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With extra pick, Saints could consider drafting Drew Brees' successor

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints were thinking defense, according to Sean Payton, when they traded receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots.

But adding the No. 32 pick in the draft has to at least slightly increase the odds of New Orleans drafting Drew Brees' successor this year.

For now, the Saints have five picks in the first three rounds (11, 32, 42, 76 and 103). Even if they wind up trading one of those early picks back to New England for cornerback Malcolm Butler, they will have filled one of their most pressing needs before the draft -- freeing up their options with the other picks.

I would still label the idea of drafting a quarterback early as a long shot -- or to use the Saints' vernacular, more of a "want" than a "must" or a "need." Brees is still thriving at age 38, the Saints expect to make a playoff run this year, and they have more pressing needs on defense.

However, the quarterback position is definitely in play, if nothing else, which should be the case even if they wind up signing veteran backup Chase Daniel.

The last time the Saints loaded up on draft picks by trading Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Ben Grubbs in 2015, they wound up drafting quarterback Garrett Grayson in the third round -- the highest they've taken a quarterback since Archie Manning in 1971. Grayson hasn't panned out so far, and Brees is now heading into the final year of his contract.

The Saints don't need to reach to draft a quarterback unless they find one they truly covet. But for the third straight year, they will thoroughly evaluate all of the top QB prospects in this year's class, including some private workouts.

So could this be the year New Orleans finds the one?

It seems unlikely -- but not impossible -- that the Saints will draft a quarterback at No. 11, since draft analysts seem to agree that this year's class doesn't have any elite, sure-thing quarterbacks.

Then again, the Saints would be the perfect team to draft a quarterback who needs extra time to develop, since he can sit and learn for a year or more behind Brees.

Clemson's national championship star Deshaun Watson and North Carolina's talented-but-inexperienced Mitch Trubisky could both wind up being drafted in the top 10 -- especially Watson, whose intangibles will have to tempt teams. But ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said on a recent media teleconference that he has "late-first, second-round" grades on both Watson and Trubisky -- an opinion shared by many.

If Watson or Trubisky somehow falls to No. 32 (NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah had Trubisky there in his latest mock), it could be even more likely that the Saints are interested. That No. 32 pick is an intriguing spot to draft a developmental quarterback, since teams get fifth-year options on all first-round draft picks.

Two other quarterbacks could be in play with that No. 32 or No. 42 pick -- Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

McShay called Kizer "the most physically gifted of the three (Watson and Trubisky) in terms of size, arm strength and good mobility" and said he has a "rifle arm." But McShay said, "he's just so up and down with his consistency and accuracy and really did not play well in some clutch situations."

Mahomes might be the most fascinating and realistic possibility -- since he could be available with both those No. 32 and No. 42 picks.

Mahomes (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) put up some astronomical numbers (including 734 yards and five touchdowns in a loss to Oklahoma last year). But he did it while running an "air raid" style of offense at Texas Tech that hasn't produced any consistent NFL success stories yet.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper listed Mahomes among the prospects who helped their stock the most at the NFL scouting combine. And McShay called Mahomes "one of the most interesting film studies I've ever done" during a recent ESPN First Draft podcast.

"I think his upside is maybe as great as any quarterback in this draft. But his learning curve could be as great as any quarterback in this class," said McShay, who compares Mahomes to Brett Favre and Johnny Manziel because of his gunslinger mentality.

"I mean every play is just 'hold your breath.' It's like a Hitchcock thriller," said McShay, who said the Manziel trait is drifting in the pocket and wanting to pick up 40 yards instead of settling for seven, while the Favre trait is deep-ball accuracy and playmaking. "He's got the size, he's got mobility, he's got probably the best deep ball accuracy in this class and can throw the craziest, off-balance throws I've ever seen, release points I've never seen from a quarterback -- and that includes Johnny Manziel, who did some real crazy, stupid stuff. But he also has no idea how to hang in the pocket and go through progressions.

"I think if he winds up, probably as a second-round pick ... with a team that has an established veteran like Green Bay or somewhere else where they can just put him in the witness protection program and develop him, I think there's a lot of upside in terms of what he can do in the future."

Among mid-round possibilities, McShay said Pittsburgh's Nathan Peterman and Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs are "the two most underrated quarterbacks in this class."