With the draft officially over, Last Word On Sports will be conducting its annual draft review series for all 32 teams. Today, the New Orleans Saints selections will be examined. With yet another 7-9 finish in the regular season, the Saints wanted to largely revamp their horrific defense with their plethora of draft picks. Having used only two of their seven choices on offense, New Orleans, for the most part, compiled a respectful weekend in Philadelphia. In their pursuit to rejoin January competition, here are the Saints draft selections.
1st Round, 11th Overall: CB Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
1st Round, 32nd Overall: OT Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)
2nd Round, 42nd Overall: S Marcus Williams (Utah)
3rd Round, 67th Overall: RB Alvin Kamara (Tennessee)
3rd Round, 76th Overall: LB Alex Anzalone (Florida)
3rd Round, 103rd Overall: DE Trey Hendrickson (Florida Atlantic)
6th Round, 196th Overall: DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (Miami, Fla.)
Saints 2017 Draft Grade: 8/10
New Orleans Saints 2017 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Marshon Lattimore is far and away the top talent of this draft class. Ranked as the number-one cornerback of this year’s draft, one of New Orleans’ top-two needs fell right in the lap. Hindered by hamstring injuries his first two seasons at Ohio State, Lattimore posted 13 passes defensed and four interceptions in a fully-healthy 2016 campaign to earn First Team All-Big 10 honors. With supreme explosiveness and enough speed to close on passing lanes, the former Buckeye has the ability to affect any throwing attempt in his vicinity. With reliable hands, he converts on chances for picks and has the aptness to put up defensive scores, an opportunistic aspect the Saints heavily relied on during their 2009 championship run. New Orleans has whiffed on numerous cornerbacks over the last 11 seasons in both draft and free agency, but Lattimore may be the exception due to his arsenal and potential. When I composed the Saints’ off-season needs list before the new league year started, I preferred Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey over Lattimore primarily due to his limited play. Lattimore, though, still remains a prime choice. If he remains on the healthy path, he will be the perfect complement to Delvin Breaux on the opposite perimeter.
The Head-Scratcher: This is contradictory to my opening statement, but Marcus Williams was the most questionable selection. Yes, the Saints needed defense, and yes, the Saints were abysmal against the pass. While Williams clearly boasts capabilities (an athletic and instinctive defensive back who can take the ball away on 50-50 balls), the safety position should not have been prioritized over front seven players and corners. Though the Saints have moved on from Jairus Byrd, they just drafted Vonn Bell last April, a versatile defender who I deemed the steal of the Saints 2016 class. Williams may indeed carve out a role on the defense, but his position wasn’t a top-five need for the team.
The Surprise: The third-round selection of Alvin Kamara proved to be the most eye-opening. Given the fact that the Saints already have a loaded backfield with Mark Ingram and newly-signed Adrian Peterson, running back didn’t appear to be a necessity. What makes the Kamara pick attractive, though, is his multifaceted package. Based on his production in college, the Tennessee Volunteer will be expected to fulfill the Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles role for the black and gold, particularly in the receiving and return game.
The Steal: This superlative unveils a two-way tie between Lattimore and Trey Hendrickson. Because of his health past, Marshon Lattimore slipped in the draft, despite being picked 11th overall. Even with his slide, the Saints were concerned about having to trade up to get him. There was also discussions that the team would’ve chosen Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II if Lattimore was taken before their selection Thursday night. Ultimately, New Orleans got their man. Most importantly, the Saints found a top-tier cornerback without having to spend money on established players such as Malcolm Butler, Richard Sherman or Trumaine Johnson, giving the franchise more financial flexibility in the off-season.
Based on pure production, Hendrickson was an excellent find for New Orleans. At 6’4”, 266 pounds, the Florida Atlantic edge rusher quietly put forth one of the most decorative careers in FBS play. Known for his effort and hustle plays, Hendrickson stuffed the stat sheets with 13.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles in 2015. He followed up his All-Conference-USA campaign with 51 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks last season. Combine his defensive showing with special teams prowess (four blocked kicks in 2016) and you have an almost-complete rookie. Of course it’s difficult to gauge how a player’s collegiate output will translate to the professional ranks, but the former Owl should definitely give the Who Dat faithful some excitement.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Having such raw athletic abilities, Lattimore and Kamara will cause a lot of jaws to dropped during the summertime on defense and offense, respectively. Lattimore is arguably the most gifted corner the Saints have had during the Sean Payton–Drew Brees era. Since the Saints special teams desperately need a spark, Kamara will give Marcus Murphy much competition in the return game.
The Rest: Although not the sexiest move, getting offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk to close out the opening round was a smart decision. Despite offensive line not being a pressing priority for the Saints, the Wisconsin product will be the appropriate successor to longtime starter Zach Strief, who will turn 34 in September. Best-case scenario for the Saints, Ramczyk will the follow in the footsteps of Willie Roaf, Jermon Bushrod and the rest of the franchise’s Pro Bowl lineage at the tackle position. Florida’s Alex Anzalone could be an asset in pass coverage, but his detailed injury history raises a red flag. Lastly, Al-Quadin Muhammad would’ve easily been the “head-scratcher” had it not been for the Williams selection. The Saints were right in drafting pass rushers, but picking a guy with character issues is not someone who should be on the roster; the team doesn’t need an edge presence bad enough to nab a Junior Galette 2.0.
The Bottom Line: The Saints took the correct approach to the draft with their defensive-laden focus. It appears as though New Orleans wants to recreate its image from the Super Bowl-winning squad: a bunch that can not only score points through the air, but can ice a game on the ground and force turnovers defensively. A team that has been carried by a record-shattering offense for the better part of a decade, it’s refreshing to know that If everyone on defense remains on the field in optimum condition, the franchise will be in fair hands once Brees decides to move on. Significantly better than the 2016 class, this year’s draft was a success.