After the 2016 and 2017 draft classes hit on almost all accounts, the Saints’ front office seemed to have gone into this year’s draft with one thing on their minds: “Get our guy.” After that, it looks like the most of the 2018 draft class consists of picks that could be valuable depth but have some great development potential. Can the Saints hit on some sleeper draft picks again like in year’s past? Maybe. Do they need to? Absolutely not. At least not in my opinion. I’m actually shocked that they picked seven players this year considering the lack of roster space and returning players from IT. But it just means they’ll have to work to make the cut. New Orleans went in to the first round with the goal of getting Marcus Davenport in a Saints jersey and that’s what they did. Everything after that, is icing on the cake. I won’t lie though, they got that good icing, just a couple of questionable fondant flowers.
The Saints swapped first round picks with the Packers at the expense of their 2019 first-rounder and their earlier fifth-round pick (147) in order to move up to get the #2 pass rusher in this year’s draft. After Bradley Chubb went off the board to the Broncos at pick five, the best two options available for EDGE were Davenport and Boston College’s Harold Landry. Now I’ll be honest, I was all about taking Harold Landry at or near 27, but I never thought we’d be close to getting Marcus Davenport. Not to mention Landry actually fell into the top of the second round to Tennessee. There were some injury concerns with him that hadn’t been made entirely apparent to the public until just a day or so before the draft. Our front office likely knew about these weeks if not months in advance. I don’t blame them for staying away when they’re trying to bring in a difference maker right now.
I believe, in Davenport, they’ve finally found someone that can attack opposite Cam Jordan. His biggest criticism is that he’s raw. Having only played in a DI league, he hasn’t played a lot of high-level competition like he would have had he had gone to say, Ohio State. But when you watch his tape, there’s no doubt that he was a completely dominant force with the Road Runners. Beyond that, his character is of high quality, something that really matters in the Saints locker room. He’s someone that has strong ties to the city (his father was born here), has pretty great story being born prematurely at 3-pounds and is poetry-writing, women’s rights supporting, record setting player. He’0s going to fit right in on a personal and professional perspective. Putting him under the guidance of Ryan Nielson, Cameron Jordan, and even savvy vet Alex Okafor is only going to help him get better. A lot of his issues on the field come from having trouble getting under offensive linemen before they can gain leverage on him. That makes sense with a 6’7″ frame. But he’s shown that he has the ability to do it.
I’m not really here to dig back into player analysis, so I’ll wrap up this pick with this thought. The Saints didn’t have many holes coming into the draft. Sure, pass-catching TE would have been a plus. Back up quarterback might have been good for the future or the “just in case” crowd. The Saints came in with two big needs, edge pressure and depth on the offensive line. They did what they felt was necessary to check the edge rusher box that’s been open for years once and for all. They did so with immense talent and endless potential, at that.
Loomis mentioned that the front office didn’t feel they could move around much the second day because of their big move to get Davenport. Despite that, though they walked away with a third-round pick they had graded in the second. Tre’Quan Smith, the UCF wideout is an exhilarating receiver who is going to fit right into this offense. Here are a bunch of reasons why from his 2017 performance.
For the “Drew Brees doesn’t throw deep anymore” folks, I present to you the number 72. That’s how many deep passes Brees connected on in 2017. Second behind him was Brady with ten fewer completions. Tre’Quan Smith found himself drafted by a team that has the perfect fit for him. He’s not just a one-trick pony either. He’s reliable all over the field. in 2017, his quarterback had a 142.9 passer rating when targeting Smith, period. That included an additional 522 yards and four touchdowns. This is also a guy that was a part of UCF’s turnaround from winless to undefeated. He was a great “get” in this year’s draft and will put up a fight with Brandon Coleman for that fourth round slot. Truthfully, I also think of him as insurance for Cam Meredith. Even if he wasn’t drafted with that purpose in mind, it’s good to have him just in case. The guy can make some serious plays.
Come day three, many of the picks we saw were focused on depth and special teams but I’m comfortable saying that we ended up being able to select some guys with big development potential.
The pick that shocked the fanbase came with the fourth round selection of FSU RT Rick Leonard. Leonard, by the accounts of many media draft rankings, was apparently an undraftable talent. However, the Saints liked him so much after their pre-draft workout in Tallahassee that they pulled the trigger for him in the fourth. Leonard has only started 19 games at RT, including a full season his final year as a Seminole. Despite the negative press and the small sample size, Sean Payton mentioned that he could see Leonard immediately being involved in jumbo packages and competing to be a game day backup tackle for the team. Leonard also believes that he could play guard if asked. He was actually recruited to FSU as a defensive end and was asked to change to o-line so learning a new position won’t be out of the ordinary for him.
Offensive linemen has been a strength when it comes to drafting and developing in New Orleans. We saw the team go there again in the final round of the draft when they were able to select an absolute steal in LSU OG/C Will Clapp in the seventh. Clapp is a versatile, highly intelligent, and durable player who played both guard positions as well as at center in his time at LSU. The Saints love to have offensive linemen that can play multiple positions and swing in anywhere on the line. Brian de la Puente, Senio Kelemete, and Jerman Bushrod are perfect examples of multi-position linemen who found success with New Orleans. Clapp will fit right in and have time some to soak up information while likely beginning by backing up Max Unger. Though I could see Clapp as well as Leonard taking more immediate snaps with the field goal unit as well.
Both of these moves were more about depth than anything but both players have a great opportunity ahead of them if they manage to develop á la Zach Strief, who was a seventh-rounder himself.
The Saints other three picks all have immediate special teams value while bringing quality depth to their units. In the fifth round, Natrell Jamerson was selected. Jamerson is a Safety who’s also played at corner, wide receiver, and has handled primary kick return duties for the Wisconsin Badgers. In the sixth came the selections of Boston College’s Kamrin Moore and Louisiana Tech’s Boston Scott. Both of which also have special teams value, Moore as a coverage guy- think Chris Banjo the gunner God- and Scott was worked out as a punt returner. They all also bring potential to compete as depth on the team. Behind Ingram and Kamara, there’s not much of a backup plan and while Scott is undersized (5’7″) he’s a satellite back that can be very useful out the backfield. Moore and Jamerson both have opportunities on the defensive side to back up our now fully-loaded secondary. Jamerson is being seen as potential outside corner and safety depth while Moore (who is very physical) is coming in with consideration to backup Patrick Robinson in the nickel position.
It’s obvious that this isn’t the type of draft strategy we’ve deployed for the past two year. This is something we, as fans, should be grateful for. Some of these picks feel questionable, and in come cases downright confusing, but the fact of the matter is that they’re risk picks. New Orleans is in a position to make risk picks because of the success of their team and recent drafts. If they were going into another season of needing to fill several holes in order to help the team function, it would mean there were still several issues from last season that needed to be fixed. Fortunately, there was one single glaring hole in the Saints team and they addressed it in round one.
If you’re thinking that they didn’t address the pass-catching tight end need, don’t worry. The did it yesterday after the draft with the UDFA signing of Deon Walters. Who our good friend Barry Hirstius believes will become a star on the Saints offense.Spoiler, we believe him.