Draft Review of the New Orleans Saints in the Payton-Loomis era, 2006-2014

With the Saints struggling to the finish line in a dismal 2015, and the impending end of the Drew Brees era, I thought about going back and looking at how the team got to this point, what went wrong, and what they could have done differently (and can do differently in the future).

I decided some weeks ago to choose their performance in the draft to examine for this purpose, but only now have had the time to collect the necessary data for this article. Even though Mickey Loomis has been GM of the team since 2002, I decided to start with the arrival of Sean Payton and Drew Brees in 2006, because of Payton’s strong input on the personnel side of the ball. I then decided to review the drafts from that point on through 2014.

The reason I’m not reviewing 2015 is largely because, after the 2014 draft was such an obvious disaster, the team fired longtime Director of College Scouting Rick Reprish, and most of the college scouting department. So far, the improvement has been immediately obvious, with Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha already being impact players in the linebacker crew, and Delvin Breaux, Damian Swann, Tyeler Davison, and Bobby Richardson all have contributed to one degree or another, with Breaux and Richardson starting. We haven’t even talked about a number of their other picks yet– Andrus Peat projects to be a long-term starting offensive tackle, and several players who have gone on IR figure to contribute in the future, too. This is easily the best Saints rookie class since the much-ballyhooed class of 2006 (three of which remain on the team today).

In hindsight, comparing the 2015 class to the ones before it makes it pretty clear this move was long overdue. Let’s take a look at the previous classes and see how the team did.

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2014 Re-Draft Mock

If you saw the 2013 draft that ran a few days ago, you’ll know how this works.

This mock isn’t necessarily tied to that one. It operates on the same rules, though. One thing you’ll find different is that, since we are only into the second year of these players’ careers, I had less hard data on how they would perform in the NFL, and so had to weigh predictions of future performance more heavily.

Onward:

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2013 Re-Draft Mock

In order to gear up for draft season, and in some small way make up for the lack of Zone Reads content over the last two months due to various personal and professional obligations, I’ll be publishing some mock drafts and re-drafts in the next few days.

I decided to take a swing a 2013 first, because enough time has passed that I think I have a reasonable picture of player value, and also because it was generally regarded as such a weak class. I thought it would be a fun season to choose.

I didn’t try to do this as a strict ranking; at some point, prospects are close enough together in value where I can’t make any meaningful distinction. In certain cases, I’ve erred on the side of giving teams a player at a position of need, or, even better, a player who actually ended up on the team.

Last note: I eliminated all draft-day trades, but kept all pre-draft ones. (So the Jets have Tampa Bay’s pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, St. Louis has Washington’s pick from the Robert Griffin trade, and Minnesota has Seattle’s pick from the Percy Harvin trade.)

Without further ado…

1. Kansas City Chiefs
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

One of the few legitimate superstars from this class, Hopkins is a passing game all by himself, one of the four best wide receivers in football right now. He happens to be a great fit for Kansas City, whose passing game was woeful in 2012, and in 2013 would be led by Alex Smith, and whatever part of Dwayne Bowe could still be considered a useful wide receiver.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

A pretty easy selection of a guy who has a case for the #1 pick. True interior penetrators are rare and can disrupt an offense by themselves. Richardson’s suspension this year makes him a clear #2 behind Hopkins to me; the risk of missing games is enough to break any tie.

3. Oakland Raiders
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

An argument can be made for a number of players here. Since the Raiders chose a cornerback in the first round in real life (albeit after trading down), I mocked them a guy who has arguably developed into one of the league’s shutdown corners.

4. Philadelphia Eagles
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU

When in doubt, choose the pass rusher. Even though the Eagles took an offensive tackle originally, I simply felt pass-rushing was more important than pass protection. Ansah is seond in the league in sacks right now (11.5 through 11 games) and is arguably playing at an All-Pro level.

5. Detroit Lions
Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Armstead had FBS offers coming out of high school, but would only attend a college that allowed him to continue competing in track and field. The athleticism he showed at the Combine has translated to the NFL, as he’s become one of the league’s better left tackles. As Jeff Backus retired in the 2013 offseason, he’s a perfect fit for Detroit, too. (I’d play Riley Reiff at left tackle and Armstead at right tackle in 2013, then flip them.)

6. Cleveland Browns
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

The Browns believed in the importance of a three-down running back who can be fully featured in the run and pass game enough to trade three other picks in order to move from #4 to #3 and draft Trent Richardson one year prior. Now they get the running back they thought they were getting then.

7. Arizona Cardinals
Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S, LSU

Mathieu displayed some of the most incredible instincts I’ve ever seen in college, but slipped in the draft for the nebulous, oversimplifying “character concerns” reason. He’s playing at an All-Pro level this year in Arizona; I am certain they would want to keep him at any cost.

8. Buffalo Bills
Keenan Allen, WR, California

Whether you see this as a move that allows them to avoid trading up for Sammy Watkins the next year and losing their 2015 pick, or as a receiver who complements Watkins well and opens up the possibility of a devastating pass attack, the Buffalo Bills were a team in serious need of offensive help, and Allen brings it. He was having a dominant season before he went down with an injury. (He’d certainly do a lot more for a passing game than E.J. Manuel would.)

9. New York Jets
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Lotulelei fell in the draft because of some medical concerns about a heart condition that were overstated. He’s become one of the better defensive tackles in the league; since the Jets miss out on Sheldon Richardson in this draft, they’re sure to want someone else to fill the position.

10. Tennessee Titans
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

Short was the Panthers’ second-round pick in 2013, to follow up Lotulelei, but this year he’s arguably played better than his higher-drafted linemate. He would make a devastating pair of penetrators alongside Jurrell Casey.

11. San Diego Chargers
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

They wanted a right tackle badly enough to draft D.J. Fluker #11 overall. Now they have a better one.

12. Miami Dolphins
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

Eifert would give their offense a dynamic seam and red-zone threat they didn’t have then, and that they arguably don’t have now (but that they hoped they were getting with Jordan Cameron).

13. New York Jets (from Tampa Bay)
Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State

Having a slight down year, but then, so is everyone in Detroit. Still a guy who can be a legit #1 cornerback.

14. Carolina Panthers
Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss

Collins could fill the outside linebacker spot opposite Thomas Davis (that Shaq Thompson does now), and switch to pass-rusher as needed. A good fit that offers flexibility on defense.

15. New Orleans Saints
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati

An athletic, potentially game-changing tight end? They’ve been able to put those to good use in New Orleans. In this scenario, Kelce is around to take over when Jimmy Graham is traded to the Seahawks– an ideal match.

16. St. Louis Rams
Kyle Long, G/T, Oregon

The Rams are always targeting nasty, physical offensive linemen– occasionally to a ridiculous degree (four linemen in the 2015 draft, and one more in the supplemental draft!)– so why not draft them one who’s actually good?

17. Pittsburgh Steelers
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

Vaccaro can play either free or strong safety, and his flexibility will become more valuable once Troy Polamalu is gone.

18. Dallas Cowboys
Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin

Pretty much the same logic they used to draft him in the real draft.

19. New York Giants
Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

Again, another team in need of an offensive lineman takes one who’s been pretty good (albeit after a somewhat rocky rookie year).

20. Chicago Bears
Larry Warford, G, Kentucky

See above. I put Warmack ahead of Warford because I think his ceiling is ultimately higher, although Warford was better out of the gate.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina

We’re reaching the point where above-average starters and good rotation players are the best left on the board, and when in doubt, I mocked a player to the team that drafted him originally if he was roughly at the top of the board.

22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

I’m not sure what kind of year he’s having, but I think he’s essentially the guy they expected him to be when they drafted him. Which is good enough for them to do it again.

23. Minnesota Vikings
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

See above.

24. Indianapolis Colts
Justin Pugh, G/T, Syracuse

The Colts have constantly struggled to protect Andrew Luck, so adding a guy who can step right in at right tackle is pretty valuable.

25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle)
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Yes, I just mocked the Vikings the same two players they drafted in the real draft. I guess that means they did a good job? (We won’t mention Cordarrelle Patterson.)

26. Green Bay Packers
Eric Reid, FS, LSU

They wouldn’t have yet drafted HaHa Clinton-Dix in this case, and Reid has been a pretty solid free safety for San Francisco, as far as I know.

27. Houston Texans
Bennie Logan, DT, LSU

Logan has really come on strong his third year; he’s big enough to play nose tackle for Houston’s 3-4 defense, as well.

28. Denver Broncos
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

Despite Lacy’s apparent determination to prove wrong Rod Beck’s maxim that no one ever went on the disabled list with pulled fat, Lacy at his best could be the bellcow Denver was looking for when they selected Montee Ball in the second round that year.

29. New England Patriots
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

A pass-catching running back with game-breaking ability is a great fit for the Patriots. Ordinarily such a situational player wouldn’t go so high, but 2013 didn’t have a lot of top-end talent.

30. Atlanta Falcons
D.J. Fluker, G/T, Alabama

It’s a starting offensive lineman! And you know how much we’ve always wanted one of those!

31. San Francisco 49ers
T.J. McDonald, SS, USC

I’ve heard McDonald has had a pretty good year for the Rams. That and the fact that the 49ers drafted a safety in real life is good enough for me.

32. Baltimore Ravens
Ricky Wagner, OT, Iowa

A pretty good starting right tackle is a good get here. The Ravens won’t get the value they did in real life, when they took him in the fifth round, but he’s still capable of being a solid part of their offensive line.

Keep an eye out tomorrow for a 2014 re-draft.