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QB still in play for Saints, who see Day 2 as 'strength of the draft'

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints showed off a rare skill set during Round 1 of the NFL draft on Thursday night: Patience.

Sean Payton said they had Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore rated as the No. 3 or No. 4 player in the draft. And they had discussions with teams about trading up once he fell closer to their pick at No. 11. That would have been typical for the Saints, who have traded up five times in Round 1 during general manager Mickey Loomis’ tenure since 2003.

Ultimately, though, the Saints couldn’t bear to part with any of their three picks on Friday night -- No. 42 in Round 2 and No. 76 and No. 103 in Round 3.

“We just felt like these next couple of rounds of this draft were the strength of where this draft was,” Payton said late Thursday night. “And to not have pick 42 or even the two 3’s, I just think -- just my opinion -- the strength of the draft we’re gonna see tomorrow.

“And just looking at the list before I came down here, man there are a lot of good football players still on the board. And it was just hard to think about, with the number of needs we have, a 2-for-1.”

Payton made similar comments before the draft kicked off, saying he thinks there is more depth in the 28-50 range than “I can remember.”

And that’s probably the main reason why the Saints never wound up trading for New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, another example of their patience paying off.

The Saints wound up landing the top cornerback in this year’s draft when Lattimore fell to 11. Then they used the No. 32 pick on Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, whom Payton said they had graded in the top half of Round 1.

And they have three more picks on the way Friday. Here’s where they might go with them:

Quarterback still in play: When asked if there was any scenario where the Saints might have considered drafting a quarterback in Round 1, Payton said, “Yeah.” But he said all decisions in these early rounds will be dictated by the grades -- and that the Saints have “a little bit of flexibility” to fill a variety of needs.

I like Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs as a possibility if he slips into Round 3. But they might have to pounce at No. 42 if they really like a guy such as Dobbs, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Cal’s Davis Webb, Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman or Miami’s Brad Kaaya.

Personally, I wouldn’t love the value if the Saints go quarterback at 42 among that group.

Butler trade not completely closed: I assumed drafting Lattimore meant the Saints had closed the book on trading for Butler or Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson. But when I asked Payton about it, I was surprised that he quickly responded, “And yet all of those things still remain open. If we’re in the draft at some point and we feel like the grade on a particular player is such …”

Payton didn’t really finish the thought after that. But based on the Lattimore pick and the way Payton raved about the value of those mid-round picks, I’d be very surprised to see a trade materialize at this point.

Could pass on pass-rusher: The Saints’ biggest need heading into Day 2 is obvious because it has been their biggest need since the beginning of the offseason -- an edge rusher. But Payton made it seem like they don’t have one graded too highly at this point since they didn’t even consider one at No. 32.

“There was a considerable jump [between Ramczyk and the Saints’ highest graded pass-rusher],” Payton said. “Our grade on Ryan is the top half of Round 1. … And the next pass-rusher grade would be somewhere tomorrow. There was a big gap. So we weren’t gonna go away from just a clear gap in grades.”

Among the top pass-rushers still available are Kansas State’s Jordan Willis and Houston’s Tyus Bowser.

If the Saints look elsewhere on defense, they still could nab some guys who were projected as possible first-rounders, such as safeties Budda Baker and Obi Melifonwu, cornerback Kevin King or linebacker Zach Cunningham.

Or they could consider amping up their offense a bit with a dual-threat runner/receiver like Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara or Curtis Samuel, among other possibilities.

“There’s a handful of guys [left] with a first-round grade [on our board],” Payton said. “Hopefully, knock on wood, we’ll have a chance to draft one with our next pick.”