Come the end of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Saints had acknowledged just about every need they had coming out of their third straight 7-9 season. While they might not have addressed them in the timely fashion as desired by the fan base, address they did. Come their final pick in the sixth round, they were able to look at the best players available and take on a project. The “project,” or choosing a player that can be developed over time, is a staple in the Peyton era. Seemingly each year the front office brings in a player in the final day of the draft that they see potential in, however raw their experience may be. David Onyemata is a rising example of this practice.
2017’s project pick happens to be one of my favorite selections, Al-Quadin Muhammad. When drafted, all NFL analyst (our own beat writers excluded) wanted to talk about was his “attitude problem” or the “trouble” he’s been in throughout his time at Miami (Fla.) and how it might carry over to the NFL. Let’s be clear though what these so-called “off-field issues” were.
Firstly, He was suspended in 2014 for an altercation in the parking lot of the Miami spring game with a roommate and he was dismissed from Miami’s program in 2016 for receiving discounts on luxury vehicles. He also had another incident during which he dismissed a prostitute from his home upon learning that she was, you know, a prostitute. The last two out of these three situations don’t bother me at all as luxury vehicle discounts will no longer get him in trouble in a league that actually pays him money and the character of a person that tells a prostitute “nah, I’m good” is a pretty good look. The parking lot altercation doesn’t bother me at all as there’s been no evidence of this being repeated in his nature. It happened and he’s done nothing but move on from it. I’m mad excited about this guy and, if you’ve been keeping up with the preseason games, you can see it yourself. He’s a big, bad, speedy pass rusher. He’s got confidence in himself and has brought nothing but love and determination to the Saints where he’s surrounded by stand-up guys and great examples. It’s also no mystery that Sean Peyton doesn’t put up with your shit. (See: Junior Galette.) Anyway, let’s get it.
I’m going bold right away here. Muhammad compared himself to one of the most feared defensive players of today’s NFL. Khalil Mack. Now, I can’t go as far as to say that Muhammad will walk in this year and rack up double digit sacks, but remember. Neither did Mack his first year. Mack’s first year included 76 total tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 PBUs. Not bad. In fact, that’d be way more than what we need opposite Cam Jordan this year. We’ve said over and over again here at ASC that if we can get three or four guys to put up four or five sacks this year, we’d be golden. Having Muhammad come in and rotate opposite Cam while putting up less than half the amount of tackles that Mack did his first year would be great as long as he’s putting up four or five sacks. But of course, we’re not talking about sensible expectations right now, we’re talking best-case scenario. So let’s go all out because we’re grown people and we do what we want. In Mack’s second year, arguably his best despite winning defensive MVP in his third, he put up tremendous numbers. 77 total tackles (23 for a loss,) 15 sacks, 2 PBUs and 2 FFs. If Muhammad came in and won the other DE position his rookie year, he might be hungry to get to the QB after all the time he missed on the field at The U. He might see it as the opportunity of a lifetime and just plain blackout this season. Who knows? He’s already had 3.5 sacks in two preseason games so far including two clutch sacks and a pressure that helped cause Bighill’s interception on the final possession of the Chargers game.
Stat Line: 70 tackles (18 for a loss), 11 sacks, 2 PBUs, 0 INTs, 3 FFs
I might be cheating us all on this one, but this is (was) a real possibility for Muhammad. My example here is a hometown guy, Ryan Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown was actually an UDFA, but he spent his rookie year on the Bengals’ practice squad to give him time to develop and learn the system. Muhammad’s stats over seven games in college nearly allot for all of the numbers that Brown put up in his senior year, but still. This could be the worst cast scenario for Muhammad if the coaching staff decides he needs more time to learn and adjust. This, however, is actually less likely in my mind than the best-case shared above.
Stat Line: Practice Squad
Again, I’m a huge fan of this guy and think he’s a diamond in the rough as a round six pick. The culture of the New Orleans Saints will help foster him in the right direction on and off the field. That being said, my comparison might surprise you considering he’s presently suspended for 4 games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Enter Dallas Cowboys’ David Irving. Now, I know that the PED issue is a big deal, but just bear with me and look at his numbers from last year as a rotational player in his second season. 17 total tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defended, and 4 forced fumbles. That’s the type of production we need from a few people rotating at the end position. However, I expect Muhammad to mostly operate behind Cam Jordan. Learning from one of the most underrated and likable ends in the game. The good news is that there’s not a ton of pressure for Muhammad to ball out of control. Instead he can focus on playing his game, learning from Cam, and getting to the quarterback when he gets the opportunity. Which he has shown so far this preseason that he can do, including when it matters most.
Stat Line: 25 tackles (10 for a loss), 5 sacks, 2 PBUs, 0 INTs, 4 FFs
Muhammad has all of the physical tools necessary to be a force on the defensive line. Just the kind of young presence we’d been waiting for over a few years of terrible pass rush. I’m looking for this guy to be someone we recognize at the end of the season and someone we praise seasons down the line. If he can continue his upward trajectory and show his critics that his “off-field” issues were trivial to his growth and motivation as a football player, he’s going to be a stud. I try not to make something out of a matter that might make me look like a fool in a matter of months the former Hurricane, can be our defensive version of the Quiet Storm.
We’ll come back and review each of our rookie scenarios at the end of the regular season and see which prediction was closest. Should be fun, eye opening, and hopefully not entirely depressing. Thanks for sticking around. Look out next week for one more set of rookie scenarios that I’m really excited to revisit at the end of the season as well.
Next time: End of Season Recap and Comparison