The Saints have six picks in the 2016 NFL draft; one in each round except the sixth. In a common move for general manager Mickey Loomis, the Saints dealt that 2016 sixth round pick in order to move back into the fifth round where they selected cornerback Damian Swann. Since Mickey Loomis was hired in 2002, the Saints have made over a dozen draft day trades and more than 90% of the time, the Saints traded up. In the past, Loomis has never been shy to part with future picks in order to move up and select a desired player. This may be the main reason why the Saints have consistently sat at the bottom of the league in total number of picks over the past several years.
With all nine 2015 draftees making the team, and 6 of them contributing regularly throughout the season, the Saints have to count last year’s draft class as one of their most successful since 2006. Obviously, more time is needed before we lift up last year’s class next to that of 2006, but it is clear the Saints benefited from a rebooted drafting philosophy that broke from years’ past.
During the last offseason, Sean Payton overhauled the college scouting and drafting department, while seemingly giving more power and influence to head scout Jeff Ireland. This shake-up yielded positive results immediately and restored faith in the Who Dat Nation that the Saints were finally capable of evaluating and targeting talent to help build, and more importantly, remain on their roster. Excluding last year’s class, the Saints only have six players remaining on the team from the 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 draft classes COMBINED. That’s pathetic.
Obviously, losing two consecutive second round picks from the Bountygate scandal hurt the Saints rebuilding efforts, but their constant trading up over the years skimmed their draft picks as well. With tightened up scouting and player projection, I believe this year could be a great time for the Saints to trade back in the first round to accrue more picks overall.
As mentioned in my previous article, Pro Football Focus draft analyst Steve Palazzolo believes there may only be six or seven true "can’t miss" players in this draft. He thought the field between picks 7 and 70 was almost completely indistinguishable, but that there was a lot of value there as well. This means the later half of the first round and the first half of the second round holds a ton of talent that is fairly comparable.
If the Saints’ short list of dream players are already off the board when they pick at 12, there could be loads of value in trading back for more picks. Draft analysts have been raving about the depth of defensive line players available in this year’s draft. It is very possible for the Saints to trade back into the later half of the first round and still net a great player that fits our scheme.
With the elite tackles (Laremy Tunsil, Jack Conklin, Ronnie Stanley), cornerbacks (Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves), and defensive ends (Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner) possibly all off the board by the time the Saints pick at 12, the Saints may start to value quantity over quality. Now, I’m going on the record that I would be thrilled if the Saints stay put and are still able to pluck a player like defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. However, if the clock starts and the Saints don’t feel really good about their draft targets, it may behoove them to trade back and try to snag more players later in the first and second rounds.
There may be several promising cornerbacks (Eli Apple, William Jackson III, Mackenzie Alexander), defensive tackles (A’Shawn Robinson, Vernon Butler, Jarran Reed), pass rushers (Leonard Floyd, Darren Lee, Robert Nkemdiche, Emmanuel Ogbah) or even wide receivers (Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, and Will Fuller) still left in the second half of the first round. If the Saints can come away with three players in the first two rounds rather than their slated two, those additions could all become valuable contributors on the field.
This draft is going to get weird. I can tell already. With two teams trading for the first two picks and targeting quarterbacks, a great player may fall to the Saints at 12. But if the Saints are hesitant to pull the trigger and can find a trade partner, this draft presents the greatest opportunity in many years to trade back and gain more picks.