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My thoughts on the Saints 2021 NFL draft class…

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My thoughts on the Saints 2021 NFL draft class…



There's a ton on opinions out there right now on this Saints draft class and to be brutally honest its mostly negative. Not that most feel the Saints picked bad players or bad people, but more so that the prospects the Saints took either didn’t seem to fit needs or value at the point they were picked. Having said that, here’s my opinion on what transpired over this past weekend…


Premetatied damage control:

Prior to the draft getting underway stories began to break of the Saints attempt to trade up into the top 10 for a top cornerback. While a trade attempt was called about, the Saints balked at the asking price reportedly.


My opinion on this… what did they think it would cost? With quarterbacks on the board and after seeing what the 49ers gave up to go from pick 12 to 3 did the Saints brass really think a jump from 28 to 7 or 9 would be cheap? No, Loomis isn’t that stupid. This was premetatied and in my opinion was utilized as damage control prevention for what they knew what would ensue later. The Saints knew full well that they was never going to pay the ransom it would cost to move up for a top corner but they wanted that story out there so they fed it to Sean Payton’s friend Jay Glazer because they knew everyone could see that cornerback was their biggest need but the Saints knew that outside of Horn and Surtain their was no corner they'd be willing to draft at 28 and that might create a firestorm especially with the prospects they would be considering at the end of round one. So they planted this trade story in the media to be able to say later that they tried to move up for a corner in the even they didn’t come away from this draft with one knowing full well they weren’t taking one at 28. I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory but teams do this kind of stuff all the time in order to get ahead of their own fan base and have their built in excuse lined up for the questions they know are to come.




2021 draft was affected by COVID more so than any other draft in the past or moving forward.

The 2020 draft format was more affected than the 2021 draft which appeared to get back to some normalcy but the scouting availability and medical information as well as the in person meetings was at an all time low in this process due to COVID restrictions which put teams in an awkward position and forced them to lean heavily on the little exposure they had with prospects heading into this draft. With no scouting combine, teams relied heavily on other events such as the Senior Bowl and Pro Days. Even events like the east west shrine game was canceled due to COVID which as been a invaluable place of exposure for 3rd day selections (David Onyemata). To put it lightly, teams were behind the 8 ball in 2021 and scouting departments struggled to accurately put together big boards across the league making evaluations on prospects much more wide ranging than in any other previous years.




The selection of Payton Turner in round one.

This pick to me was a blend of a few things Mickey Loomis was a part of in the past. In the 2000 NFL draft when Loomis was the assistant GM under Randy Muller in their first year in New Orleans the team was without a 1st round pick (Rickey Williams trade) but had the 2nd pick in round 2. They coveted Kansas State defensive end Darren Howard who many felt at the time was a fringe 1st round prospect in league circles but in the National media Howard was viewed as at best a 2nd round prospect. Still, the Saints were convinced Howard would go towards the end of round one and tried to trade up to select him. Their efforts to trade up was unsuccessful so they resorted to the only thing they had. Then Saints 1st year head coach Jim Haslett got on the phone with Howard telling him they were in the process of trading up to select him. The object was to keep him on the phone as long as they could hoping other teams ahead of them would bypass him if they were unable to get in contact with him. Sounds like a long shot but hey, they were desperate to get their guy. Howard eventually fell to the Saints who selected him at the top of round 2 and went on to have a great rookie season bagging 11 sacks in his first year in the black and gold and made a run for defensive rookie of the year. Later it was learned that the Jacksonville Jaguars were very high on Howard and gave serious consideration to taking him at the end of round one but for what ever reason went with reciever R  Jay Soward instead. Who knows if the Saints little phone trick worked but their intel was accurate. Howard was in fact viewed as a 1st round talent by NFL personnel despite the medias 2nd round evaluation of him and his production during his rookie season and beyond cemented that status.


In the 2004 NFL draft, Mickey Loomis is now the incumbent Saints GM and despite having Darren Howard (who’s entrenched as a core member of the team) and 2002 1st round pick Charles Grant making the edge a strength of the football team, Loomis still selected Will Smith out of Ohio State 18th overall. I clearly remember ALL of New Orleans being livid over the selection with many preferring then Miami Hurricane offensive tackle Vernon Carey who was widely mocked to the Saints and went to the Dolphins one pick after the selection of Smith. Carey eventually became a journeyman in the NFL and Smith became one of the most beloved Saints players in franchise history and was the defensive leader of the 2009 championship team. In hindsight Smith was the right pick not only for the present but the future and that’s what NFL front offices must evaluate when selecting these players. You don’t draft to fill a need, you simply take whom you feel is the best available player and things will work themselves out.


In 2011, Loomis once again drafted to a strength of the team at defensive end when he selected Cal defensive stud Cam Jordan despite having Will Smith and Junior Galette on the roster. At the time Jordan was seen as a great value at 24th overall and a prospect that had the versatility to play inside and outside as a rookie giving the team a boost in their D-Line rotation. It was also a look toward the future as Will Smith was in his 30's and began to show signs of decline as injuries began to mount for the team captain. We all are aware of what Jordan has become in New Orleans as he’s quietly put together a Hall of Fame career and is threatening Rickey Jacksons Saints sack record. Jordan himself often speaks on the tutelage Will Smith gave him and what it has meant to his career. Those two year with Will were extremely valuable to my career Jordan is quoted as saying, He taught me how to be a professional and what it meant to be a true leader. It also shows you never know what will happen, two years after Jordans selection Will Smith was beaten by father time and Junior Galette lost his mind on a beach after getting a massive contract leaving Jordan  as the sole edge player on the team with talent.


The Turner selection is a blend of all these experiences for Mickey in my opinion. Yes the jury is still out on Marcus Davenport but they hit on Trey Hendrickson., they hit on Cam Jordan, Will Smith, Darren Howard and even Charles Grant to an extent. Like Howard, Turner was viewed as a 1st round talent by the club so they feel they got value. I don’t think anyone would argue that Turner doesn’t have the tools to be great. Like with Jordan, Turner is a versatile prospect that will give the Saints a valuable rotational player as a rookie that can make an impact and immediately after the selection Jordan himself spoke of putting the young buck under his tutelage and molding him into something special, clearly paying forward to Turner what Will Smith did for him just as he did with Davenport and Hendrickson. Then the hope for Turner as with Smith and Jordan is that one day the Houston product develops into one of the best players on the roster and leader for this franchise and if he does that no one will look back and care who the Saints passed on to take him at the end of round one.




Pete Werner in the second

I don’t think any Saints fan, member of the media or scouting outlet would argue that linebacker was not a need for the New Orleans Saints. The issue is Werner himself. Most feel that there were more talented players on the board than Werner. I won’t dispute that but looking at how the draft unfolded I understand the selection of Werner and here’s why. First, the Saints clearly coveted Werner more so than other teams because the Ohio State product fits their prototype at the position. He’s 6’3” 240 lbs with underrated athleticism with a +9 RAS score. He’s good in coverage and has gotten better each year in Columbus. Its clear from watching his tape Werner is a smart football player with great effort. He’s a pure linebacker prospect with the skill set to play in the Saints scheme. New Orleans basically runs in sub packages defensively over 80% of their snaps and Werner is an ideal fit with his versatility, athleticism and smarts. Was he the best prospect on the board at 60… maybe, maybe not but what he is, was the best linebacker fit for the Saints at a position thin in the draft with fits so the Saints grabbed him when they could as they valued what he can contribute to the franchise as early as the 2021 season. I have little doubt that Werner will earn the starting job next to Demario Davis next year allowing last years 3rd round pick Zach Baun to focus on playing the SAM position allowing him to utilize his pass rushing skill set in certain sub packages and not forcing him to be something he’s not and that a off ball linebacker. Actually, the selection and development of Baun in 2020 illustrates perfectly the desire to land a prospect like Werner. Werner is a true off-ball linebacking prospect unlike Baun who can hit the ground running in his rookie season. As far as taking Werner over other prospects such as LSU's Jabril Cox, well beauty is in the eye of the beholder as Cox didn’t come off the board for a full round after Werner with 3 or 4 other linebackers going ahead of him. It all comes down to prototype, fit, athleticism and medical and the Saints felt Werner was the prospect that fit them best and with a player that’s likely going to be a day one starter I’m not going to argue the semantics of the selection.




Targeting a corner in round 2 or 3 and making their move to land him.

This selection ties in with the Werner pick in my opinion… for example, if the Saints had drafted Paulson Adebo in round 2 then traded up to 76 for Pete Werner would you look at their draft differently? The Saints had a 1st round grade on Payton Turner, had Intel that he would go anywhere between picks 30-40 and didn’t want to pay the cost of moving up to get him so they took him at 28. At 60 the linebacker position had seen a few prospects come off the board and began to run thin at position fits for the Saints so they took Werner at 60. I believe they did this knowing through intel that they had a few corners they could move up for at the top of round 3 where the cost was more palatable. Paulson Adebo was logically a draft target for the Saints as he fits the prototype both physically and athletically. Sean Payton has a close relationship with Stanford HC David Shaw so despite Paulson being an opt out, the team likely had great info on the prospect they trusted. Another thing to consider is the fact that Kris Richard is now the new defensive backs coach for the Saints. Richards was the DB's coach for Seattle when they built the legion of boom and Payton has tried to emulate that unit ever since. He coveted Jarius Byrd in free agency due to his single high ball hawking potential like Earl Thomas, yes that was a disaster but they finally have their guy in Marcus Williams. They also have their #1 corner in Marshon Lattimore and true nickel in Charlie Gardner-Johnson. Their counting on Richards to build the rest of the unit. It’s the reason the Saints have been connected to free agent Richard Sherman whom Richards helped develop as a rookie 5th round pick out of Stanford. Like Adebo, Sherman was also a converted receiver who only played a limited number of snaps at the corner position. Also like Adebo, Sherman is a long, physical corner with great ball skills. Its obvious that the Saints hope to see Richards do for Adebo what he did for Sherman in the past and who better to bring in for a year or two for Adebo to learn under than Sherman himself.




Saints actually take a quarterback.

Anyone who has been paying attention over the last few months should have saw this pick coming a mile away. Payton basically gushed over Ian Book to Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick show and even Drew Brees praised Books toughness, grit and ability to succeed when everyone doubted him. As a prospect I’ve always been higher on Books potential than most. Some look at Book and they see a 6th to 7th round prospect who’s at best a career backup in the NFL. I on the other hand view Book in the Jake Plummer mold as a prospect that creates off script plays with his scrambling ability, extends drives with his athleticism and when put into a rhythm offense can deliver the ball with accuracy. His arm isn’t a cannon like Plummer but he can hit you deep. Book is also simply a winner. He’s a born leader that teammates follow. After his selection many of his current and former teammates in the NFL tweeted their happiness for him. Book is also tough as nails and very durable and handles himself as a CEO should. Books fit in Sean Payton’s system is as tailored made as you can get. He’s been doubted as far back as high school and at every level Book has proven his critics wrong all the way towards the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history, think about that. Were talking Joe Montana, Joe Theismann and  Ric Mirer.  Now am I saying Ian Book is Joe Montana, absolutely not but what I am saying is that I’m not going to doubt this kids potential especially with him landing in the perfect location with the perfect coach.




Beefing up the offensive line… or prepping for the future?

Let’s face it, the Saints are in a pickle with their tackle situation. Terron Armstead is one of the best left tackles in the game and don’t think he didn’t notice how Trent Williams got PAID in San Francisco. Ryan Ramczyk is one of the best young tackles in the game and both are basically in the final years of their deals. The Saints will be in salary cap hell for at least one more season beyond this one. They protected themselves with the 2 year extension with James Hurst this offseason and they could be setting themselves up to trade Armstead next offseason after franchising him and Flipping Ramczyk over to the left side. Hurst would give the Saints a solid option at right tackle while 6th round pick Landon Young has Zach Striefs finger prints all over him. Young is a quality high character prospect with size and athleticism who is an excellent developmental right tackle prospect moving forward. However in the event the Saints are able to retain both their stud tackles, Young has the versatility to unseat Andrus Peat once his contract becomes tradeable and with Young’s experience at left tackle at Kentucky he can dual train at both positions in the Saints system just like Peat has. Bottom line, Young gives the Saints options for whatever direction the salary cap forces them to take in the future regarding their offensive line.




We wait till the 7th round in a strong reciever class to take a pass catcher from a small school?

Obviously not only did the Saints disagree with the national media on player value but they disagreed with them on team need. Most outlets pegged reciever as one of the Saints top two needs heading into this draft but local reporters who cover the team on a daily basis understood how high the Saints were on the development of prospects such as Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris. Many in and around the franchise felt like the team weren’t able to utilize Tre'Quan Smith's skill set due to Brees inability to push the ball downfield and they expect Smith to see a surge in production in 2021. Now, bringing us to Kawann Baker. Mark my words… Baker will make this roster but it won’t be why you think. Besides being an explosive reciever Baker was one of the best gunners in this draft. Remember, the Saints lost core special teams gunner Justin Hardee to the Jets this offseason and with late round picks the Saints ALWAYS look to the prospects contribution to special teams first and foremost. The fact is that the Saints are confident in the receivers they have on the roster, sure they may look to add a veteran to fill the #2 spot but as far as young prospects they are happy with the development of what they have. Baker was drafted for his ability on special teams, if he contributes as a reciever then that’s just icing on the cake.




Undrafted rookie free agents that stand out to me…

As all Saints fans know, DO NOT DISCOUNT THE ROOKIE FREE AGENT CLASS!!! Pierre Thomas, Jonathan Casillas, Chris Ivory, Junior Galette, Jo-lon Dunbar, etc etc.


Of this 2021 class Trill Williams CB Syracuse, Dylan Soehner TE Iowa State, Nolan Cooney P Syracuse, Bryce Thompson CB Tennessee, Stevie Scott RB Indiana & Josiah Bronson DT Washington have peaked my interest. Not saying the others don’t have a shot at the final 53 but these above have a clear path to the roster.


Williams is another bigger long corner who’s physical and fits what Richards wants on the edge. Remember, Sherman was a 5th round pick but Brandon Browner another core member of the LOB was a undrafted free agent. Can Williams be our Brandon Browner?


Soehner is a huge physical blocking tight end like free agent signing Nick Vannett and is a clear threat to Garrett Griffins time with the Saints. My money is on Soehner making this roster as the 3rd tight end behind Troutman and Vannett as the Saints look to focus on their running game more so than in the past in 2021.


Cooney is interesting as he’ll be in a camp battle with Gillikin for the right to be the teams next punter… let the best player win.


Thompson and Scott have a chance to unseat a couple expensive veterans if they show out. Thompson is a physical sticky slot/nickel prospect with great ball skills. He’ll battle Patrick Robinson in camp and possibly make the veteran expendable saving the Saints upwards of 2.5 million. Likewise, Scott is another big physical downhill running back with underrated receiving skills that could cause the Saints to consider moving on form Latavious Murray post June 1 saving another 2-2.5 million which may not seem like a lot but the Saints still need to sign their rookie class as well as a potential starting veteran corner and reciever and that’s a quick 5 million they can open up in order to do so.


Bronson is a guy I feel the Saints almost expect to make the roster or the very lest the PS. The Saints were able to land Bronson who was in high demand after the draft to a 140k guaranteed deal with 25k signing bonus which is really good for a priority free agent. Bronson is built in the mold of current Saints undrafted gems Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach but offers a prospect with more upside as an interior run stuffer than the others. After losing Malcolm Brown and Sheldon Rankins this offseason the Saints placed a priority on landing Bronson as a rookie free agent with the expectation of him supplying depth on the interior for their defense.





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1 hour ago, MookieMonstah said:

I'm VERY high on Trill Williams... Guy is a lengthy, phenomenal athlete who held his own against some of the best WRs at Clemson. I think he could be an UDFA steal.

Agreed... plus there is spots on this roster for guys like he and Bryce Thompson to make the team. I personally feel P-Rob will be cut before the season. I can see either Williams and Thompson making the team, one to the final 53 and the other on the PS.

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