On Tuesday, the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team Selections were announced. Of the five offensive line recipients, three were drafted in the first round (Laremy Tunsil, Jack Conklin, and Taylor Decker), one in the second round (Cody Whitehair), and another in the third round (Joe Thuney).
Tunsil was selected by the Miami Dolphins after tumbling down the draft boards following a salacious twitter post. The Saints drafted defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins right before Tunsil, but I have no regrets about that. After recovering from a broken fibula during training camp, Rankins finished the season strong and helped anchor a rejuvenated run defense.
Jack Conklin (Tennessee Titans, 8th overall pick) came off the board before the Saints first round pick, and Taylor Decker (Detroit Lions, 16th overall pick) came off only four spots after Rankins, so there’s not much the Saints could have done about missing out on those two players. Cody Whitehair was selected in the second round (Chicago Bears, 56th overall pick), but the Saints had already made one of the best draft picks in recent years by selecting Michael Thomas with the 47th pick.
Again, absolutely no regrets there. Joe Thuney, however, is one of my draft day regrets. After beating out veterans Shaq Mason, Tre Jackson, Josh Kline, and Jonathan Cooper, Thuney started all 16 games for the Patriots and played in 99.6% of the offensive plays. He was regarded by the New England press as the most impactful rookie on the entire team.
When I saw that Thuney was selected in the third round, something suddenly ticked me off. I looked up the 2016 draft day trades just to make sure my hunch was correct and it confirmed my suspicion.
The Saints had traded that very same pick (third round, 78th overall) along with a 2016 fourth round pick (112th overall) to guess who…the New England Patriots. I’ve written before how the Saints trade with the Patriots often, and the Patriots, like with most of these recurrent transactions, came out on top, again.
The Saints used the acquired pick (second round, 61st overall) to snag safety Vonn Bell, while the Patriots yielded two players in guard Joe Thuney and wide receiver Malcom Mitchell. Don’t get me wrong, Bell progressed well during his rookie campaign and became an important contributor, especially after Kenny Vaccaro began serving his four-game suspension late in the season.
But I’m sick of seeing the Patriots reap the rewards of the Saints’ addiction to trading up on draft day. If the Saints had just stayed put, and made good decisions, they could have drafted Joe Thuney with the 78th pick and still have drafted the promising David Onyemata with the 112th pick.
Instead, the Saints were bitten by the trade up bug again and gave up both their 2016 AND 2017 fifth-round picks to move back into the fourth round to select Onyemata (120th overall), whom they could have had in the first place if they just used the picks they originally had.
Now, the Saints have one less pick in the 2017 draft, as usual, and missed out on drafting Jahri Evans’ replacement. Even though Evans somehow pieced together a great season, we don’t even know for sure if he’ll retire or not this offseason. Who knows what production an additional 2016 fifth rounder would have brought to the field?
The key to drafting talent is casting as wide a net as possible. The Patriots know this, and they have been happy to take advantage of the Saints perennial draft day short sightedness. I’m still very happy with the 2016 draft class and maybe this argument can be called nitpicking, but hey, it’s the offseason, what else am I supposed to do?