While some fans may not agree with all the picks for the New Orleans Saints so far in the draft, one can see where they are making some bit of sense.
Mind you I said “some”.
Proprietors of mock drafts all across the nation were hit with a feeling of “I told you so” to include a dash of “I can’t believe they actually did it”, when the Saints grabbed Louisville DE/DT Sheldon Rankins with their first pick overall.
Rankins should immediately help the defense, where he’ll likely play defensive tackle alongside veteran Nick Fairly to help generate pressure up the middle — along with some much needed pass rush, too.
It was the pick that made the most sense for the Saints or lauded as the “right” pick by several analysts, to assist the 31st ranked defense in 2015 to hopefully ascend back into the Top 20, at the least.
There was some worry though that the Saints would completely fool everyone and go with a well-hyped (or should I say rumored) pick by the national media and select Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch.
They did almost pull one out of the hat when Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil began his slide down the draft boards; due to what he said was a ‘hack’ of his Twitter account on the opening night of the draft, where a video was posted of him smoking weed out of a bong attached to a gas mask.
Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ole Miss Rebels offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil (48) participates in workout drills during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Head coach Sean Payton admitted that there was some discussion about drafting Tunsil, who was considered a Top 5 pick before the incident before they ultimately went with Rankins.
Looking back on the Saints next two picks, the writing was on the wall somewhat if you had payed attention to the NFL Scouting Combine a few months ago.
Not the workouts necessarily, but what the cameras caught happening in the seats where coaches sat with their Starbucks coffee and stopwatches.
I record the combine and try to watch as much as I can and I distinctly remember footage that NFL Network caught and host Rich Eisnen actually commented on.
Apr 16, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer looks on prior to the Ohio State spring game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Ohio State Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer was seen in an in-depth conversation with Payton in what was more than a friendly conversation.
The two are good friends, but this was more serious looking; with Meyer’s face and posture in a focused, business-like manner as if he was hatching a plan with Payton, and little did we know that in a roundabout way, they were.
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I had prepared myself for the possibility that the Saints would take a wide receiver with their second round pick and knew that they would take one somewhere in this draft; due to the fact that the depth they currently have at wide receiver is not what I’d consider ideal.
What I mean is that the Saints receiving corps has always been a group made of completely different parts, working in symbiosis with Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael’s plan.
It’s designed that any given receiver can have a career day when the defense is focused on another pass catching threat that had one the prior week.
The only receiver that is truly a given for the roster would be Brandin Cooks, followed by Willie Snead and then Brandon Coleman and it’s still a bit worrisome to think about.
Why you may ask when players like Snead could be the Saints next “hidden gem” after having a breakout year and Coleman seemed to catch his stride late last year?
Well, with Snead it’s an issue of can he keep up the production of last year, where he had almost 1,000 yards; and with Coleman you hope he can shake the Nick Toon vibe of being “almost there” but the switch never fully clicks — especially when it comes to aggressive play.
Nov 28, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas (3) makes a catch over Michigan Wolverines cornerback Jourdan Lewis (26) in the third quarter at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Marques Colston’s big play ability is gone and the Saints decided to remedy that with the selection of Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas, who Meyer sheepishly confided last night that he was a player he discussed with Payton.
Not only is Thomas a nice sized receiver (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) but Meyer also complimented his competitive nature as well as being scrappy when it comes to going against opposing defenses, either in games or on the practice field.
NFL analyst Mike Mayock pointed out on thing that will benefit quarterback Drew Brees is the huge catch radius that Thomas has, which would be nice to see when it come to red-zone touchdowns for the Saints.
The Saints third selection wasn’t supposed to occur until the third round, but the club decided to trade up with the New England Patriots who held two picks in the latter part of the second round.
I assumed they had seen two offensive guards in Josh Garnett and Cody Whitehair sling off the board, and figured that they better grab one while the getting was good.
The Saints in our eyes are in desperate need of a guard after watching Brees get hammered all last season, and in some games you wondered if he wasn’t going to end up laid out on a stretcher.
Nov 14, 2015; Champaign, IL, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Vonn Bell (11) reacts after a tackle against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
But instead they went with another Buckeye in safety Vonn Bell, who the Saints had had extensive visits with over the course of the draft process.
Ironically, I had discussed with a friend on Thursday that it would be nice to see Bell as a Saint, but didn’t figure he’d last to the later rounds and apparently they didn’t either.
While safety wasn’t an emergency need, I see what the Saints were doing possibly with so little depth beyond Jarius Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, that they didn’t want to have to do any last minute street shopping in free agency if there was an injury.
Speaking of Byrd, that was the other part of the conversation I had with my friend on Thursday when we spoke of Bell.
Byrd has clearly not panned out the way the Saints had hoped and although we’ve tried to make excuses for his performance due to injury, defensive scheme, lack of front pressure, or whatever, he’s living on borrowed time.
Up to this point, it’s been too costly to cut bait like the team did with cornerback Brandon Browner and eat the dead money from his contract.
Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints free safety Jairus Byrd (31) against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
But according to OverTheCap.com if the Saints were to release Byrd next season they would take a hit of $3.4 million while saving $8.3 million if he were designated a post-June 1st release.
While Bell is listed as a strong safety, he played more free safety roaming the field at Ohio State and ironically has gotten the comparison to Byrd as a player.
I’m not trying to usher Byrd out the door and I hope he works out, but that option is a glaring one for the team.
But this selection could also be about being able to use Byrd, Vaccaro, and Bell as a three safety package with Vaccaro playing more of a weakside linebacker role, which is something that he’s been asked to do some of.
When USC linebacker Su’a Cravens visited the Saints, I actually thought it was quite ironic that he posted on Twitter that the Saints were comparing his measurables to Vaccaro’s.
While it could be analyzed the Saints would utilize Cravens as a safety if he were drafted by them, it also is that maybe they have solved their dilemma of finding that coveted hybrid linebacker spot.
The Bell move did cost them their third and fourth round picks, so we won’t see what they will do until later today (unless they move up).
While their choices may make a certain section of fans clouded with frustration, the Saints vision of what they want to do is quite clear…