Lacking draft ammo, Saints need Marcus Davenport, Tre’Quan Smith to shine in second seasons

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Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith vs. Panthers
(Photo: Parker Waters)

The New Orleans Saints appear to have handled unrestricted free agency well.

The club set a price on running back Mark Ingram and did not exceed it. In response, free agent Latavious Murray was plugged into Ingram’s spot, for a cap of $1.85 million in 2019.

The Saints were able to sure up their interior defense by signing Malcolm Brown for three years at $15 million and also keep quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who spurned an offer to win the starting job in his hometown of Miami.

Management learned from previous mistakes, including overpaying free agents like running back CJ Spiller and safety Jairus Byrd. If the teams who were perceived to win free agency had their spending equated to winning, the Washington Redskins would have won another Super Bowl a long time ago.

The Saints will look to the draft for improvement, but it will be tough to have their 2019 draft to yield starters. New Orleans currently has one selection, a second rounder, in the first four rounds. Perhaps they will be aggressive again and trade back into to this year’s draft by mortgaging one or more of their 2020 selections.

However, the biggest opportunity for the Saints to move the needle even higher in 2019 is likely through the development of their top two picks from a year ago.

Defensive end Marcus Davenport, a first round pick who cost the Saints additional selections in the first and fifth rounds, certainly has the skills to make a leap forward. As a rookie, he 4.5 quarterback sacks and a forced fumble despite missing time and being slowed by a toe injury.

When you trade an additional first round pick for a player, you are telling the world that he is a difference maker. It is time for Davenport to make that jump.

Wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, the Saints 2018 third round selection, had 28 receptions with five for touchdowns. A closer looks reveals that 10 of Smith’s catches were in one game, a November rout of Philadelphia.

The Saints need consistency and big plays from Smith.

As you might expect, the grade on the Saints’ 2018 draft is very much an incomplete. After drafting Davenport and Smith, the Saints missed on four consecutive selections. Offensive tackle Rick Leonard, defensive backs Natrell Jamerson and Kamrin Moore, and running back Boston Scott are no longer with the team.

To the Saints’ credit, the final pick in last year’s draft was offensive lineman Will Clapp, the product out of LSU and Brother Martin who played admirably in three games with one start.

As for the big picture, it will be difficult for the Saints to improve in 2019. After all, New Orleans captured 12 regular season victories including a 10-game winning streak that stretched from mid-September through November 22.

With only two picks in the first five rounds, the Saints figure to be hard pressed to find a pair of starters from this year’s draft. That’s why the ascension of Davenport and Smith is critical.

Lost drafts can quickly affect a team’s won-loss record.

In 2014, the Saints drafted six players, none on the roster five years later.

In 2015, the Saints were marginally better in the draft room.

Then came 2016 and 2017, when the Saints drafted the core of their young, talented nucleus.

It will be interesting to see if Marcus Davenport and Tre’Quan Smith can join that prestigious black and gold club.

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Ed Daniels

Ed Daniels

WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM

Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…

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