Confident Saints seize opportunity by grabbing Davenport
METAIRIE — The Saints handled the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday like a confident bunch.
Confident in where they are positioned after winning the NFC South and coming within a whisker of playing in the NFC Championship last season.
Confident in their player evaluation after three successively better drafts after the 2014 bust, including a banner one a year ago.
Confident that giving up extra stuff to get a guy who clearly fits an important vision they have can be a bargain as it was in the trade that produced Alvin Kamara a year ago.
Coach Sean Payton said that for as long as the last two weeks, New Orleans had zeroed in on Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport as a difference-maker that the organization might be able to move up and grab for an acceptable price.
So as the 10th pick approached, the Saints stepped up their trade talks, coming close to deals with a pair of unidentified teams before finalizing a deal with Green Bay to get the 14th pick so they could grab Davenport.
Moving up 13 spots to get Davenport cost not only the Saints’ No. 27 pick Thursday, but also the higher of their two fifth-round picks this year (No. 147) and next year’s No. 1.
Number crunchers can analyze the various trade-value charts and determine whether New Orleans or Green Bay got the better of the deal, but Payton said the compensation made the decision to make the trade “an easy one.”
The Saints have every reason to expect that their No. 1 pick next year will be as late or later than this year’s, making it worth just a tad more than a high No. 2. Additionally, they’ll get a season’s worth of production out of Davenport before that second No. 1 is withdrawn from their account.
So clearly Payton and the Saints were as satisfied with the price they paid for Davenport as they were with the price they paid to get Kamara in the third round last year. Kamara went on to be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Davenport played four years at UTSA and graduated last December, presumably making him more mature and ready for the transition to the NFL than many of his colleagues are.
Payton said after “five to minutes” of visiting with Davenport, it was “off to the film,” meaning it was immediately evident that there were no non-football issues with this player.
Football-wise, Payton used the word “prototype” several times to reference Davenport’s size and strength.
A few days earlier, Payton cited a few areas in need of bolstering from the draft and the offensive line, tight end and secondary can be addressed in the next two days, but his primary goal was adding “a pressure player.”
So Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis went out and got one. A real good one in their estimation and that of director of college scouting Jeff Ireland, one that will line up at right defensive end opposite Pro Bowler Cam Jordan.
After three straight 7-9 finishes, the Saints returned to NFL prominence last season and they obviously feel they have started a run that can rival or surpass the 2009-11 period that began with a Super Bowl title and finished with two more playoff berths and a three-year record of 37-11.
They got younger and became a more complete football team with their moves last off-season. Along the way they greatly enhanced their chances of getting to another Super Bowl while Drew Brees is still an elite quarterback. This off-season they’ve added more pieces in cornerback Patrick Robinson, linebacker Demario Davis, safety Kurt Coleman, wide receiver Meredith Coleman and tight end Benjamin Watson.
So drafting Brees’ successor can wait and waiting to see what’s available at pick No. 27 isn’t good enough when you’ve identified a difference-maker you can get by cashing in a couple of extra, expendable chips.
No one will know whether the price paid for Davenport was too high, too low, or just right until he’s played a few years.
But New Orleans is on a roll and the guys responsible for returning it to Super Bowl-contender status saw an opportunity and they seized it.
You don’t win Super Bowls by waiting to see what comes your way, you do it by going after what you need to do it.
New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
NFL Draft Day #1 Press Conference
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Opening Statement: “We’re excited obviously. It was a player we had targeted and spent some time with, quite a bit of time with him. We didn’t know exactly at what point in the draft we felt he was going to be taken, specifically the first round. Like every year, we would discuss who are the players that we would move forward for and he clearly for us was a guy that we felt strongly enough about. He fits a must position as well. We see him over at the right defensive end position. Compensation was fair.”
Were there players that were taken right before him that were close to him in your grades tonight?
“Those players that were taken right in that same ballpark. You saw some really good linebackers go where one was taken before (Roquan Smith) and I think I’m quite sure (Tremaine) Edmonds was taken a pick or two after (by Buffalo). Those are all real football players and every year it seems like the quarterbacks kind of lead the way in regards to pushing other players back and I think that was the case a little bit this year as well.”
He’s stood up a lot before, will it be a transition for him with his hand down?
“No. If he’s comfortable standing, he could play the same technique standing. I don’t think that will be a big transition. He is someone who is a real explosive, has great makeup and we’re excited about the vision for him. It’s pretty clear.”
Did his Senior Bowl week help him?
“I think it was important. He played some five technique at that game, which is a little bit more of a different position for him. But we see him as an edge player, a pressure player. It did give you a chance to see a higher level of competition (for him to work against) and yet when you watch his college tape there’s a number of games against pretty good opponents. But I think it was all part of the process. It was one piece of the evaluation.”
What were some of the big games you saw him play against better completion?
“This is a school, it seems like in the last seven or eight years there’s been four or five programs that all of a sudden you’re like man they’re playing Houston, they’re playing Baylor they’re playing UTEP. The point is you look at some film and we’ll really look at some small schools. But I think it’s a program that has made a commitment to a high level of competition. The one thing that stands out is you see is effort, down in and down out, how he plays. That’s pretty impressive. There’ll be some things we’ll have to work with him on like any rookie, any young player. We look forward to doing that.”
What type of conversations did you have with Frank Wilson and the Texas-San Antonio coaching staff in their conversations?
“Quite a bit. The staff was very helpful in the evaluation. We lean on the college coaches. They were tremendous really helpful. Again the exposure to the Senior Bowl, he’s a real sharp guy and I think driven and focused and will be anxious to get started and I think his teammates here will see those traits.”
How much is this move designed to take some heat off of Cam Jordan?
“Yeah, I’m not interested in taking any heat off Cam. I’m interested in getting other players like Cam. One of the offseason targets was a pressure player and that might come as a guy who lines up inside, it might come from a player that lines up outside. But before we check that box we have to feel like he can affect the quarterback and in our league, there’s a premium on a few different positions, one of them is that, one of them is a corner. We saw the quarterbacks and the tackles. We can’t find those guys when the season is over with and we start free agency. They’re generally players you have to draft.”
Some descriptions say that Davenport is raw. Do you consider that fair?
“Yes. I think that’s fair and that’s part of what we get to do as coaches. We look forward to that and when you when you’re around him and you’re around this player, you’re looking at certain traits and he’s a guy that fits the prototype scale and the metrics in regards to his height, weight, size, speed. He has tremendous makeup, he’s very smart and yes I’m sure our defensive coaches, all of us are anxious to work with players like that and hopefully allow them to maximize their potential. That’s really what we are. We’re teachers.”
Is it part of your vision for him to move inside some?
“That’s not my initial vision. My initial vision would be as an end position. Obviously when you get to third down, you’re trying to rotate your best rushers and put them on the field and I wouldn’t say he can’t do that because you see evidence on film. That’ll take care of itself once he’s here.”
Does his frame allow him to grow further?
“Yes. I’m comfortable with the weight that he is at right now. The strength I think is important and I think there will be a certain weight gain when he just comes in and is working just on football. But certainly his size and his measurables were important.”
What do you think about the price paid to acquire him?
“When you when you when you look at the points on it you’re picking at 27. So let’s call it a first round pick, yet it’s pick 27. To truly do the full metrics of the value, you’d have to jump ahead next year to see what’s next year’s one. So, I think you’re constantly paying attention to the charts and teams in our league are on top of correct compensation. Periodically you see one that gets bumped out of whack. But this was one that was easy. These were the same questions last year one when we move our second round pick for Alvin Kamara. That appears to be, (a perception that you gave up) a lot and yet you know what’s our country’s national debt? However many billion dollars we’re talking about you know hopefully a late (first) round pick next year (is what was given up).”
How did the deal come about?
“Quite honestly the process takes place days leading up to the draft where we talk to teams outside those first four or five, six, ten is a benchmark a little bit because the contracts can be different, when it’s an option year. But nonetheless there is predraft discussion just with the idea of who might be interested in possibly moving. Because you know when the draft starts you’re not going to have that same amount of time and yet you know there are a few teams we spoke with and I would have said probably around the eighth or ninth pick, I would have picked two other teams that we were more likely to do a deal with that didn’t happen and then it ends up being Green Bay. So we were right in the middle of the first round which is where we saw the value.”
There were two other teams you talked to where you thought a deal might have been more likely?
“There were just other teams on the phone. We were close with one other team. A player fell for them. Oftentimes it will be just wait to see if our player is there. It is pretty normal. So without going into (who) all the other teams are, it’s not unusual.
Did you see what you thought you were getting in terms of makeup after Senior Bowl meetings?
“Well combine (in addition). He’s one where in five to ten minutes, it’s very apparent that it’s on to the film study. In other words, it’s a credit to his family, his parents, his coaches. So for us it was a vision where do we see him playing and then watching a lot of film on him and there’s some players that there are areas that need to be vetted more medically or other things. In his case, he’s a quick study, a quick learner and we’ll have a lot of work to do but I know he’s excited and we are too to get started.”
There’s been a ton of speculation about quarterbacks, did you take any thought to taking one in round one?
“Oh yeah. We discuss it and yet try to grade each one and really tune out (mocks). It is hard now to tune out all the outside predictions. Maybe that’s not the right word. It’s hard to tune out a lot of the mocks because if you’re not careful then you’ll find yourself moving in a certain direction away from your conviction. So clearly, I don’t know that we had anyone graded like we had Patrick Mahomes a year ago. But that’s the business we’re in as well. It’s not just defensive ends, it’s quarterbacks, it’s linebackers and recognizing obviously Drew (Brees) has played a long time and yet we are fully confident that he is going to continue to play and we’re pretty excited about the young guys that are working behind him.”
Are there any personality traits that strike you in a certain way about him?
“Smart, exceptionally smart. I think when you guys finish your first visit with them you’ll understand he’s bright, mature he’s a senior. I would say unremarkable. In a good way, just someone who you just feel a maturity level and a work ethic and someone that wants to improve and is humble and yet I’m sure he has some quirks. But I think that there’s a passion you feel like when you’re around him about the game and we’re searching for people that are in the passion business.”
Does his personality compare to Sheldon Rankins?
“I don’t know. Sheldon is kind of an old soul. He’s a little different. It’s hard to compare him in that way. I like Sheldon’s personality. I wouldn’t say Sheldon is boring. Each of these guys are unique. But, you know when you visit with them that that you’re going to be able to check those boxes and it becomes more focused. We’re always looking at the tape and evaluating the talent. But, yes, I think he’s going to fit in well with his teammates here.”
You guys seem to like bigger edge guys with Hau’oli Kikaha being the exception in the draft. While there have been different defensive coordinators over that time, is there a reason why you like size at that position?
“History tells us they stay healthier and expend or don’t have to expend the same amount of energy. Every team does a certain scale that’s prototype and it exists, not that it’s set in stone, but it just reminds you of what’s playing. And so periodically we’ll read a player with a certain height and weight and we like this player a lot and then someone in the room will say well how many in the last 20 years have been this tall. And sometimes it might be too tall and you do have to at least pay attention to that, because if the answer is there’s been two in the last 20 years then already you’re battling a certain percentage. You just don’t want to be disregarding those figures. And so that goes into your vision. Now look there are exceptions and clearly we make exceptions. Our Pro Bowl future Hall of Fame quarterback isn’t prototype and yet that’s just part of it. It’s not it’s not where you just say that’s it. But Davenport happens to be prototype. He fits those measureables and if you’re not careful then pretty soon you have a team full of exceptions. So you just have to be mindful of what’s playing and who we’re playing against. If we take a smaller corner, the question we have then is who’s covering Julio (Jones) or (Mike) Evans. In our division those are things that matter.”
Did you show up today having narrowed things down to look at moving up to acquire Marcus Davenport specifically?
Yes, today, yesterday, last week. It was going to be too high to get (Bradley) Chubb and the end made sense. But within the last week, two weeks, this was just a player (who impressed us). There were a handful of players really honestly. (Tremaine) Edmunds, whose brother is with us, is (from a) tremendous family, parents we know well, he has another brother that’s going to be drafted (Terrell Edmunds). And I have just given you one other example, but there was a strong conviction that this might be in a target range for us. realistically to get into this round earlier.”
Is potential for batted passes something you look at with a pass rusher?
“So we will ask the question two days ago, how many batted passes, how many quarterback disruptions. He’s had eight batted passes. We’ll get one-year study, we’ll get career study. Batted passes would tell me he’s somewhat instinctive. I know length is important in that, but guys that can rush with a vision and anticipate a ball being thrown, some guys can have the length and the height and all those things and not have one batted down pass and they might be a little bit focused more on the individual matchup. But he’s someone that you see disruption when you see him play a lot.”
You said there was a premium on pass rushers and that you were trying to move up earlier, was Davenport the center of the efforts?
“We began at 9, 10. We really began it 10 11 12, in the double digits and we were hoping that this was right around where we’d be able to select him.”
Do you feel like he has playmaking ability? “You know when a guy has six forced fumbles that that’s not by accident. That’s probably because he’s pretty good, separating the ball from the player.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…