Saints trade up once again, pick UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport in first round

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Saints continue tradition of trading up with Davenport pick

You know the names. Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks and Alvin Kamara.

It is hard to argue with the success those players had in black and gold. That includes Cooks, who was very productive in his short stint here.

You can add Marcus Davenport to that list.

While many teams love to trade down to acquire more draft picks and a few dare to trade up on occasion for that one special player, the New Orleans Saints of Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton remain the kings of trading up.

For the last three years, the talk has permeated the quest to improve the New Orleans Saints defense.

How can the Saints land a bookend for Cameron Jordan? Is there someone out there that can be added to the defensive front that can strike fear into an opponent, allow the Saints to rush no more than four or five and utilize coverage skills while getting real pressure on the quarterback?

Clearly the Saints feel they have their man in Davenport. The sizeable investment New Orleans made in him is a reflection of a team that feels that he is that good and that he may be a missing piece, if not the missing piece to reaching the pinnacle of the profession and becoming a Super Bowl champion once again.

The move made by the Saints was obviously the move made toward winning big and winning big now.

Davenport is a freakish athlete.

In high school in San Antonio, he was a wide receiver. When he started at Texas-San Antonio, he was a thin, somewhat skinny outside linebacker who weighed 215 pounds soaking wet.

The one thing Davenport had from the start was speed. From 2016 to 2017, Davenport increased his weight to 230 pounds and maintained his quickness. By 2017, he weighed more than 260 pounds and remained quick and fast. His 4.58 forty-yard dash and broad jump of 10 feet, four inches were both second best at his position at the NFL Combine workouts.

Those who put on significant weight and maintain speed are rare. Davenport has done so.

Is he strong enough on the hoof to play the run?

Watching tape, he does play a little high at times but his quickness helps him. He uses his hands well. He is plenty physical enough to play the run and not just be a specialist.

There is no doubt he can rush the passer, a real need for the Saints. In his college career, Davenport had 38 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. It is what he does best. Make no mistake about that. He most often lined up in a two-point stance, getting a running start from a stand-up position.

At Texas-San Antonio, Davenport played for head coach Frank Wilson, formerly of LSU and O. Perry Walker. The New Orleans native and St. Augustine alum gives a frank assessment of his prodigy.

“He knows how to use his hands and how to counter an offensive lineman’s set,” Wilson told NFL Network about Davenport. “The times that he’s done it are truly minute in the grand scheme of things when you think of defensive line play or edge rush play. I think his upside is out the roof. His better days are still before him. He has the ability to continue to mature. He has a huge desire to want to learn and to get better. I think that he’s ready-made.”

SBNation analyst Stephen White concurs with Davenport’s ability to translate immediately to the NFL and benefit the Saints.

“Davenport had one of the best long-arm moves I’ve ever seen from a college prospect since I started doing these breakdowns,” White said. “And y’all know I’m a sucker for long-arm moves.”

White went on to heap praise on Davenport.

“From what I’ve seen of Davenport’s tape, he has the potential to be a modern-day Picasso,” White said. “Power rushes were not the only moves Davenport won with, however. He showed some really nice rip moves, as well as some effective arm-overs.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper is high on Davenport as well.

“He’s one of the best pure pass-rushers in this class, even if he hasn’t developed an arsenal of moves yet,” Kiper said. “Davenport is a quick-twitch athlete who can play on his fee or with his hand in the dirt.”

NFL Network’s Mike Mayock is a little more reserved in his assessment of Davenport as told to the San Antonio News.

“I’m a Marcus Davenport guy,” Mayock said. “I really like him. But I think the underlying understanding has to be that he’s very raw and it is going to take a little bit of time.”

Wilson gets the final word on the matter with this from the San Antonio News.

“In a time and age where guys are entitled and really think they have it all figured out, he’s not that guy,” Wilson said. “He wants to get better. He wants to be coached. It’s just refreshing to see that in a young man.”

The Saints paid a huge price to get Davenport. Time will tell it is pays off. The return on investment will begin immediately. Davenport may be a little bit raw but he will get the chance to develop and blossom right away. That is the expectation of a person you draft 14th overall. You expect a king to fill the chair that cost a king’s ransom.

Given the track record of success for the Saints in trading up previously, they deserve the benefit of the doubt with a degree of confidence that the move will pay off for years to come.

New Orleans Saints Defensive End Marcus Davenport
Conference Call With New Orleans Media
Thursday, April 26, 2018

And what was your reaction when the Saints picked you.
“My reaction was surprised because my dad yelled. He started crying and so it was just a surreal moment.”

When you saw that they traded up to 14, you didn’t have any suspicion that it might be for you?
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know at all.”

Did you think coming into the draft that the Saints might be a potential landing spot for you? Or did you think that they were going to be too far down?
“I had heard but I didn’t know.”

What about coming to a team, there’s certainly a veteran defensive end with Cam Jordan playing his best football. How excited are you to be able to play with someone like him and kind of learn from him?
“That’s great. I want to get there and soak up the knowledge to get better.”

When you think about where you were when you started your college career, is it crazy to think about being picked 14th?
“Yes, I still can’t realize it. Like it just happened and it’s still so crazy.”

What’s your sense of how you can help a team that’s already a contender here? What do you think is going to be expected of you and what are your hopes for your first season?
“My hopes for my first season? I want to shoot big. I want a Super Bowl. I just want to be able to impact (and) be an impact player, help out in any way I can.”

Do you think there will be a learning curve at all coming from a small school?
“I don’t think of it so much as a small school, more of a young school. And learning curve, I’m just going to have to work to get over that as soon as possible.”

You’re only the second player drafted out of UTSA, from the time you’ve been there, how have you seen that program grow?
“Now we have more of a like fan base and we are growing. We’re creating better athletes and winning more games.”

Sean Payton was just praising your instincts, obviously forced fumbles, passes defensed and things like that, where did that come from? How did you sort of develop those instincts beyond just getting to the passer?
“It was working with my coaches. I credit my coaches for that. We worked that everyday so eventually that becomes second nature.”

Do you have any experience with playing with your hand down? And will that be a transition for you if they ask you to do that?
“No, that’d be cool. My first two years I played with my hand down so going back (will be fine for me.”

You clearly have a lot of pride in UTSA, do you see this as a big moment not just for you but for your school?
“Yes, for my school, for my city. It’s kind of crazy, I still don’t realize that I just got selected number 14 to the New Orleans Saints.”

Do you think being drafted this high is a big moment for the Texas-San Antonio football program?
“It’s my school, my city. It’s crazy. I still can’t believe it. I still don’t realize that I was just selected at 14 (overall) by the New Orleans Saints.”

Why did you go to UTSA compared to any other college program?
“My reason for going to UTSA was I met some really great players (there) that I felt were a family.”

What others schools were you considering?
“UNLV, New Mexico, it was really between those three.”

How happy are you that you were drafted by a team so close to San Antonio?
“Oh that’s great. My people are from New Orleans so that’s even better. My dad, grandfather, my uncles a lot of my family.”

Do you know what part of New Orleans is your family is from?
“New Orleans East. My dad went to JFK (Kennedy high school) before it was torn down. My grandfather coached (track) at Southern University (of New Orleans). He is in the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.”

What is your grandfather’s name?
“Artis Davenport.”

Have you spent much time here?
“(I’ve) been a couple times. Not enough times though.”

Did any of your family members know your college coach?
“No, but they did kind of grow up in the same section (of New Orleans) and knew a lot of the same people.”

What were those meetings like with the Saints prior to the draft? Did you talk to Sean Payton or Mickey Loomis?
“I got to meet them at my first meeting at the Senior Bowl and got to meet them again at the combine twice. It was good.”

Did they seem like they were very interested in you or did it just seem like another meeting with a team?

“I don’t know, I couldn’t really think of it. I was still trying to figure them out. I’m still trying to figure them out.”

Is it hard during the draft process to tell if a team is interested or not?
“Yes, very hard.”

What does it mean to you that they traded next year’s first round pick to select you at 14?
“It’s a great feeling, but it just means we have to get to work.”

How would you describe your approach to football over the past four years?
“Prideful. I approach football with pride.”

How would you describe your personality?
“Calm, methodical, something like that.”

Texas-San Antonio Head Coach Frank Wilson
Conference Call With New Orleans Media
Friday, April 27, 2018

What makes Marcus (Davenport) so special? What has he done for you and how has he kind of grown to where he is now?
“I think the thing that makes him so special is the ability to have a diverse ability to rush the quarterback at a very high level consistently. And from a run game perspective to support the run to him and having enough girth and fortitude to hold the point steady when it’s coming towards him. And then when running away from him, having the tenacity and the want to to go run it down from behind.”

What areas do you think he’s got to fine tune at this level?
“I think he will continue to mature. I think he’s a guy that’s right at about 265 right now. He can hold about 275 he’ll continue to get bigger and allow himself to be that much more stronger to handle the offensive linemen that he will meet on week to week basis in the National Football League. I believe when you ask him he’d say, “I’m a work in progress and there’s not a point in my game where I think I’ve arrived. I want to grow.” That’s the beautiful thing about him. He’s not entitled. He’s not a young man that thinks he’s got it all figured out. He’s very talented. He’s a very gifted player and he wants to improve himself to be the best that he can be.”

When you first met him, how did you discover just how coachable he was?
“Just his natural disposition. He was actually there the day of my press conference (introduction as head coach). His father came in after the press conference and introduced himself. And we realized we had a lot of—or knew a lot of the same people or had a lot of the same people in common (growing up in New Orleans). And so, at that point that kind of opened the door for a conversation piece and when I got to the office I had a chance to look at the roster and then started watching film and knew he was a talented player. (I) Called those guys in one by one, and all he said was, he didn’t say these words, I’m kind of paraphrasing but in his conversation to me, “Coach get with that, I want to be a great player”. And so that’s a coach’s dream when a player says those words to you. And that’s what he went about himself doing, to better himself everyday on the practice field and in the meeting room.”

When you got there how long did it take you to recognize that you had an NFL first round talent on your team and in your program?
“Eventually that same year when I got here, he was only about 218 pounds—(215) pounds, somewhere in that range. He played that season of September at about 230. And then his senior year he played at about 260 plus. So he kind of takes this effort to do the things that needed to be done to get where he wanted to be and that was in the position to be an NFL draft pick. And a lot of people talk about it but he put in the work to position himself to do so. It was a maturation process, physically, mentally that put him in the position to do so. But going into his senior year, we kind of figured, this guy’s different.”

Do you think he can play with his hand in the dirt? We know he stood up a lot for you guys.
“He did it his whole career. His first two years he did it quite often. And he did it quite a lot of times for us this year as well. So he has the diversity and ability to do both, to put his hand down and be in a two-point stance. In his junior year more specifically he was in a two-point stance because we played him in a six and we played a backer on the outside where they had the deep gap for the responsibility. But when we put him at the matchup, he put it down and he got to the point of just being an analytical guy and recognized “I don’t want to give off a tendency and so I’ll stand with my hands up or I will stand in a two-point stance and still get the—generate the power that I like to rush.” And so he played the one end pass ability in a two-point stance. And that’s when you recognize everything that you do for d-line play from stage to explosion, three-point explosion hits, you do on a three-point stance. He did it every day in practice, even if he didn’t do it in the game. So I think he’ll be able to do it.”

I read somewhere that Marcus reads a lot. Did you ever notice that to be like something about him?
“Not really, that does not affect a football player what he did for his hobby with his reading. It never was an issue with football. I’m a real avid reader so we share thoughts and whether it’s Othello or Macbeth and I tease him a little bit about I am deeper than you are. That was always a nice little time in getting to know one another and spend quality time off the field. But it was never—a connection in football persay than us growing our relationship it came up.”

Are there any other quirky things that you remember about him?
“I don’t think it’s quirky at all. I have no problem with a guy who reads.”

What’s different probably is how a lot of people that young today are glued to things like video games
“That is the unfortunate thing. That is why you always try to protect the shield. Because unfortunately guys do other things. I think he is a guy that has his head on straight. He is totally focused and driven on the goals he has set for himself. I think he is a good teammate. I think he’s a real guy in the locker room and on the practice field, it’s not like he brings a book in the locker room or during meetings and start reading. When it’s football, he’s all football all the way through.”

Do you guys have books in common that you’d talk about? Any examples? Or do you read different stuff?
“Yeah, different stuff.”

A lot of people would say he had a great last year, Conference USA and the Southeastern Conference for example even, which is a good topic for you since you’ve coached in both conferences. What do you kind of say to that?
“I would say, that I’ve been fortunate enough to think I have the ability to have a deciding mind to be able to project with my eyes closed and see players at high school and collegiate levels because I have done it the last 20 years. And he is as talented as any of those guys. His work ethic is as good as any of those guys and telling them and when they called me from Mobile, my response to them was line them up against him. Take the best offensive lineman you have and have at it. And find out. It was the same when he went to the combine, line him up in front of him, see what he is about. Or when they had him at his individual workouts, test his wherewithal, take him through it, bring him all the way there and back and let’s see how he responds. The beautiful thing is the New Orleans Saints organization did those things and they did the in-depth research to see that he was the guy that was serious about football and checked those boxes. I think there is more to playing in the SEC, of course I coached in it a very long time but I also would like to see those same guys that I coached there or recruited there in comparison, he’s there with what they were and some in my humble opinion.”

Did you reach out to Ryan Nielsen? Did he reach out to you to ask about him? Who put who on each other’s radar?
“Prior to talking to Ryan, I really talked to Mr. Loomis and the assistant GM (Jeff Ireland) and the coaching staff, and eventually…I didn’t talk to Ryan in-depth until most recently. I never knew the Saints were in position to get him they kept that close to the vest. It was casual conversation as I would have with any other staff so I was as shocked as he was when they drafted him because they never showed their hands. They were very discreet in their preparation and their draft art. I’m not sure if I reached out. I talk to Ryan all the time so I don’t know if I called him or if he called me.”

Around this time of year, so many people love comparisons of players to others whether they’re in the NFL now or in the past, is there any guy that he reminds you of, maybe both physically and the way he plays?
“I think the two guys most recently, Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney are the guys in size and stature and yet in athleticism. He’s a very explosive young man. He’s 265 or whatever and ran 4.58, 4.59. He has great feet, former basketball player, an athlete. So agile, mobile. So from an athleticism standpoint, he puts me in the mind of those two guys.”

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