5 Leading Candidates to Be the Saints First Pick (#24 Overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft

Oct 5, 2019; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers linebacker Patrick Queen (8) tackles Utah State Aggies running back Gerold Bright (1) during the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints are now only just a little over 3 more weeks away from the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft, and although they very likely won’t get a chance to select any of the available players that were ranked among the Top 20 prospects in all of college football last season; they still should be able to get a quality player who can come in and make an immediate impact as a rookie later on this year.

Barring any potential trades that could see them move either up or down in the current draft order, the Saints are still slated to select a player with the #24 overall pick — and this morning here at Big Easy Magazine, we’re taking a closer look at 5 players who based upon several recent projections and Mock Drafts by NFL analysts in recent weeks, are considered the “leading candidates” that could end up wearing the Black and Gold.

Starting first with….


With two of their three starting linebackers (young veterans Alex Anzalone and Kiko Alonso) both coming off season-ending injuries and veteran A.J. Klein now an unrestricted free agent, the Saints most definitely could be looking to add depth at the linebacker position — most likely through the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft in just more 3 more weeks from now — and the one name that continually has been linked to the Saints is that of one the draft’s very best at all aspects of the position: University of Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray.

The 6-foot-2, 243 pound Murray is considered by just about every prominent NFL Draft analyst as an elite-caliber player at the LB position with phenomenal sideline-to-sideline speed, a sound tackler in both pass coverage and out in the open field, and even lined up out wide as an effective edge rusher. Murray would provide an immediate upgrade to the New Orleans defense and for brand new (and recently promoted) Saints linebacker coach Michael Hodges, and simply is one of the very best overall prospects in the draft period.

The 21-year old  Missouri City, Texas native started all 42 of his career games and finished his 3-year college career with 335 tackles and 37 tackles for loss. He also was recognized as a 2nd-team All-American and 1st-team All-Big 12 Conference selection; as well as having the notoriety of being named as a semifinalist for the Bednarik and Butkus Awards for the nation’s best linebacker and overall defensive player. As a junior in 2019, Murray started all 14 games and led the Sooners defense with 102 tackles and 17 tackles for loss.

The Draft Network analyst Kyle Crabbs says that Murray projects as a potential “Mike” / middle linebacker at the NFL level, and possesses the God-given natural talent to eventually become a complete player and 3-down defender who can slash into gaps as a blitzer; or smash into ball-carriers from sideline-to-sideline. Crabbs notes that Murray’s length, range and explosiveness will lead to pair a lot of impact plays for the team that he ends up with — and adds that if he can play on the “Will” / weakside with effectiveness, can get even better over the course of the time.

With Demario Davis now entering into the final year of his current contract and about to turn 31 years old soon, the thought or idea that the Saints might actually take a linebacker in this year’s draft (especially if Murray is still on the draft board by some chance once New Orleans gets “on the clock” at #24) isn’t nearly as far-fetched as some ‘Who Dat’ fans might think. Come the opening night of the Draft, many interested Saints fans will be watching intently to see if Saints management pulls the trigger and selects the extremely athletic and explosive Murray, if he still happens to be sitting there by chance.


While New Orleans did address one of their primary “team needs” at the wide receiver position in Free Agency with the signing of former San Francisco 49ers WR and 10th year veteran Emmanuel Sanders, they are still expected to add another player at the position while seeking to improve the overall talent and depth behind #1 All-Pro Saints WR Michael Thomas.

One of the players mentioned prominently this off-season as a potential pick at #24 for the Black and Gold is former Arizona State University star Brandon Aiyuk. whose overall talent and still-blossoming skill-set are considered traits that would make him a “perfect fit” with head coach Sean Payton‘s offensive scheme by a handful of well-respected observers and analysts.

The 6-foot-1. 206 pound Reno, Nevada native actually began his collegiate career in junior college (Sierra College, just outside of Sacramento, California), before transferring to Arizona State for the remaining final two seasons of his eligibility. It was with the Sun Devils program where he subsequently began to thrive and blossomed into a legitimate NFL prospect, and eventually became one of the Pac-12 Conference’s most dangerous WR’s.

In his final season at Arizona State in 2019 under Sun Devils 1st-year head coach (and former NFL player and head coach) Herm Edwards, Aiyuk hauled in 65 receptions for 1,192 yards and 8 TD’s. It was then that observers and analysts began paying more attention to the 22-year old pass-catcher. who was able to develop a notable reputation  for making ‘big plays’ and gaining more yardage after the catch.

Perhaps more importantly (and the reason why the Saints presumably would be eye-balling him with their top pick), Aiyuk displayed a knack for stretching the field vertically as a “deep ball” threat — which clearly is an element that the Saints offense has lacked in recent years — outside of the few plays occasionally made by soon-to-be 14th year veteran Ted Ginn, Jr. That said, Ginn will turn age 35 in a few weeks from now; and this seemingly would be the time for Saints management to go out and add a fresh new face to take over that role. Aiyuk also possesses top-notch skills as a punt and kick returner, and figures to fill that particular role with the team that eventually takes him as well.

USA TODAY DraftWire analyst Jacob Infante says that Aiyuk is a dynamic athlete with impressive fluidity and plenty of value after the catch. He notes that Aiyuk’s technique as a route-runner could be improved, but the explosiveness that he brings to an offense should make him high in demand as a secondary option at the next level.

A selection of another potential “weapon” for the Saints high-powered passing attack undoubtedly would give Payton a wide variety of different options heading into next season, and potentially could even become THE young man who ends up being the final missing piece that the Black and Gold needs to proverbially get “over the hump”; and win a Super Bowl before Drew Brees retires.


Tammy Anthony Baker, Photographer@tabinla @tmabaker (via Wikipedia.com)

‘Who Dat Nation’ / Saints fan-base legend (especially among the locals living in throughout the state of Louisiana) has it that the Black and Gold rarely if EVER, drafts players from nearby (Baton Rouge) major college powerhouse and defending 2019 National Champion LSU — particularly in the early rounds of the NFL Draft each off-season.

But that notion could potentially change in two more months from now in late April, thanks to former and Destrehan High School star and pass-catching extraordinaire Justin Jefferson; who came on strong in the middle of the season and gave the Tigers offense another weapon in their#1-ranked offense and high-powered vertical passing attack.

The 6-foot-3, 192 pound Jefferson had a break-out performance in the Peach Bowl / College Football Playoff Semi-Final with a 4 touchdown, 14-catch, and 227 receiving yards performance against Oklahoma that has now put his name among the conversation of some of the nation’s best WR’s.

A few weeks back at the NFL Scouting Combine, the 21-year old St. Rose, Louisiana native went out and gave a superb overall performance, and proved prove to scouts and observers that he is indeed worthy of being a late 1st Round pick; as well as  a “big slot” WR with quickness who can also stretch the field vertically if and when called upon.

NFL.com Draft Expert Daniel Jeremiah says that Jefferson doesn’t have “elite”-caliber speed to blow past opposing defensive backs, but he’s still “fast enough; and a player that will also fight for extra yards after making a catch. Overall, he adds that Jefferson is a polished receiver and should make an immediate impact at the next level — which is exactly why he definitely could be on the Saints’ radar once they get on the clock with the 24th overall selection, in 3 weeks from now at the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft at Las Vegas.


Again: while it’s true that the Saints have developed a reputation (especially among ‘Who Dat’ fans living locally in Louisiana) for not taking any former LSU players in a majority of their past Draft Classes, this is the year that it all could change; given that Jefferson (previously mentioned right above) and former Tigers linebacker Patrick Queen both could very well still be available once New Orleans is officially “on the clock”.

The 6-foot-1, 227 pound Queen has dramatically risen up a handful of NFL team Draft Boards, and with little fan-fare has emerged as a prospect that many analysts feel makes him one of the top-rated defensive players in the entire 2020 Draft Class. The former Livonia High School star (located in Pointe Coupee Parish, just several miles northwest of Baton Rouge) is viewed as a young man who can become a “star” at the next level, mainly because of his God-given natural instincts and high football IQ at the inside linebacker position — in addition to his phenomenal closing speed and strength while pursuing opposing ball-carriers.

Queen made a grand total of 85 tackles last year, with 12 of those tackles for a loss as he helped contribute in a major way in leading LSU to the CFP National Championship. Depending on who you ask, the 20-year old youngster is considered the top-ranked inside linebacker in this year’s Draft Class, and with the Saints current linebacker corps expected to undergo a significant change in the upcoming seasons ahead, Queen potentially could become an important piece for the Black and Gold’s defensive future moving forward.

ESPN’s NFL Draft Expert Todd McShay says that Queen will more than likely will line up as a “Will” / weakside LB (the spot currently held by 4th year veteran but injury-prone starter Alex Anzalone) once he reaches the NFL, and notes that the dynamic play-maker will have more physical spacing when he assumes that role; which hopefully will allow him to run after, chase and ultimately pursue ball-carriers from “sideline-to-sideline”, which he does best.

With all of the Saints linebacker spots expected to undergo a huge transformation over the course of the next several seasons ahead, the position is one that New Orleans very likely will address in 3 weeks from now. The only question at this point is just who and when (during whichever round they decide to pick one) that player will be. Make no mistake about this much: a selection of Queen by Saints team brass would be welcomed with “open arms” by the ‘Who Dats’ that support the LSU football program, just as much as they do the Black and Gold.


Given the recent comments made by Saints head coach Sean Payton regarding the franchise’s future at the QB position, one would expect that we might see presumed #2 back-up Taysom Hill assume the starting QB role once Drew Brees finally retires. However, with former #2 back-up Teddy Bridgewater now taking over as the brand new starting QB for the Carolina Panthers, one has to wonder if the 30-year old Hill — who has only thrown a grand total of just 13 passes in his entire NFL career up to this point — is REALLY going to eventually become the next starter for New Orleans.

While that notion isn’t one that either Payton or the Saints management would ever admit to publicly, it also means that selecting a quarterback with their first pick #24 overall, isn’t something that fans should so easily or readily dismiss. Which is exactly why former University of Washington QB Jacob Eason could be a distinct possibility to end up in NOLA, if the rumors are indeed true that the team wants to add a QB that they could “groom” to take over the position in the upcoming years ahead.

Eason has been prominently linked to the Saints in a few recent Mock Drafts, and possesses a skill-set as a passer that many believe makes him a prime candidate to become the next “franchise QB” for the Black and Gold. The tall and rangy 6-foot-6, 231 pound Eason — who is the son of former 1980’s starting New England Patriots QB Tony Eason — put together a solid season for the Huskies football program as a senior last year in 2019, as he threw for 3,132 yards with 23 TD’s and 8 interceptions while additionally completing 64.2 percent of his passes. Prior to that, the 22-year old had sat out the entire 2018 season, after he left the University of Georgia and transferred to Washington.

Some prominent NFL scouts feel that Eason could become the top “Wild Card” at quarterback in this year’s Draft Class, considering that he played within a pro-style system with the Huskies, and since he also excels in play-action while in the pocket. Indisputably, Eason certainly has some serious potential to succeed at the next level, but he’s still viewed by some as a very “raw” prospect who’s future most likely will depend on WHICH NFL team takes him.

Clearly learning the Saints offensive scheme under Sean Payton and playing behind Brees for at least a season or two would seem to serve Eason well, although many Saints fans will readily point to former college QB’s taken in past years under the current regime that included failed experiments at the position for names such as Garrett Grayson or Sean Canfield. To that point, NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein compared Eason to former NFL star QB Carson Palmer in his recent player evaluation, but yet in the very same profile noted that Eason just as easily could also end up being a “bust” comparable to former Denver Broncos QB Brock Osweiler (who like the previously-mentioned Grayson and Canfield), who is no longer in the League.

Nevertheless, Zierlein makes the observation that Eason has elite-caliber size and arm talent; and is a fun player to watch when he’s ripping throws all over the entire length of the football field and taking deep-ball  play-action shots. But he also cautions that Eason’s lack of mobility and relatively inexperience, are traits which make him a “high risk, high reward” player who will need to end up with the right team to achieve his true potential. In 3 more weeks from now, we’ll see if the Saints are actually one of those teams willing to take such a chance….

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 their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *