Can Saints Afford “Redshirt” With Their 1st Pick in the Draft?


“What if” is always a tough pill to swallow when you look back on certain events or even ones that have yet to occur. With the New Orleans Saints, “what if” has become a theme that they want to shed — especially when it comes to players that they have drafted over the recent years.

Of course, New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich will forever seem to be the biggest one for the Saints; following an injury-plagued stint after being drafted by them in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft.

Ninkovich was released, then re-signed in 2008; only to be released again in 2009 after the team attempted to utilize him at long snapper (yeah — I know).

The rest, as they say, is history; and his booming success in New England makes the Saints fan-base chastise the coaching staff for not giving him enough time to develop.

Head coach Sean Payton even admits that the decision to let Ninkovich walk, causes him some sleepless nights.

Dec 13, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich (50) during the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

But it wasn’t until 2010 when Ninkovich truly hit his stride and it makes you wonder if the Saints could have afforded to take the time or even had the coaching staff to help him develop like the Patriots did.

Injuries are essentially a fast forward button for impatient teams or ones that know that they are in “win now mode” which the Saints were in 2009 when they rolled with the nucleus they had and it worked out pretty well for them.

Basically in a nut shell there is no sense in crying over spilt milk…or cut Ninkovich, whichever way you want to look at it.

After two 7-9 seasons, the Saints can’t afford to wait around either and with the draft fast approaching, they will need to squeeze every bit of value they can out of their six selections.

It may seem easy since they are in need of a dynamic defensive lineman in the tackle or end department and the 2016 NFL Draft appears to be littered with so many analysts are speculating you could possibly get a first round talent even in the third round.

But the Saints are also in need of a weakside linebacker which is not so deep as far as talent goes, with only about four or five names being mentioned in the first few rounds.

One of those is former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith who up until his gruesome knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl a few months ago was thought to be a top 10 if not top 5 selection.

Jan 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) reacts in pain on the ground after suffering an injury in the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is that he could fall right into the Saints lap at their 12th overall selection, but the bad news is he is reported to miss at least half the 2016 season if not the entire season while he rehabilitates his knee which would end up being the ever popular “redshirt”.

Smith posted a video showing himself walking in the gym without a knee brace and said that it “feels fantastic” which should be a good sign.

But a Tweet by’s Ian Rappoport put a damper on the hopes of Saints fans that want Smith, when it was revealed that Smith may have sustained nerve damage — a scenario in which the Saints and likely the other 31 teams will pass on Smith, at least in Round 1.

Rappoport’s revelation preceded a series of posts by orthopedic surgeon and Sirius XM Sports medical analyst Dr. David Chao earlier in the week, which seem to verify Rappoport’s Tweet.

Dr. Chao cites that there could possibly be peroneal nerve damage to Smith’s knee and even wrote an article stating that he could fall out of the first round because of it.

Now this may not deter some thinking the Saints should just go ahead and select Smith at #12 since the talk has been over the last month that the possibility of him missing part or all of the 2016 season is an accepted consequence which is in some ways understandable considering his talent.

In a perfect scenario current starter at that position, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, could stay healthy for the season plus the Saints could sign a linebacker such as Broncos free agent Danny Trevathan to shore up that spot until Smith heals.

But boy, that’s a whole lot of could’s and one major perfect that is binding that whole thing together to make the Smith pick less expensive.

Sep 5, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (18) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not saying that Smith wouldn’t be a good selection or that he won’t heal and return to the performance he showed while playing as a Golden Domer, it’s simply a matter of asking can the Saints afford to use their first round pick on player with a plethora of other needs as well on the defense.

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Payton even said in a recent interview at the NFL Scouting Combine that they absolutely have to hit on all six of their picks in the upcoming draft and from what it appears right now is that Smith could be far from an absolute.

I’d say this situation would be different if the Saints were stacked on the defensive line, linebacker, or even the secondary because of the luxury of that pick.

But we all aren’t kidding ourselves and can attest that right now on the defensive side of the ball the Saints luxury of wasting picks would be akin to filing for bankruptcy and they have the failed or wasted past drafts to prove it.

One play the Saints might have in this draft is something I mentioned previously which is the depth of defensive linemen in the first three rounds.

With that notion, selecting another linebacker at that spot that is ready to contribute seems a bit more appealing especially because they’ll be at a premium.

The ultimate crush for the New Orleans fanbase is of course former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, but him falling to the Saints would be nothing short of a miracle unless they traded up which they done with more failure than success in mortgaging future picks.

Nov 28, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers linebacker Deion Jones (45) tackles Texas A&M Aggies running back Tra Carson (5) during the second half at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Texas A&M Aggies 19-7. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Two linebackers that were considered second rounders are slowly rising in recent weeks in former LSU Tiger Deion Jones and former USC Trojan Su’a Cravens, with draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. saying Jones could be a possible first round pick.

While both are really good at their positions though, a twelfth overall pick is probably a pretty rich reach for either of those unless the Saints were in a trade down situation.

On the flip side to all of this, Smith could go “full Thomas Davis” on everyone and bounce back like the Carolina Panthers linebacker did; after tearing his ACL multiple times in his NFL career and still went on to become a dominant player.

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With the depth currently the way it is for the Saints at weakside linebacker or linebacker period, I’m just not sold that they could forfeit an entire season on a player that should be on the field.

But for now, I’ll try to reserve myself until we see what the Saints do in free agency to lock that spot up better, along with the medical checks for Smith leading up to the draft…..