Right around the time the Saints kicked off their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon, a report surfaced about the Saints potentially targeting a quarterback early in next May’s draft to eventually replace Drew Brees. The report has since been disputed by head coach Sean Payton and Brees himself. The thought might seem completely absurd as Brees has put up a very productive season so far despite the team’s overall struggles; he trails only Andrew Luck in passing yards and is sixth in the NFL in both passer rating and total QBR. However, drafting a quarterback early this offseason would not be a bad idea. Brees is under contract through the 2016 season and could very well play in a Saints uniform beyond that – Peyton Manning is still lighting it up at age 38 after multiple neck surgeries after all.
Still, nothing is guaranteed and it wouldn’t hurt to plan ahead, especially since many teams have struggled for years trying to find successors to their all-time great quarterbacks. The Buffalo Bills have started fourteen different quarterbacks since Jim Kelly retired in 1996 while the Miami Dolphins have gone through seventeen quarterbacks since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season and the Tennessee Titans are still looking for a permanent replacement for Steve McNair. By contrast, the Green Bay Packers have enjoyed tremendous success by drafting Aaron Rodgers in 2005 and waiting three years before handing him the starting job.
It will be difficult to pinpoint exactly when the right time for the Saints to select a quarterback would be. Right now the Saints are slotted for the tenth overall pick, but that could easily change drastically over the last four weeks of the regular season. They would move out of the top sixteen picks if they manage to win the NFC South and qualify for the playoffs. I do not see them spending a first round pick on a quarterback even if they do stay in the top ten because they have more immediate needs. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota will surely be gone within the first three picks, and I don’t think Sean Payton will want to deal with Jameis Winston’s issues in the unlikely event he is still on the board when the Saints pick. So here are a few quarterbacks the Saints could legitimately consider in rounds two and three of the next draft.
Brett Hundley, UCLA: Hundley still has a year of eligibility remaining, but he has hinted he will probably declare for the draft after the season. He’s completed over seventy percent of his passes for over 3000 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season so far. He has a strong arm, good accuracy and is also a threat to run with the ball, having rushed for over 1500 yards and twenty-eight touchdowns in his career. He does need to improve his pocket awareness – he has been sacked more than 100 times in his three collegiate seasons. On a positive note, he has not suffered any serious injuries despite taking so many hits. Also working in Hundley’s favor is that he plays in a pro-style offense and most of the UCLA coaching staff come from NFL backgrounds.
Connor Cook, Michigan State: Cook is also one of the more NFL ready quarterbacks in this class. Don’t read too much into his pedestrian completion percentage, Michigan State uses a downfield passing attack that isn’t very friendly to accuracy numbers. Cook has thrown for 2900 yards and twenty-two touchdowns on the year despite attempting just over twenty-five passes a game. He is second in the Big Ten in yards per attempt behind only Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. Cook also has plenty of experience playing in cold weather, not that he would have to worry about that much with the Saints.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: I’m sure everyone remembers Prescott from his beatdown of LSU in Tiger Stadium back in September. Nick Saban favorably compared Prescott to former Florida great Tim Tebow leading up to Mississippi State’s game against Alabama this season. While it may have been a little over the top, it is easy to see the similarities. Prescott can make plays with both his arm and his legs. He ranks third in the SEC in passing yards and seventh in rushing yards (first among quarterbacks). He also has some of the same issues Tebow did at the NFL level, namely his need to become a better pocket passer. If the Saints were to draft him, they would have at least two years to refine his skills to fit the pro game.