Saints draft selections helping team win

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Michael Thomas: Saints vs. Browns

Even though the Saints have traded away three of their top four draft picks in next year’s NFL draft, their last three drafts are starting to show production that has New Orleans as Super Bowl contenders.

In the 2016 draft, the first round pick, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins selected 12th overall, is showing more flashes of brilliance expected from his lofty draft position. Rankins had two sacks in the Vikings game Sunday and looked dominant at times using both a bull rush and a spin move.

In round two that year, two second round selections came from Ohio State. Wide receiver Michael Thomas is on his way to making around 135 receptions this season as one of football’s best pass catchers. With pick 2-B, Vonn Bell was their selection. The safety taken 61st in the 2016 draft is very physical with athleticism to cause problems at the point of attack.

With their fourth rounder in ’16, the team took a chance on raw defensive tackle David Onyamata, who didn’t play football before going to Canada. He knew nothing about the game but went to the East-West game and had a great week. He is very quick for a 300-pound man and is now making plays as a key member of a rotation that’s helping the Saints stop the run at an elite rate.

In 2017, Marcus Lattimore, another Ohio State standout, was selected No. 11 overall. After a great rookie season, my top rated cornerback in Draft Day Report’s 2017 issue is playing well again this year. He is a quick twitch athlete with fluid hips.

The Saints then traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks, a former first round pick in the 2014 draft, for another 1st round pick. At No. 32, they selected Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who is now one of the best tackles in the NFL. He plays with power, balance and light feet. Ramcyzk is quick enough to get to the second level and make blocks as well.

Fort the second straight year, New Orleans selected a safety in round two. Marcus Williams out of Utah has shown good ball skills but needs to become a better wrap-up tackler.

The Saints acquired a 3rd round pick from the 49ers in exchange for a 2018 second round pick. The move proved to be genius-level with the pick of Alvin Kamara, an all-purpose running back from Tennessee who is one of the NFL’s best offensive weapons. I had him rated as the 4th running back in Draft Day Report, behind LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook out of Florida St. and Christian McCaffrey from Stanford. Kamara is playing like the best of that bunch, a real threat both running and catching the football. He is a great blend of power and quickness.

With another third rounder in 2017, the Saints took linebacker Alex Anzalone, who probably turned the Saints-Vikings game around with a hit on Vikings receiver Thielen which helped force a fumble that set up the Saints’ go ahead touchdown. Pick 3-C that year was defensive end Trey Hendrickson from Florida-Atlantic, a good athlete who has shown ability but has fallen back in a deeper rotation (more on that in a minute).

In 2018, the team only had three picks make the final 53 man roster. Remember, most scouts think if you get two or three starters out of a draft, it is a good result. I really like first round selection Marcus Davenport from Texas San Antonio. New Orleans famously traded up to No. 14 to get him, giving up a first round selection in 2019. He has really come on making more plays than expected, because it is hard for a defensive lineman – especially one considered so raw – to play well his first year at that position. It even took Cam Jordan over a year to look like the player he is today.

Davenport had two sacks in the game at Minnesota, and I think he needs to play more snaps the rest of the season. Considering the team goals and his lofty draft cost, he certainly will.

Third round pick Tre’Quan Smith, the speedy wideout from Central Florida, has shown flashes, but needs to get more on the same page with Drew Brees. He brings a deep threat to the offense needed more now with the loss of ed Ginn Jr. to injury.

Meanwhile, seventh rounder Will Clapp, the local product out of LSU, is a versatile offensive lineman who can project to both guard and center. He hasn’t been needed yet but has the background to be ready when called upon.

The Saints have only a 2nd round pick still left at the top of the 2019 draft, training away a 1st, a 3rd and a 4th for immediate. The front office may recapture some picks before April, with Sean Payton saying that’s not a hard thing to do if they want to do so. Regardless, if picks turn into productive players who help you win big by any means, call it a success.


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