It is not a stretch to say that the New Orleans Saints have drafted well, by and large , since the Sean Payton era began in 2006. Starting that April, the Saints began laying the foundation for their recent run of success that includes 5 playoff appearances, 3 division championships, 2 NFC Championship game appearances and, of course, a Super Bowl triumph. Having examined the first four draft classes of the Payton regime last week, we will shift our attention to the most recent four classes as New Orleans looks to add to their trophy case.
- 2010 - Following their magical Super Bowl XLIV victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, the Saints went into the draft looking to add substance to their already capable roster. Always looking to upgrade on the defensive side of the ball, the Saints used their first round pick on Florida State Cornerback Patrick Robinson. What seemed like a high upside pick at the time has turned out to be a quite disappointing one, as Robinson has battled injuries and struggled when on the field. A similar stance can be taken with the Saints' 2nd round choice in 2010, Charles Brown. Brown was a very good pick on paper, but his play has tapered off over time to the point where he was ultimately benched in favor of inexperienced rookie Terron Armstead in the latter stages of the 2013 season. Brown is set to hit free agency in 2014, while Robinson is a major candidate for restructure or release coming off a serious knee injury which cost him the 2013 season. Without question, the absolute grand slam pick of the draft came in the 3rd round for New Orleans as the team selected former Miami (FL) Basketball player and Tight End Jimmy Graham. Graham's production speaks for itself, and the learning curve of the professional game after just one season playing Football at Miami was not an obstacle for the future Pro Bowler, who has become a major focal point of the Saints offense. The Saints' next pick in round 4 was Al Woods, a talented but underachieving Nose Tackle out of LSU. The team had high hopes for Woods, but he was ultimately released during preseason and landed in Tampa Bay. He has since also played for the Seahawks and Steelers. Center Matt Tennant (5th round) and Quarterback Sean Canfield (7th round) closed out the 2010 draft for New Orleans, with neither player making a significant contribution during their short stints with the team. This draft proved to be top heavy for New Orleans, with Graham easily the most valuable pick.
Saints TE Jimmy Graham
- 2011- The 2010 season ended in disappointing fashion for the Saints as the team crashed out of the playoffs with a wildcard loss in Seattle. It was back to the drawing board for the Saints, and come draft time, it was clear that another fresh injection of talent on both sides of the ball was needed if the team wanted to stay in contention for more postseason glory. The team got off to a great start with their 24th overall pick, selecting Cameron Jordan out of California. Jordan has grown into an excellent player and has become one of the building blocks of the saints' defense. The next move came as a bit of a surprise, as the Saints engineered a trade with the New England Patriots, moving back into the first round to select former Heisman trophy winning Running Back Mark Ingram out of Alabama. Ingram has had his moments in the Black and Gold, but has not quite lived up to expectations given the steep price the Saints paid to move up to select him, giving New England their 2011 2nd rounder and their 2012 first round pick. While the Saints prefer to employ multiple backs, Ingram has never quite grasped the opportunities he has been given to stake his claim as a feature back. He did finish 2013 strong, and saints fans hope there is more of that to come in 2014. The team's 3rd round choice was Martez Wilson, a Linebacker out of Illinois. Wilson had an underwhelming 2 years in New Orleans before being released and landing in Oakland, and ultimately ending up in Dallas. Their other 3rd round choice, Johnny Patrick, followed a similar path to Wilson, spending two underwhelming years as a Saint before being cut and winding up in San Diego. Greg Romeus and Nate Bussey rounded out the 2011 draft as 7th round picks. Romeus was never healthy and was waived/injured. Bussey never made an impact on the Saints and was waived in August 2012. Outside of Jordan, and Ingram to an extent, the 2011 draft proved to be one of the more disappointing hauls in the Payton era.
- 2012- The Saints regrouped in 2011 on the field, but a last minute Vernon Davis touchdown cost them an opportunity to play for another NFC Championship. Once again, the draft brought the opportunity to address some needs, particularly on defense. As a result of the Mark Ingram trade, the team did not draft until round 3, but made a great value pick in Defensive Tackle Akiem Hicks. Hicks had initially enrolled at LSU, but never played a down for the Tigers due to an NCAA violation. He ended up north of the border at Regina University in Canada. Hicks has become a solid player in the Saints 3-4 defense under Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, demonstrating the versatility to play inside and on the edge. Wisconsin Wide Receiver Nick Toon was the team's next selection in round 4. Toon battled nagging injuries as a rookie and failed to impress in limited action in 2013, often finding himself a healthy inactive. The team still holds hope that he will contribute at some point, and 2014 could well be a make or break year for Toon. The Saints then used their 5th round choice on DB Corey White, who has found a niche as a sub-package defensive back. White has proven to be a solid pick and will once again look to hold down a role in Ryan's defense in 2014. 6th rounder Andrew Tiller suffered an injury in training camp and never played for the team, while 7th rounder Marcel Jones has provided depth on the offensive line. Outside of Hicks and White, 2012 was another underwhelming draft for New Orleans, though Toon and Jones could prove to be valuable picks should they take advantage of any potential opportunities presented to them in 2014.
DL Akiem Hicks
- 2013- If one year can tell a story, 2013 was much more like it for the Saints in terms of draft pick production and success. The team made a great choice in round 1, selecting Texas Safety Kenny Vaccaro who had an impressive rookie season as the Saints looked to erase the memories of a historically bad 2012 campaign which was marred by woeful defense, bounty scandals, injuries, and all things in between. One of two 3rd round choices, Terron Armstead also appears to be a good choice as the athletic offensive lineman took over as Drew Brees' blindside protector for the balance of the 2013 season and showed the upside which led the team to draft him. The Saints' other 2013 3rd rounder, John Jenkins, a big Defensive Tackle out of Georgia, contributed in 2013 and fit as a Nose Tackle in Ryan's new 3-4 scheme. Round 5 saw the team select Oklahoma receiver Kenny Stills. Stills took advantage of his opportunity in 2013, showing speed, reliable hands, good ball skills, and the ability to stretch the field which was needed following the departure of long time deep threat Devery Henderson. Stills looks to have a bright future in New Orleans in the Saints' pass happy offense. The Saints' final pick in 2013 was Linebacker Rufus Johnson. Johnson spent most of his rookie year on the practice squad, but was added to the active roster during the postseason following an injury to Parys Haralson. Johnson will look to compete for a roster spot in 2014, and at worst, will add depth to Ryan's stable of Linebackers. Saints fans hope their 2014 draft class will yield similar results to this class, as all players were able to contribute at some point.
As the 2014 draft looms in the near future, the Saints scouting department is deep into the due dilligence process of evaluating and ranking the latest crop of college prospects on their draft board. With homeruns, doubles, and a few strikeouts in between, the team hopes to build off their successful 2013 draft class by addressing needs and hoping the best available talent fits those needs. With the team over the salary cap, the draft will be crucial as the Saints' activity in free agency will likely be limited to retaining the veteran players they don't want to lose, such as Jimmy Graham. If 2014 turns out to be another 2006 class or even a 2013 haul, the Saints should be in good shape and poised to challenge for more than just a playoff berth next season.