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Sowing the Seeds of Disaster

There's an adage in the NFL: The teams that draft well, play well. And the teams that draft poorly get high picks, until they begin to draft well. Thus I propose that the seeds for the Saints' stunning collapse were sown in their recent drafts and their inability to stockpile good players. Please note, it's too early to grade the 2006 and 2007 drafts -- but the early returns indicate that the '06 draft was excellent. So let's take a brief look back at the Saints' 2002-2005 drafts. I chose those years because the players selected would be entering their primes right now and some would still be playing under their rookie contracts.

Some notes on the criteria:

  • I limited the selections to players who were selected in the top-100 picks (roughly rounds 1-3). In the NFL, players selected in the top-100 can be reasonably be expected to become a starter, or at least a key backup. In fact, of the excluded players, only FB Mike Karney and DT Rodney Leisle (both of the 2004 Draft) remain with the team. Neither of them is an impact player.
  • The Hit/Miss category is admittedly subjective. My judgments went like this: If the player is still a Saints and is a starter, he was automatically a hit. If the player is not a Saints, is he capable of performing at a higher level than the current player; if so, he was a hit. The only two controversial Misses, I imagine, are Stallworth and Bentley. I will explain why I believe they are misses momentarily.
Round (pick) Name Position Pro Bowls Hit/Miss
2002 1 (13) Donte Stallworth WR 0 Miss
1 (25) Charles Grant DE 0 Hit
2 (44) LeCharles Bentley C 2 Miss
3 (82) James Allen LB 0 Miss
2003 1 (6) Johnathan Sullivan DT 0 Big Effing Miss
2 (37) Jon Stinchcomb RT 0 Hit
3 (86) Cie Grant LB 0 Miss
2004 1 (18) Will Smith DE 1 Hit
2 (50) Devery Henderson WR 0 Hit
2 (60) Courtney Watson LB 0 Miss
2005 1 (13) Jammal Brown LT 1 Hit
2 (40) Josh Bullocks FS 0 Hit
3 (82) Alfred Fincher LB 0 Miss

Four drafts, six players still on the roster, two of whom (Smith and Brown) can be considered excellent (though their performances vary from mediocre to excellent), one (Charles Grant) who is good and three (Henderson, Bullocks and Stinchcomb) who are average.

Some will argue that Bentley and Stallworth were hits; they may also argue that Stinchcomb and Bullocks are misses. My motivation in classification: Stinchcomb and Bullocks provided the Saints with value yesterday, Bentley and Stallworth didn't.

Regardless, this fact seems the most apparent: Since 2002, the Saints have drafted precisely 3 Pro Bowlers and no repeat Pro Bowlers the only repeat Pro Bowler left the team vowing to never return (he hasn't). Moreover, from these drafts, nobody who was selected after pick 50 remains with the team in any sort of meaningful capacity (Alfred Fincher's 1 tackle in 2007 does not qualify as meaningful). On a 53-man, salary capped roster, teams MUST procure talent with later picks. The returns of Marques Colston and Jahri Evans affirm this.

Also of note: No cornerbacks drafted in the first 100 picks. Before Usama Young (2007, pick 66), the last Saint cornerback who was drafted in the top 100: the indomitable Fred Weary. In a league in which success is increasingly predicated on spreading out opposing defenses and preying on mismatches, this is simply unacceptable. Excellent defenses have at least three good corners. Teams don't often let excellent corners leave; they are grown, not bought.

The results speak for themselves. The Saints' 2006 season was a fine story, but it looks increasingly anomalous while the players of the 2002-05 drafts fail to comprise any sort of substantial core.