so far, immediately followed by a brief, “up close” look at a just a couple of the more intriguing or well-known names on the list.
- Hakeem Butler, Wide Receiver, Iowa State
- N’Keal Harry, Wide Receiver, Arizona State
- Parris Campbell, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
- Emanuel Hall, Wide Receiver, Missouri
- Dawson Knox, Tight End, Ole Miss
- Kahale Warring, Tight End, San Diego State
- Ryan Pope, Offensive Tackle, San Diego State
- Will Grier, Quarterback, West Virginia
- Devine Ozigbo, Running Back, Nebraska
- Mike Weber, Running Back. Ohio State
- Alec Ingold, Fullback, Wisconsin
- Blake Cashman, Linebacker, Minnesota
- Terez Hall, Linebacker, Missouri
- Joejuan Williams, Cornerback, Auburn
- Derrick Baity, Cornerback, Kentucky
- Myles Boykin, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
- Jeff Smith, Wide Receiver, Boston College
- Charles Omenihu, Defensive End, Edge, Texas
HAKEEM BUTLER, WIDE RECEIVER, IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY
— Biletnikoff Award (@biletnikoffawrd) November 5, 2018
There isn’t any doubt that given the uncertainty of the health status of returning veteran WR Cam Meredith and the ongoing development of last year’s rookie WR’s Tre’Quan Smith and Keith Kirkwood, that Saints team brass are seeking to add another receiver to the offense either at the Slot WR position or on the outside opposite of superstar #1 WR Michael Thomas.
As originally reported by James Palmer of the NFL Network, Butler met with Saints scouts at his Pro Day, and the 6-foot-6, 227-pound speedster (he ran an impressive 4.48 seconds, a remarkable feat for a man of his size) is considered one of the elite receivers in this year’s draft class.
A player that has met with the #Saints, Hakeem Butler had an outstanding final college season and is one of the best deep threats in this draft class. He hauled in 19 catches for 721 yards (best among ALL WRs) and 4 TDs deep downfield in 2018.#WhoDat ⚜ https://t.co/XvwoR3BYpC
— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) March 27, 2019
After redshirting in his first year enrolled at the school back in 2015, Butler played in all 11 games as a freshman during the 2016 Season before making a name for himself as a sophomore starter in 2017 while averaging 17 yards per reception and hauling in seven TDs. But it was last season in 2018 as a redshirt junior, when Butler firmly established himself as one of College Football’s premier (and extremely underrated) players at the position; tallying 60 receptions for 1318 yards and nine TDs.
The 22-year old Baltimore, Maryland native has drawn comparisons to several NFL star WR’s similar to his size and skill-set, including Bengals WR A.J. Green, former Lions (and now retired) WR Calvin Johnson, and current free agent veteran WR Brandon Marshall.
Draft Network analyst Kyle Crabbs notes that Butler is a true “power forward” type of receiver that bullies opposing cornerbacks, has great hands (although he has had issues with a few “dropped” passes), and is a good blocker as well. Crabbs adds that Butler has the size to further develop into a legitimate “weapon” for the lucky team that needs another starting receiver. Now just try to imagine a Saints offense with Thomas on one side and Butler on the other. That would be a dream come true for Who Dats.
BLAKE CASHMAN, INSIDE LINEBACKER, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
— Lindsey Young (@LindseyMNSports) March 27, 2019
The Saints aren’t expected to bring back veteran free agent back-up linebacker Manti T’eo, meaning that they could look to add depth to their linebacking corps, and Cashman seems like a prime candidate. Cashman wasn’t getting a ton of “buzz” initially but after his phenomenal performance at the NFL Scouting Combine last month now has rocketed up the draft boards of many teams.
The 6-foot-1, 237-pound thumper was a reserve player for the majority of his time with the Golden Gophers program but came into his own after finally getting an opportunity to be a starter last season as a senior. The former walk-on exploded onto the scene and was awarded 2nd-team All-Big 10 and 2nd team All-American honors.
Last season Cashman tallied 104 tackles, 15 of them for a loss behind the line of scrimmage; and notched an additional 2.5 sacks and returned a fumble for a defensive TD. Most NFL scouts now believe that the 22-year old can become a solid starter in the League eventually, thanks to a nice blend of skills that will fit perfectly for a 4-3 alignment such as the one that the Saints utilize.
SBNation Draft Analyst Gabe Ward says that Cashman might actually be a bit small for the position (but so too was a legendary player for the Saints once upon a time named Sam Mills) nor is he the fastest — although he also believes Cashman will present excellent value to the team that takes him up early on Day 3 of the draft, both on special teams and ultimately as a possible every-down starter.
KAHALE WARRING, TIGHT END, SAN DIEGO STATE
For a second straight season, TE Kahale Warring is a Burlsworth Trophy nominee, which goes out to the outstanding collegiate football player who began his career as a walk-on and has shown outstanding performance on the field. https://t.co/LYnbIIrsC6#Win22 | #OneCityOneTeam pic.twitter.com/RtmqvWyWay
— SDSU Football (@SDSUFootball) October 30, 2018
Although the Saints just recently signed soon-to-be 11th-year veteran and 32-year old free agent veteran tight end Jared Cook to be their new starting #1 tight end for at least the next two seasons, they’d obviously like to “groom” a young TE that, in due time, could take over the position once the ‘Jared Cook Era’ in New Orleans eventually comes to an end.
As noted by Draft Analyst.com’s Tony Pauline, Saints scouts met with Warring extensively at his Pro Day last week; and like Cashman is another former walk-on player who has rocketed up Draft Boards thanks to an impressive Combine performance, where the 6-foot-5, 252-pounder posted a 4.67-second 40-yard dash and displayed great receiving skills.
Warring’s college career numbers weren’t all that impressive, because of the Aztecs’ devotion to a run-first offense that saw him blocking a majority of the time. Last season however as a redshirt junior, he still only managed to catch 31 passes for 372 yards and 3 TDs for an Aztec passing attack that ranked 114th in the nation in pass attempts — and had actually given up on the idea of playing in the NFL at one point late last year.
But his notable Combine performance changed all of that, and according to The Draft Network lead analyst Jon Ledyard, Warring has the quickness and speed of a big WR, but the length of a TE and the biceps of a “Greek god” since going back to further study his film. Ledyard adds that Warring’s routes and releases are surprisingly polished, and while he can improve as a blocker, his ball skills and work ethic bodes well for him to eventually become a “superstar” TE at the professional level.
JOEJUAN WILLIAMS, CORNERBACK, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY
Joejuan Williams improved in each season during his three-year career at Vanderbilt and is now headed to the NFL. pic.twitter.com/ZDncyzVo2H
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 28, 2019
Although it would seem that the Saints are set at the CB position, there are some observers that believe the team should consider adding one more for depth purposes; and as originally reported by Jon Ledyard of the Draft Network, the Saints are expected to bring him in next week for a visit at the team’s Training Facility in Metairie.
The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Nashville, Tennessee native was chosen as an All-SEC cornerback in 2018 when he led the conference with a total of 14 PBUs (pass break-ups) and ranked second overall in the SEC with four interceptions. He tallied a grand total of 119 total tackles, those same four interceptions, and 19 total PBU’s as a 3-year player (two years as a starter) on the outside boundary for the Commodores program, and is a much bigger and lankier CB than most others coming out of this year’s Draft Class.
Ball-hawking with Joejuan Williams from Vandy pic.twitter.com/icJHS0QHZW
— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) February 24, 2019
After a less-than-impressive performance last month at the NFL Combine, Williams improved his 40 times at his Pro Day (4.55) and has now started to draw significant interest as a result. Ledyard says that Williams’ best fit will be as a press corner capable of defending zones, but his technique must improve if he is to have any hope of reaching his peak in the NFL.
Ledyard notes that Williams might not ever be considered an “elite” player or become a top-notch play-maker, but his skills are worth developing because of his capability to physically disrupt receivers at all levels of the field. If he can successfully achieve that task, Ledyard adds that Williams is more than capable of becoming a very solid (if not spectacular) #2 starting CB in the NFL.
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.