Since the Sean Payton era began in New Orleans just over 8 years ago, the Saints have done a good job overall in using their allotment of draft picks to select players who have helped build the foundation of the team's recent run of success. Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis and the Saints' experienced player personnel staff have put great stock into taking their best available options on the board in the early rounds while using their later round selections to develop players that fit specific team needs. Like all teams, they have missed on a player here and there, but by and large, the hits far outweigh the misses in terms of the selections and their subsequent production and contributions on the field for New Orleans. Let's examine the first four draft classes of the Payton era, beginning in 2006.
- 2006 - Arguably the most successful class of the Payton regime, 2006 got off to a cracking start with the Saints using the 2nd overall pick on USC star Reggie Bush. After Houston selected Mario Williams, Bush and his exquisite skill set fell into the lap of Payton and his soon-to-be unveiled dynamic offensive system. Legend has it that when informed of Houston's intentions the night before the draft, Payton began drawing up plays featuring both Bush and Deuce McAllister on a napkin at a restaurant table. While Bush may have been the crown jewel of the class, the best value was scooped up in the later rounds. After picking Roman Harper in round 2, the Saints selected Jahri Evans in round 4, Rob Ninkovich in round 5, and hit a pair of home runs in the 7th and final round with Zach Strief and Marques Colston. In between, Mike Haas and Josh Lay were also selected, though they never made it to the opening day roster. 7th rounders Strief and Colston went on to become starters, Colston in his rookie year nonetheless, and Evans has developed into one of the league's better interior linemen. Ninkovich's career in New Orleans got off to a nice start before a knee injury brought his rookie season to an end. He has since found a home in New England and developed into one of the Patriots' best defensive players. This class was a great way to get the rebuild of the Saints organization off the ground running.
- 2007- It was always going to be difficult to follow up the Saints' magical 2006 season both on and off the field. Following an extraordinary run to the NFC Championship game, New Orleans once again turned to the draft to bolster their roster. This class did not measure up to the preceeding class, but the Saints still identified and selected players who were able to contribute to an eventual Super Bowl Championship. The team selected Robert Meachem out of Tennessee in the 1st round, and while injuries and inconsistencies often marred Meachem's initial tenure in New Orleans, the receiver did play his part in the team's success down the road and helped add another downfield threat for Drew Brees and the Saints passing game. 3rd rounder Usama Young also contributed throughout his time in New Orleans, mostly as a reserve, and provided depth in the defensive backfield. Perhaps the best pick, and best value, turned out to be 4th rounder Jermon Bushrod out of Towson. Bushrod went on to become a key part of the Saints offensive line in seasons to come. The likes of Andy Alleman, Antonio Pittman and David Jones turned out to be underwhelming selections and weren't around for long, while 7th rounder Marvin Mitchell went on to become a serviceable special teamer and role player.
2008 2nd round pick Tracy Porter
- 2008- Following a let down in 2007, the Saints went back to the drawing board in the 2008 offseason, looking to inject some more talent and youth into their roster. Their first pick in 2008 was Sedrick Ellis, who would go on to start many games in the middle of the Saints' defensive line. In the big picture, Ellis may be regarded as a bust by some, but the Saints were able to squeeze production out of him, and there have certainly been bigger flops in recent draft history. (Jonathan Sulllivan, anyone?) In round 2, the team grabbed local product Tracy Porter following his impressive career at Indiana. Porter proved to be a special pick and a big addition to an often exposed New Orleans secondary. His pick-six of Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV will live in Saints fans' memories forever. The team made yet another great value pick of an interior lineman in round 5, picking Carl Nicks, who started many big games up front before signing a big free agent deal with divisional rivals Tampa Bay. DeMario Pressley and Taylor Melhalff were picks the team would like to do over, while 7th rounder Adrian Arrington showed flashes of potential but could not overcome a series of knee issues that prevented him from ever making a significant on-field impact.
- 2009- The precursor to a Super Bowl run, the saints narrowly missed the playoffs in 2008 and once again looked to the draft to address some important needs. Their first round pick was Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins, who is set to become a free agent in 2014, has been a regular in the Saints secondary since his rookie season and has made plays in bunches, though his inconsistencies have also shown. Like Ellis, however, he played a key role in the team's 2009 success and his overall body of work could be much worse. The Saints then used their pair of 4th round picks on Wake Forest teammates Chip Vaughn and Stanley Arnoux, though neither player ever made a significant impact for the team mostly due to injuries. Jenkins' bookend of the 2009 class was Punter Thomas Morstead in round 5. Morstead, who has proven to be an excellent choice, has been a consistent Punter for New Orleans and his big leg has been an asset on kickoffs as well. Like the other 3 classes, this one does not measure up to the great 2006 class, but most would have a hard time doing so in matching both the talent and value that was garnered by New Orleans that offseason.
The first four draft classes of the Sean Payton era in New Orleans have churned out some fruitful contributors, while also yielding some not so significant prospects. All in all, the Saints front office has done a solid job in identifying talent in the later rounds, particularly along the offensive line, and the coaching staff has done their part in developing these players on the field. Check back as we will soon examine the next four draft classes from 2010 to 2013.