It’s a question asked of the New Orleans Saints almost after every draft, especially by native Louisianans: “Why don’t they ever draft any players from LSU?”
The simple answer is it’s because they just have never really had the opportunity; or because they still feel “snake-bit” from the selection of defensive tackle Al Woods in the 2010 draft — who they traded fourth and sixth round picks to move up and get.
Woods was the last LSU player selected by the Saints in a NFL Draft and left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans that lasted much longer than his tenure with the team, as he was released before the start of the 2010 regular season.
But I think the real reason we haven’t seen a ‘Bayou Bengal’ on the Black and Gold has to more to do with the lack of opportunity or positioning in the draft since then.
Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey was being targeted by the Saints in the 2008 Draft, but being unable to move up within the top five picks, they had to settle for a trade with the New England Patriots to #7 to get Sedrick Ellis.
Oct 18, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula speaks with defensive end Glenn Dorsey (90) between plays against the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter at Levi
The years following that, lack of picks combined with some head-scratching draft choices, kept more Tigers from the grasps of New Orleans; although it’s come close on occasion in the past few drafts though.
For example, the Saints were targeting a safety in 2013 and selected Kenny Vaccaro with their fifteenth overall pick, while LSU’s Eric Reid went just three picks later to the San Francisco 49ers.
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Had Vaccaro been off the board, Reid was likely going to be a Saint — but Vaccaro graded out just a littler better mainly due to his versatility.
The 2014 draft was a “double whammy” as the Saints were eyeballing LSU running back Jeremy Hill with their second round pick, but the Cincinnati Bengals grabbed him just three picks ahead.
They decided to go with cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste instead, and missed out on LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry who went five picks after to the Miami Dolphins and is now a NFL superstar.
The disastrous and miserable SJB pick was only compounded by the fact head coach Sean Payton admitted that Landry’s Pro Day workout, along with his teammate and fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr., was “one of the best he’d seen in a long time.”
But last year’s miss by the Saints on an LSU player was probably the worst, as offensive guard La’el Collins slipped through their grasp.
Dec 19, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Kellen Moore (17) and offensive guard La’el Collins (71) during the game against the New York Jets at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Once considered a top first round prospect, Collins had to leave the draft ceremonies to answer investigators questions in Baton Rouge concerning a homicide investigation which involved a former female acquaintance.
Although he was never charged or officially named as a suspect, Collins plummeted to undrafted free agent status with the Dallas Cowboys bringing out the red carpet to sign him and in his rookie year was a dominant force on their offensive line.
Draft analyst Mike Detillier asked a poignant question: why in your own home state did the Saints not have the necessary information to know all the details involving the Collins situation, which would have allowed you to steal him for a seventh round pick?
Well the Saints can add some members of LSU’s storied football program to their roster with ironically another offensive lineman in Vadal Alexander in this years draft, if they choose to.
Alexander, who’s listed as a guard, is thought to be a Day 2 selection in the late second round to early third round range.
Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; LSU Tigers offensive lineman Vadal Alexander participates in workout drills during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
He’s also versatile along the line, since he’s played some stints at tackle during his time — which is something Payton loves a la 2015 first round selection Andrus Peat.
The only issue to be taken with Alexander is that he is probably not as talented as other guards; like Stanford’s Joshua Garnett or Arizona State’s Christian Westerman, with both of those two young men probably set to be some solid second round picks.
I’m sure I’ll draw the ire of LSU fans, and maybe a few Saints fans, by saying if Garnett is still on the board or if by some miracle that Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair is too in the second round, then they’d be ahead of Alexander in the pecking order.
Two defensive players that had early aspirations of being on the Saints roster have slid as well in the past month or so, in linebacker Deion Jones and defensive back Jalen Mills.
Jones has been riding the lightning of the safety/linebacker trend and looked good in the Senior Bowl, but other players like USC’s Su’a Cravens are slightly ahead of him — at least for me.
Mills is an enigma in the sense that he has played both corner and safety at LSU; with safety being his most recent stay at the position, which I think is how he’ll be used at in the NFL unless he plays some nickel.
Dec 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jalen Mills (28) reacts after making a defensive play against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
At 6’1, 191 pounds Mills isn’t going to wow you with bone-crushing tackles or be the next ball-hawking Tyrann Mathieu type of player, which the Saints are in desperate need of.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he’s a complete “bust” out of the gate, but there will probably be more desirable options for the Saints at the safety position during the draft that they’ll end up looking at.
A ‘dark horse’ for the Saints could be former cornerback Rashard Robinson; who has followed the path of Mathieu in convincing teams that despite having off-the-field issues that lead to an indefinite suspension from LSU in November of 2014, he’s “back on track”.
Once thought to be the next superstar to play in Death Valley in the realm of Patrick Peterson or Mathieu, Robinson has been generating some buzz with multiple visits to teams like the Denver Broncos, New York Giants, and Seattle Seahawks; and has moved from a late round pick to a possible fourth round grade.
Oct 25, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Mississippi Rebels wide receiver Cody Core (88) reaches for the end zone as he score a touchdown in front of LSU Tigers defensive back Rashard Robinson (21) in the first quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Do I think the Saints will touch him in the fourth round?
Most likely not — but if they had their sixth round pick this year, I think they’d take a chance on someone like him, especially if he’s proved he has shaken the character issues and is on the right path.
The big concerns for Robinson is that he’s been out of football for a while and his wiry frame of 6’1, 171 pounds may cause some matchup concerns with NFL receivers.
So heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, it looks the same as always for the Saints and LSU connection — which is: “close but probably not very likely”……..