Brian Allee-Walsh

The NFL draft, Saints schedule, Kentucky Derby and more

By BRIAN ALLEE-WALSH

Columnist

Clemson's Shaq Lawson, right, sacks Alabama's Jake Coker during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Clemson's Shaq Lawson, right, sacks Alabama's Jake Coker during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) AP

NEW ORLEANS

Much to write about with the NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints 2016 schedule, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby and the ongoing Will Smith murder investigation dominating the sports and news headlines in the Big Easy these days.

So without further adieu I'll try to stuff 50 pounds of mud in a five-pound bag:

NFL Draft (April 28-30): At this moment, the Saints pick at No. 12. Barring a trade backward, look for General Manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton to go defense in the first round, taking either a pass-rushing end/outside linebacker or a run-stuffing tackle. If the opportunity presents itself, they could move back two to five spots, pick up an extra pick or two and still get a coveted player in their bullpen.

My pick: Shaq Lawson, defensive end, Clemson.

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Saints schedule: On paper, the Saints are faced with a killer schedule in terms of difficulty. Great for the home fans with Oakland, Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles and Detroit invading the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, along with the NFC South regulars Carolina, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Not a gimme in the bunch, except maybe the Lions. Throw in road dates against the New York Giants, San Diego, Kansas City, San Francisco, Arizona and the three division foes and the Black and Gold will be hard pressed to win nine.

My early-bird prediction: 9-7.

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Zurich Classic of New Orleans (April 28-May 1): With Friday's entry deadline fast approaching, the 156-player

field remains a work in process. But we know at least three top 10 players are in the field -- Jason Day (No. 1), Rickie Fowler (No. 5) and defending champion Justin Rose (No. 10). This tournament has a long history of producing first-time winners on the PGA Tour and I see no reason to deviate from the norm.

Projected winner: Daniel Berger. The tour's Rookie of the Year in 2016 finished T6 in last year's Zurich Classic.

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Kentucky Derby (May 7): The horse gods have smiled down on GMB Racing Stables, which are owned by the First Family of Sports in New Orleans, Tom and Gayle Benson. Tom's Ready and Mo Tom will both run in the Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs. Mo Tom moved into the 20th and final starting spot when Cupid dropped out this week. It'll take a Saintly trip around the 11/4 mile distance for either colt to finish in the money.

Early pick: Nyquist.

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Murder investigation: A preliminary hearing will be heard April 28 for Cardell Hayes, who was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of former Saints defensive end Will Smith. This case continues to get curiouser and curiouser as each side digs in for a legal battle that promises to test the Louisiana "stand your ground'' law. Was it murder (Hayes allegedly shot Smith eight times, in addition to wounding Smith's wife) or justifiable homicide (did Hayes act in self defense)?

Prediction: Expect the unexpected before all is said and done in this high-profile case.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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