I try not to worry about sports much, especially the New Orleans Saints, which are held closest of all. I do find myself concerned going into the 2015 NFL Draft, though. It's been said quite often this offseason, and it's true, that this is the most important draft class of the Sean Payton era in New Orleans, eclipsing even his inaugural draft in 2006. The 2006 draft shaped the beginning of the Payton era leading into the 2009 Super Bowl season and 2011 record setting season. The 2015 draft will shape the final stretch of Drew Brees' stellar career and perhaps go to lengths in continuing it.
Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have drafting patterns that they have followed since joining together in 2006. Their habits have been protected by early, mostly unduplicated success, in taking on project players that played far beyond any of the potential seen in them by most other franchises or experts. All-Time Saints great wide receiver Marques Colston is the prime example for this. Loomis is still considered a genius for selecting the unheralded Colston in the 7th round of the 2006 draft, as Colston turned into Brees' top target and the Saints' best receiver in franchise history. Even current starting offensive tackle Zach Strief was selected in the 7th round of the 2006 draft. Not bad, Loomis.
The concern comes in when you realize that for every Colston is a Mike Hass and an Adrian Arrington. For every Strief is a Matt Tennant and a Tavon Rooks. Like most franchises of course, there are far more busts and reaches under Loomis and Payton than there are "diamonds in the rough". Mostly there's just a lot more rough in said rough. Loomis has made his name with the selections of Marques Colston, Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, and Jimmy Graham, but his best talents are in economics, not talent evaluation.
I'm not as concerned about the Saints drafting a player that simply doesn't pan out, it's mostly concerning that the player doesn't pan out because he wasn't ready, that he never saw the field because he was injured before he was even drafted. It's concerning that a pick turns into a bust because the Saints drafted him into a position to fail, another project with potential and raw talent, drafted to a franchise that is consistently playing for now rather than building for the future.
The Saints under Payton and Loomis have drafted physical freaks of nature with alarming injuries like Greg Romeus and Ronald Powell in recent years. They've drafted workout warriors like Martez Wilson and prototypical specimens like Stanley Jean-Baptiste to their detriment. The Saints have drafted these players perhaps thinking that they're getting a steal on players that would have been, or once were, first round prospects, but injury or questions about their readiness at the NFL level came into question.
The Saints need football players. Honest-to-goodness football players that are ready to contribute in Week 1, not raw, untapped potential. The Saints have neither the time, or the coaching apparently, to see this questionable potential through. It's here that Jeff Ireland and the Saints scouting staff are most in the spotlight, or under the microscope. The pressure is on these new talent evaluators to really hit on the majority of these picks, as poor drafting has crippled the depth of the Saints, as currently constituted.
As for those amazing undrafted free agents like Pierre Thomas, and to a much lesser extent Chris Ivory, the Saints and the fans would be wise to expect less from that pool of talent. The Saints desperately need pass-rushers, coverage linebackers, and interior linemen, and the UDFA pool is not an ideal place to search for that type of talent, Junior Galette not withstanding. Expectations need to turn from anticipating so much from sub-fifth round picks and UDFA's, and beginning to demand more from the front office, scouts, and coaching staff with selecting players in the first two days of the draft.
The Saints need to draft based on the production the player had on the field, not the potential that is seen in him. A player can have a crossfit chiseled physique with unbelievable speed and length, but it's worthless without a polished game to back it up on the field. The Saints need leaders, they need developed talents that are ready to grind through a 16-game season, the Saints need help. Ironically, the only ones that can help the Saints are the Saints themselves.
Not every pick needs to become an All-Pro, but the majority need to become dependable, consistent players on this team. The time for projects and potential is over, it's time for substance. Take a guy you know can play, that can contribute. I'm fairly confident the Saints are ready to change philosophy in 2015, as they've made substantial, fundamental changes already this offseason. Can the Saints actually pull this off? Well, that remains to be seen, and we will all be watching closely.