The NFL Draft is a little over a week away and is one of the most highly anticipated events to start the new year. The Saints will make their first selection on day two since they traded up last year to select Marcus Davenport. This pick will also be the only selection within the top 100 picks. Most fans will tell you that they do not like the idea of not having a first rounder and not being able to pick again until round five. However, given the way the roster is shaping up, the Saints are in a position to take the best player available, trade back for more picks, possibly trade up if someone falls or just stick to the regular order and take guys who can be good depth players.
What the Who Dat Nation seems to forget about is how this team has been built in the Sean Payton era by finding hidden gems in the later rounds and undrafted free agents. As much as I hate to say it, Tom Brady is a main example that being taking in the late rounds does not mean you cannot become a star player in the NFL. The Saints have been able to find several hidden gems since 2006 that ended up having some success at the next level. Some to this day are still fan favorites and rightfully so as they embraced the culture and family like atmosphere of the franchise.
Here are some of the main hidden gems that have been found since ’06 (4th round or later and UDFA only):
Jahri Evans – G/Bloomsburg (4th Round)
Zach Strief – OT/Northwestern (7th Round)
Marques Colston – WR/Hofstra (7th Round)
Lance Moore – WR/Toledo (Undrafted)
Jermon Bushrod – OT/Towson (4th Round)
Pierre Thomas – RB/Illinois (Undrafted)
Carl Nicks – OT/G/Nebraska (5th Round)
Jo-Lonn Dunbar – LB/Boston College (Undrafted)
Lynell Hamilton – RB/San Diego State (Undrafted)
Garrett Hartley – K/Oklahoma (Undrafted)
Thomas Morstead – P/SMU (5th Round)
Jonathan Casillas – LB/Wisconsin (Undrafted)
Chris Ivory – RB/Tiffin (Undrafted)
Junior Galette – DE/Stillman (Undrafted)
Chase Daniel – QB/Missouri (Undrafted)
Kenny Stills – WR/Oklahoma (5th Round)
Josh Hill – TE/Idaho State (Undrafted)
Khiry Robinson – RB/West Texas A&M (Undrafted)
Tyeler Davison – DT/Fresno State (5th Round)
David Onyemata – DT/Manitoba (4th Round)
As you can see, the Saints are no slouch when it comes to finding late round or undrafted talent. Over the last several years, it has fallen off but is only because the teams has been successful signing solid free agents. Some of the players may not have had stellar careers but they did enough to make an impact. Rob Ninkovich is also a guy who the Saints drafted and let go but found success elsewhere in New England. Just goes to show that even if the Saints can find them, they may not always be able to stick on the roster.
When you really think about it, you had a guy like Evans come from a small school and could potentially be a Hall of Fame prospect. Strief managed to play ten years as a 7th round pick. Colston is the team’s leading receiver from a school that does not even have a football program anymore. Thomas beat out Antonio Pittman who was a 4th round pick that same year from Ohio State mainly because of his ability to return kicks. Moore became a fan favorite for his end zone dances but also because of his amazing hands and route running. Bushrod and Nicks benefited from other player’s injuries and capitalized on them. Hartley will always be remembered as the kicker who sent the Saints to the Super Bowl. Morstead has become a hometown favorite on and off the field. Hill has been consistent every year as a blocking tight end and just keeps on producing. Onyemata is finally becoming a force as a pass rusher and to think he has not even been playing football very long.
Long story short, the Saints have had keen eye for late round talent. This year is no different given they will be looking for depth at certain positions. Who knows, that player may eventually become a star, either with us or some other team. Either way you look at it, the Saints roster will never be short of talent for a very long time. Just have to look a little bit harder to find that diamond in the rough.
Follow Dom Lewis on Twitter @BigFella122