Saints draft: Boom or Bust? Only time will tell!!
NEW ORLEANS -- No question that after last year’s bountiful draft for the New Orleans Saints, the 2018 version of let’s take a chance would be scrutinized in a way that no other draft would be.
No matter who the Saints chose this year, the comparison to 2017 would be made, even though none of the players selected starting last Thursday had even taken a snap in the NFL.
So, how did the Saints do in this year’s installment? That all depends on who you ask. The range of grades looks like the report card of a seventh grader going through the change to adulthood: it is all over the map.
ESPN gave the Saints a C+, putting New Orleans just above average. Bleacher Report, without providing any explanation with its rankings, gave the Saints a D, the lowest in the league along with Oakland and Seattle.
Yahoo and USA Today agreed with Bleacher Report and also rated the New Orleans draft as being D worthy. However, both NFL.com and CBS Sports had the Saints with a grade of B.
The biggest move of the draft for New Orleans came very early. The Saints made a bold move in the first round Thursday, trading next year’s first-rounder to move up and take Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport, a player who filled a need for a pressure player at the right defensive end spot the Saints have been trying to fill long-term for years.
New Orleans took criticism for the cost to move from No. 27 to No. 14.
But anybody who has paid attention to general manager Mickey Loomis’ history knows he’s not afraid to make a big move for a player.
“This is the philosophy, regardless of position,” Loomis said. “If there’s somebody we really covet and we have an opportunity to move up, then we’re just going to going to analyze the cost and the risk, and if we like it, we’re going to make a move.”
The move up for Davenport cost the Saints dearly, but it left them in the same position they were entering this draft. Unlike the past three years, when the Saints were flush with picks in the first three rounds and could aggressively attack needs on the roster, this draft was back-loaded, with six picks outside the top 90.
The further the Saints got into the draft, the harder it was to target a specific need.
“Again that comes down primarily to the players that are left on the board,” Loomis said on Friday night. “And I think, regardless of position, we’re just looking for good players.”
New Orleans ended up landing players that happened to fit positions of need. On the offensive line, the Saints added Florida State’s Rick Leonard, an offensive tackle Sean Payton can already see playing a swing role and the sixth lineman in a jumbo package; and LSU’s Will Clapp, a battle-tested player on the interior who might have more ability to play right away than most seventh-rounders.
Wisconsin’s Natrell Jamerson filled a “want” for the Saints at cornerback. Boston College’s Kamrin Moore doubled down at the same position. Both added flexibility and special-teams prowess, a key to any roster in today’s NFL.
“When you bring 46 players to the game, and you begin to look at the snaps they’re playing, both offensively and defensively, it’s hard to have a lot of backups that are only going to play in event of an injury,” Payton said. “You just have to be that much more efficient when you’re looking at roster sizes like that.”
Wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith in the third round and running back Boston Scott in the sixth added important depth to positions of strength, with special-teams possibility to boot.
And the Saints didn’t have to trade for any of their picks after Davenport.
“It wasn’t like there weren’t times today where there were discussions about moving one direction or another, but in the end, we felt pretty good about where we were sitting,” Payton said. “It kind of fell to us.”
All of this can be traced to a roster that has become deep enough that the Saints entered draft weekend with 78 players, far more than in recent seasons.
New Orleans had fewer needs to fill, and that allowed the Saints to hone in sharply on a couple of spots.
“From a magnet standpoint, we were a little bit further along with guys on the roster,” Payton said.
For the Saints, who try to fill their holes in free agency before the draft arrives to eliminate need-based picking, the reality is that there’s always some element of need to a draft pick.
The Saints picked players they believe can help next season, even on a roster far more stacked than it has been in years.
“You’re trying to find guys that can make the roster; they bring something to the table,” Payton said. “Hopefully, we have.”
Now New Orleans will have to wait and see if their decisions in the 2018 draft pan out. Most Saints fans would probably like to see as much production out of this year’s draft class as they did in last years’ picks, if that is even possible.