2022 NFL Draft: Top potential targets for the New Orleans Saints at No. 16 and No. 19 overall

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave (2) runs the ball after a reception during the first quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Cfb Maryland Terrapins At Ohio State Buckeyes

For the first time since 2017, the New Orleans Saints will possess two first-round selections in the NFL draft

Thanks to their pre-draft transaction with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Saints currently hold the 16th and 19th overall picks to replace the previous first-round selection (18th overall) sent to Philly. 

New Orleans no longer has a 2023 first-rounder and a 2024 second-rounder, picks sent away to Philly as part of the deal. The Eagles also obtained one of the Saints’ two compensatory third-round picks (101th overall), with Philly sending a sixth-rounder (194th overall) back to New Orleans.

The sheer amount of draft capital offloaded highlights that general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant general manager Jeff Ireland are set on creating a culture-shifting draft class, similar to 2017. Here are three pairs of first-round prospects they can target at No. 16 and No. 19 overall. 

WR Chris Olave, Ohio State & T Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

Many draft experts expect the Saints to pursue a wide receiver and an offensive lineman in the first round. If the Saints choose to go in that direction, Chris Olave and Trevor Penning are two potential options at No. 16 and No. 19.

Olave earned a 70.0-plus PFF grade in six of his 12 games last year and hauled in seven 20-plus-yard receiving touchdowns as the Buckeyes' vertical threat. His blistering 4.39-second 40-yard dash paired with his polished route-running makes him one of the safest bets at the receiver position in the class. Adding Olave to a Saints receiving corps that returns Michael Thomas from a two-year injury hiatus would give the Saints the kind of a pass-catching duo that they haven’t had for a while.

Meanwhile, Penning’s 99.9 run-blocking grade from 2021 lives in PFF College infamy, but that’s only the prelude to his pro upside. His 4.89 40-yard dash time was second-best of all offensive linemen at the combine, shedding light on how big, strong and athletic he is as a player.

With Terron Armstead no longer in the fold, the Saints need a lineman to be their new blindside barrier. And while he may take a while to get up to the speed of NFL pass sets, Penning would still be a quality run-blocker for New Orleans right away.

QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati & WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas

Given the Saints' interest in Deshaun Watson — and the subsequent decision to re-sign Jameis Winston to a two-year deal once Watson signed with the Cleveland Browns — Loomis & Co. could well be in the market for a quarterback this year.

Ridder at No. 16 gives New Orleans something to work with. The Cincinnati product's 4.52-second 40-yard dash during the combine emphasized the mobility utilized at Cincinnati, and he improved his PFF passing grade from 68.8 in 2020 to 87.1 in 2021. The questions about his consistent accuracy still remain, but his athleticism, leadership and field awareness are all assets that heighten his NFL potential.

At No. 19, there’s a good chance Chris Olave doesn’t last this long. If that’s the case, New Orleans can take an intriguing swing by selecting pre-combine superstar Treylon Burks following their first-round quarterback selection.

Burks was a promising prospect before the pre-draft process, as his film features a jaw-dropping size-speed combination that dominated the SEC. He finished with the highest receiving grade on his team last season (91.0) and was tied for first in the country in deep receiving depth grade (99.9).

Despite this, his combine numbers have sent his draft stock into freefall. A disappointing 4.55-second 40-yard dash and 7.28-second three-cone time present concerns about his straight-line speed and agility as an unrefined wide receiver. The Saints would have to gamble on Burks being an on-field versatile gamer than a combine warrior, but it could be a risk worth taking given Burks' potential as a vertical weapon.

QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh & OL Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

Pickett had a career season in 2021 that saw his PFF passing grade soar from 67.0 to 92.1. While his small hands and limited arm strength may cap his pro ceiling, a dome-controlled environment could bring out his biggest strength as an accurate intermediate-level passer. Last season, the ACC Offensive Player of The Year threw nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions, posting a 93.7 passing grade on passes thrown between 10 and 19 yards downfield.

At No. 19, Raimann could be the ideal plug-and-play option at left tackle if New Orleans does not want to reshuffle its offensive line. While Raimann’s short arms are a question mark, his tape during the back half of his collegiate career screamed dominance. An 87.1 pass-blocking grade from Week 7 through Week 12 highlighted how well the former tight end had morphed into a solid pass-blocker at Central Michigan. He doesn't possess the combined brute strength and athleticism Trevor Penning has, but his 86.0 true pass set grade shows why he's arguably the best second-tier tackle bet in the draft class.

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