For the New Orleans Saints, this may have been the most polarizing draft to date. How else could one explain the post-draft grades ranging from “A” to “D”, depending on which analyst is writing? The Saints had some clear cut needs heading into the draft, but the unpredictability of the picks leading up to the Saints selection in round one (11th pick overall) led the Saints to some choices they probably didn’t anticipate having.
Analyzing the New Orleans Saints 2017 Draft
Seldom are the New Orleans Saints as active as they were in this year’s free agency market. Rather than making the big splash signing, the Saints have methodically maneuvered through the 2017 off-season thus far, bringing in competent professional NFL players on sensible contracts. Despite the strategic approach to free agency and some uncommon cap space, the Saints still had some glaring needs heading into the draft. Their needs, as ranked by most Saints writers and analysts were (in order): defensive end, cornerback, running back (the Reggie Bush / Darren Sproles type back), linebacker, and tackle. And after three consecutive 7-9 seasons, the Saints needed to get this draft right.
Marshon Lattimore, CB – Ohio State (Pick 11)
When you can grab a post-combine player projected as a top-five talent at pick 11 and it addresses one of your major needs, you draft him. The Saints were decimated with injuries in the secondary last season, so that gives even more validity to the pick. Lattimore has the talent to be an elite corner and many Saints fans feel that once he puts on the black and gold, he will be the best corner to ever suit up for the Saints.
Probably. But considering all of the cornerbacks in Saints history, there aren’t too many that stand out and could be considered great.
Ryan Ramczyk, OT – Wisconsin (Pick 32)
This is the pick the Saints received after trading Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots. Many had projected this pick going back to the Patriots in exchange for Malcolm Butler. Once the Lattimore pick was made, that all but solidified that New Orleans would keep their pick. They used it to draft the top offensive tackle on the board in Ryan Ramczyk, who was projected as a top-20 pick.
The Saints now have a long-term answer for an aging Zach Strief and were again able to grab incredible value at that stage in the draft. Barring any injuries this year, Ramczyk should be able to ease his way into the lineup and learn from one of the best perennial pass-protecting offensive lines in the NFL.
Marcus Williams, S – Utah (Pick 42)
Picking Marcus Williams was a bit of a surprise considering the Saints had gone with a secondary selection in the first round. After looking at New Orleans’ roster, there seems to be two reasons why this pick was made.
The first is the fact that, again, the Saints were riddled with injuries in the secondary. Picking Williams gives head coach Sean Payton more professional options and gives defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the ability to get creative with his playcalling.
The other reason is a little less obvious. With Sean Payton desperate to get his squad back into the playoffs, he seems to be going back to the formula that worked. In that 2009 Super Bowl season, it was Darren Sharper who roamed the defensive backfield as their “ball hawk.” Williams steps in as the Darren Sharper of this 2017 squad.
Alvin Kamara, RB – Tennessee (Pick 67)
It wouldn’t be an NFL draft without the Saints trading up for an offensive player. The Saints gave up their seventh-round pick in 2017 and their second rounder in 2018 to pick here, but they got their guy. And this pick falls right in line with the 2009 formula as well. The Reggie Bush / Darren Sproles role that Sean Payton terrorized defenses with for years is back in Alvin Kamara.
With feature back Mark Ingram running for over 1,000 yards in 2016, along with the addition of former Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, Kamara will not be asked to do any heavy lifting. Rather, he will fill the role he should most flourish in: that fast third down running/receiving back and special teams role. That devastating wheel route that Payton loves so much is back in the playbook in 2017.
Alex Anzalone, LB – Florida (Pick 76)
This pick may have been one of the more puzzling picks this year, without knocking on Anzalone. With the biggest need heading into this draft being defensive end and that position being neglected the first four times New Orleans stepped to the podium, it seemed like a certainty that the Saints would go find their edge rusher at pick 76. Names like Derek Rivers, Daeshon Hall and Tarell Basham were still on the board at that point.
The Saints did address another need, however, in Alex Anzalone. Anzalone should immediately make an impact on a linebacking corps that struggled in 2016. Craig Robertson, who led the Saints in tackles in 2016, can move back to being a more suitable strong side linebacker with the addition of the speedy, playmaking Florida linebacker. The biggest concern is Anzalone’s ability to stay healthy. A broken shoulder and a broken arm have ended the last two seasons early for Anzalone.
Trey Hendrickson, DE – Florida Atlantic (Pick 103)
Alas. The Saints go with an edge rusher at pick 103 in Trey Henderickson.
This pick says a couple things. For one, it appears the Saints have more faith in the talent on their roster at defensive end than first thought. Second, the defensive end position opposite Cam Jordan will be a situational position. While Trey Hendrickson seems to have a motor that doesn’t quit, expect Alex Okafor to get the bulk of the work starting with Hendrickson being part of the supplemental cast.
Al-Quadin Muhammad, LB – Miami (Pick 196)
Trading their seventh-round pick away to acquire Alvin Kamara makes this the New Orleans Saints final pick of the 2017 draft. They decided to add more depth at a position of need by grabbing linebacker Al-Quadin Muhammad at pick 196.
Muhammad has talent, but the concern is his off-the-field antics, which may be why he was available so late in the draft. There are a few well-chronicled issues that plagued his college career. The good news is that his experience is in the 4-3 defense and he has a nose for the quarterback. The bad news is that because of suspensions, he doesn’t have as much experience under his belt as you’d like. Being that it’s a sixth-round pick, it is little risk for what may be a good reward down the line.
The Last Word
If you’re looking for a grade on the 2017 draft, you won’t get one here. It’s tough to gauge how good this draft class is without seeing them suit up. That being said, it appears as though the Saints put a premium on value at nearly every turn and addressed all of their major needs, even if it wasn’t in the order that most anticipated. Also, with the rumors early in the off-season about Sean Payton’s future being in jeopardy, winning now is paramount and the selections seem to back that up.