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A Proposed Draft Strategy for the Saints This Year

A lot of people--including me--have suggested that the Saints may do better to trade out of their #14 spot in the first round in order to pick up more draft choices--for instance, getting back into the second round, or at least the third.

Something I read today made me wonder, why stop there?

In the spring of 1986, Bill Walsh of the 49ers evaluated that year's draft class and came to the conclusion that there were not a lot of outstanding players, but a lot of good depth. I think something similar holds true this year--a lot of good but not great players in just about every category, and little chance that many of the "greats" will survive to our draft slot. Even the player a lot of people are already focusing on--Malcolm Jenkins--is rated no better than a solid NFL starter, not a game-changer.

What Walsh did in 1986 was to go nuts on the trades. He made so many trades that word got around the league that Bill Walsh was running his own personal fire sale, and you better get in on it while you can:

So the strategy he adopted was to go after quantity and to trade down to get as many picks as possible...

[Walsh] traded the number eighteen pick in the first round to Dallas for its pick at number twenty plus a fifth-rounder. Then he packaged the Dallas pick, plus one of his own in the tenth round, to Buffalo for their second and third-round picks. He also moved another second-round pick to Washington for their first-rounder in 1987. Along the way, the Philadelphia Eagles called to ask if the apparently crazy 49ers president would trade his backup quarterback, Matt Cavanaugh, for a third-rounder now plus a second-round pick next year. Putting that proposal on hold, Mike Holmgren remembered, "Bill hung up the phone and said he had a chance to trade Cavanaugh and asked, "What do you think?" Cavanaugh was an excellent backup, and to a man, every coach in the room said, "Don't do it." Bill listened politely and then said, 'You guys don't know anything,' picked up the phone and says, 'Trade him.'" To cover that sudden vacancy on the roster, Walsh then moved one of his third-rounders from Detroit to the Rams for two fourths and backup quarterback Jeff Kemp.

All told, Bill had made six trades, leaving him with one choice in the second round, three in the third, three in the fourth, one each in the fifth and sixth, and another five between rounds eight and ten...In round two, he selected Larry Roberts, a defensive end out of Alabama, whom the Niners would have taken with their first-round pick if they had kept it. In round three, Bill chose fullback Tom Rathman of Nebraska, cornerback Tim McKyer from Texas-Arlington, and wide receiver John Taylor from Delaware State. Round four yielded linebacker and pass rush specialist Charles Haley out of James Madison, offensive tackle Steve Wallace from Auburn, and Miami defensive tackle Kevin Fagan. In round six, he picked up cornerback Don Griffin from Middle Tennessee State. All eight would become starters for the 49ers--the two corners in their rookie year--and five of them would eventually be selected to the Pro Bowl. [emphasis added]

(From The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty, by David Harris)

Walsh very humbly went on to call it "maybe the best draft in NFL history." But if it wasn't quite that, it was damned smart drafting. I remember all those players, because they were instrumental in tormenting the Saints for years.

My point is, why can't we do something similar? The usual suggestion has been to swap first-rounders with someone coveting a player who is still unexpectedly available at #14; that way we could maybe pick up a second-rounder as well. But why not then trade our new first-rounder to someone desirous of ,oving back into the first? Let's say we could pick up another second and a third. Suddenly we've given up Malcolm Jenkins or Brian Cushing--players that nobody's really too sure of in the first round--for two seconds and a third. That could be two brand-new safeties, plus either a good center, a pounding running back, or a small-school pass rusher (is there another Charles Haley out there?). And we'd still have two picks in the fourth, plus a seventh-rounder--and we know that Payton and Loomis are darn good at drafting in the low rounds, so such a strategy could result in an outstanding draft.

I know this scenario is pretty specific--you can't really plan on this without knowing for sure who you'd be trading with, and why, and that can't happen ahead of time. But I think it might be good for the Saints to adopt something like this as a general strategy and be as flexible as possible. Forget the first-round--we probably can't afford a first-rounder's salary, anyway--and concentrate on picking up as much as possible between the 2nd and 4th.