Saints stay in character on second day of the NFL Draft
The New Orleans Saints operated very much in character during the second day of the NFL Draft on Friday night.
They picked a player from Ohio State and they traded up to nab a player they coveted – two of the most distinctive hallmarks of their drafting.
They used their second-round pick (No. 60 overall) to grab Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner. Then they traded their two third-round picks (No. 98 and No. 105 overall) to the Denver Broncos in order to move up to No. 76 and select Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo.
Werner joins three key players who are football alumni of Ohio State in wide receiver Michael Thomas, cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Malcolm Jenkins.
“It’s almost the capital for guys coming out of Ohio State,” Werner said after joining the other former Buckeyes.
Just a few minutes after Werner finished his Zoom call with reporters covering the Saints, his new team traded up for the 21st time in the last 15 drafts and selected Adebo.
Cornerback was arguably the Saints’ biggest need entering the draft after starter Janoris Jenkins was released to help the team get under the salary cap. The Saints hadn’t addressed the position with either of their first two picks – selecting Houston defensive end Payton Turner in the first round Thursday before taking Werner.
The need to bring in someone to compete for a starting cornerback position probably was as big a factor in the trade as the Saints’ infatuation with Adebo was.
Adebo opted out of the 2020 season because COVID created “too much uncertainty” and the Pac-12 was very late in deciding to play a truncated season. The cornerback said he was “sure that (the opt-out) had something to do with” him not being drafting higher.
The continuation of the Saints’ affinity for Ohio State players and propensity to trade up for players they feel strongly about weren’t the only familiar traits that surfaced Friday.
Head coach Sean Payton likes to have a clear vision for a new player before hiring him.
Werner fits the bill.
The Saints use three linebackers in their base defense, but they generally play at least as much sub packages that feature two linebackers as they play their base.
That means traditional roles of strong-side, middle and weak-side linebackers are evolving.
It’s becoming more important for linebackers to be hybrids who can defend the run and the pass, including rushing the passer – being the proverbial every-down linebacker.
The Saints’ Demario Davis fits that bill as well as any linebacker in the NFL. Werner’s history at Ohio State suggests he too has the potential to be an every-down linebacker though evolving into a Davis-like player is not an immediate expectation.
In his Zoom call, Werner came across as a very confident player who is neither cocky nor boastful.
He did describe himself as a “very intelligent” player who “shows the most effort on the field.” He called himself “a great prospect.”
As a Buckeye, Werner started on the both the strong side and the weak side and was successful at rushing the quarterback, stopping the run and covering pass catchers.
Adebo described himself as a “playmaker” who was “extremely productive on the ball” and had eight interceptions in 22 games before opting out.
He said his preference is to play “straight up man, just locking up my dude,” though at Stanford he had to be “really well versed” because he was asked to play a variety of schemes.
So the Saints enter the final day of the draft Saturday having strengthened each level of the defense with an end, a linebacker and a cornerback.
They have a fourth-round pick, a sixth-round pick and two seventh-round picks as opportunities to further increase the talent level.
Perhaps there’s another enticing trade or two to move up or a Buckeye or two looming.
New Orleans Saints 2021 NFL Draft Day Two Notes
• New Orleans made two picks on Friday, April 30; with the 60th overall pick in the second round, they chose linebacker Pete Werner out of Ohio State and with the 76th overall pick in the third round, they chose cornerback Paulson Adebo out of Stanford, following a draft trade where they sent Denver the 98th and 105th overall choices in the third round. Following Thursday’s first round selection of University of Houston DE Payton Turner, this marks the first time that the Saints have selected defensive players with their first three picks since the 2009 draft, which was headlined by DB Malcolm Jenkins in the first round and followed up by S Chip Vaughn and LB Stanley Arnoux in the fourth round.
• Werner is the 72nd linebacker selected in the NFL Draft by the Saints, the second-most selected position behind running back (73) in New Orleans drafts. He is also the 16th player selected out of Ohio State, third among Saints draft picks behind Nebraska and USC (17). Werner joins fellow Buckeyes in CB Marshon Lattimore, WR Michael Thomas and TE Nick Vannett on the roster, tied for the most on the team with Florida State (OL Derrick Kelly, CB Patrick Robinson, CB P.J. Williams and QB Jameis Winston).
• Adebo is the sixth player selected out of Stanford by the Saints and the second former Cardinal cornerback joining Toi Cook, who was selected in the eighth round (207th overall) in 1987.
• The 6-3, 242-pound Werner finished his college career with the Buckeyes with 185 career tackles, 16 stops for loss, four sacks, passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Werner helped power the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff championship game as a senior in 2020, when he was voted by Big Ten coaches as a first-team All-Conference selection and a Butkus Award semifinalist, posting 54 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles in only eight games.
• Werner started all 14 games in 2019 and was second on the Buckeyes in tackles (64), while earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, adding 5.5 tackles for loss for minus 11 yards, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
• The 6-1, 198-pound Adebo finished his college career playing in 22 games with 21 starts for Stanford and recording 97 tackles, 34 passes defensed and eight interceptions, earning All-Pac-12 honors in both 2018 and 2019.
• Prior to opting out in 2020 due to initial uncertainty in the Pac-12 schedule due to COVID-19, Adebo was an All-Pac-12 first-team selection by conference coaches and Associated Press second-team selection, where he played in and started each of the first nine games. He totaled 33 tackles 10 pass breakups and four interceptions. The Mansfield, Texas native led the Pac-12 Conference in passes defended per game and interceptions per game. He ranked third nationally in passes defended per game and eighth in interceptions per game.
• In his first season playing in 2018, after redshirting his freshman year, Adebo was an FWAA All-America Second Team, All-Pac-12 first team and Pacific Takes Pac-12 All-Freshman Team selection as he played in 13 games and started 12. He was ranked first in the nation with 24 passes defended (20 breakups and four interceptions), as he led the team and finished third in the Pac-12 (16th in the nation) with the four picks. He ranked third on team with 64 tackles (44 solo), including 3.5 stops for loss.
• The 2021 NFL Draft will resume on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT with the fourth-seventh rounds taking place. New Orleans currently has one pick in the fourth round (133rd overall), a compensatory pick in the sixth round (218th overall) and a pair of seventh round picks (229th and 255th overall).
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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…