I know what Saints fans are probably thinking already on this, which I am too:
“Don’t do it Sean!!!”
Heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints should be looking to shore up good defensive prospects with at least the first two selections.
Unless a highly graded offensive tackle such as Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair or Stanford’s Joshua Garnett falls to them at the second round, then defense appears to be the soup of the day, or days I should say, in the coming week.
But if anything has taught us concerning the Saints, you can never really rule anything out in the draft or free agency for that matter — if the crazy run they made at signing cornerback Josh Norman on Friday evening can be used as a gauge.
Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi
Running back is a position considered to be a luxury for the franchise, considering that they have a total of six on the roster before training camp even begins.
But just as nervous as fans are about the Saints trading up in the draft, you need to be equally nervous about the twinkle head coach Sean Payton gets when a player that tickles his fancy and his draft “trigger finger” as well.
As far as running backs go in the draft, Payton has always had a love affair when a particular player catches his eye and will hit the “Buy Now” button pretty hard.
We saw that in Mark Ingram during the 2011 draft, where he surprised everyone including Ingram with a trade back up into the first round to select him.
Fast forward to 2014: and while the Saints had Pierre Thomas, Ingram, Travaris Cadet, and Khiry Robinson, Payton came close to selecting Jeremy Hill in the second round before the Cincinnati Bengals grabbed him.
Last year former LSU guard La’el Collins was still available due to extenuating circumstances and would have been a heist for the Saints in the seventh round, the club instead went with running back Marcus Murphy; who had a case of fumble-itis during the mid-season last year.
Aug 30, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Marcus Murphy (48) against the Houston Texans during the second half of a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Texans defeated the Saints 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Free agency isn’t immune from the Saints running back fever; and when C.J. Spiller became available last year, Payton called safety Jarius Byrd (who was an ex-teamamte of Spiller’s) to question him about the former first round pick.
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If my memory serves me correctly, Byrd was actually in the presence of Spiller when he made the call and had to excuse himself to talk to Payton.
We know the rest of the story and besides the “Great Wheel Route Wonder” touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in overtime last year, Spiller has been a disappointment.
I know where some of you are at right now on the possibility of a running back being drafted and have folded your arms, shaking your head back and forth like kid trying to be force fed your vegetables complete with “Mhhh mmm” sound effects as you try to avoid the thought of it.
But let’s face it, if Payton gets tempted it can happen and there a few that might give him the itch next weekend.
Jan 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Evan Spencer (6) and running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) react following Elliot
I’ll go ahead and cross some off immediately though with two prospects in Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot and Alabama’s Derrick Henry.
Both of these backs are considered to be the top two rushers in this draft class and wouldn’t surprise me if rumors are correct in that Elliot is a top ten if not top five pick in the draft.
At 5’11 and 224 pounds Elliot has the speed(4.44 40-yd dash) and the ability to become not only a good running back in the NFL, but a complete one as a pass catcher and blocker to boot.
Like Elliot, Henry will be a hot commodity due to his massive size(6’3, 244 pounds) and his speed which was clocked at a 4.54 at the scouting combine along with being the top performer in his group in the vertical(37 inches), broad jump(130 inches), and 60 yd-shuttle(11.5 seconds).
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry (2) breaks away from Clemson Tigers safety Jayron Kearse (1) to score a touchdown in the first quarter in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
What’s appealing about Henry is that due to his size he’s a punishing running back who craves contact and was measured by ESPN’s Sports Science as hitting with the force of a wrecking ball at 5 mph when he got in the open field.
They also measured his ability to from a stand still plow through 1,500 pounds of hanging heavy bags which they said was more than the combined weight of the 2015 Denver Broncos defensive front five(1,409 pounds).
He’s good at receiving as well but out of the two, Elliot is really the more polished and agile back that will make would be tacklers miss.
I say that Henry would be off the Saints list, but if he is still hanging out close to their second round pick it’ll be okay if you suddenly have sweaty palms thinking Ingram might have “accidentally” put a bug in Sean’s ear.
Two more, I guess you could call realistic, Payton options would be another teammate of Henry’s in Alabama’s Kenyan Drake and Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon.
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Kenyan Drake (17) runs for touchdown on a kick off during the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Drake, who has good size at 6-feet even and 212 pounds to go along with his speed, ran a 4.45 at the NFL Scouting Combine.
He showed his value on special teams as well, and during the National Championship game he ran back a 95 yard kickoff for a touchdown.
Along with having the ability to play on special teams as a return man and a tackler, Drake had an average 12.4 yards a reception as a receiver during his time with the Crimson Tide and had four receiving touchdowns to go along with 18 career rushing scores.
The only hitch for him is that he suffered some recent injuries, breaking his leg in 2014 and fracturing his arm last year; but was on the field just a few weeks later after the arm injury so it speaks to his toughness.
Drake is all over draft boards with some predicting his as a mid-rounder to others saying he’ll still be available in the later rounds.
If he’s still there in the seventh round, which isn’t likely, then it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Payton starts getting the shakes.
Sep 10, 2015; Bowling Green, KY, USA; Louisiana Tech Bulldogs running back Kenneth Dixon (28) carries the ball away from Western Kentucky Hilltoppers defensive back Prince Charles Iworah (30) during the first half at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports
A local product from Louisiana Tech, Dixon has been getting some major attention leading up the draft and rightfully so.
Local draft analyst Mike Detillier says the 5-foot-10, 214 pound former Bulldog is a “1st rate all purpose back” who compares to the likes of another former Louisiana player in New York Jets running back Matt Forte.
Dixon scored 72 rushing touchdowns at Tech with an average 5.6 yards per carry along with 15 receiving touchdowns and averaged 11.1 yards per reception as a pass catcher.
He’s another back who is quick and physical, while being able to go through tacklers and averaged 3.3 yards after initial contact.
The drawbacks for Dixon is that he is sometimes viewed as too overly aggressive in his running style which could shorten his career and that he averaged a little over 4 fumbles the past three seasons which is a Payton no-no.
Dixon is predicted to be a Day 2 prospect with a third round grade, but could slip into the area of Day 3 as teams try to scoop up players of the defensive line who are falling, which is considered to be the deep part of this draft.
Oct 24, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose State Spartans running back Tyler Ervin (7) runs the ball against the New Mexico Lobos in the first quarter at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
USA Today NFL writer Tom Pelissero mentioned that the Saints actually conducted a workout with the 5-foot-10, 179 pound running back, although he appeared at the combine weighing in at 192 pounds.
Ervin showed his speed with a 4.41 40 yd-dash, and was the top performer in his group with a 39 inch vertical and a 130 inch broad jump.
A likely draw for Payton is not just Ervin’s rushing ability but his potential on special teams where in his four full years he had 2,374 kick return yards (23.5 yards per return) and 186 punt return yards (13.3 yards per return) while scoring FIVE TD’s — three touchdowns on kickoffs and two off punt returns.
Analysts have Ervin currently graded out as a Day 3 pick somewhere in the fourth to fifth round of the draft.
I’m in no way advocating that the Saints to take a running back in this draft but it’s one of those “out of left field” trademarks of Payton that assistant general manager Jeff Ireland was able to reel in during last year’s draft.
While Ingram and Spiller are under contract with 2018 being their final season, the club has to be frowning with the production out of Spiller versus the money they gave him.
Reasons for these were rumored to be everything from him not grasping the playbook to a knee injury that hampered him early on.
I don’t know if Payton will be as patient if Spiller’s season is another disappointment and they would only be hit with $1.25 million in dead money and save $3.6 million by designating him as a post-June 1st release in 2017.
And I get that the Saints signed fan favorite Tim Hightower back, but it’s still on a one-year deal for $760,000 — which is the same deal Travaris Cadet was given too this offseason, so what does that tell you?
While the Saints may not presently need a running back in this draft, if there are some tantalizing temptations on Day 3, then Payton may hit the button quicker than a compulsive shopper on eBay…..