At 8-3, the New Orleans Saints have certainly been one of the NFL’s surprises of the 2017 season. Many things have attributed to the team’s successes this year, and while we’re far from over with the regular season, the biggest thing that has surprised us has been the stellar contributions from the rookie class.
Jeff Ireland has been a godsend for the Saints, and has helped put together back-to-back draft classes that have been very impactful for the team. However, it’s this year’s class that has been spectacular, to say the least. New Orleans got it right by taking Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk in the first round, and then followed it up by nabbing Marcus Williams and trading a 2018 2nd Round pick to get Alvin Kamara. Those four players alone have made a huge difference for the Saints, as evident in a variety of categories, stats, and film.
Alex Anzalone was looking pretty good, improving from some early woes in the first two games, but was lost to injury. The verdict is still out on Trey Hendrickson, who is now in more of a spotlight with the injury to Alex Okafor. Al-Quadin Muhammad could eventually evolve into something more for the Saints, but hasn’t seen much of the field. Of course, try telling anyone that there’s a reason for that, and you’ll get all the backlash in the world.
Let’s also not forget the undrafted rookies making an impact, like Trey Edmunds and Justin Hardee. Most all of these rookies flashed early on in OTAs, minicamp, and training camp. Preseason is where they put it all together, and eventually made the final 53-man roster.
Both Lattimore and Kamara are respectively in the conversation for defensive and offensive rookie of the year, and a few more good showings should help solidify their place in what could be a special season for the Saints. The best part of the past couple of draft classes is that the makeup of this team is starting to look more like a franchise built for the long-term, which is something that could be very scary for the rest of the NFL.
Here’s a couple of thoughts from the staff:
Chris Dunnells: I'm sure it's a dead horse at this point, but I didn't expect Kamara to be this impactful this early. To be honest, I was against the trade at the time it was made based on the Saints' history of failure in trading up in the draft. I figured, whether this year's class or next, we needed to focus on quantity as much as quality, so I was worried about giving up the pick. I also, based purely off conjecture, believed it worth the risk to wait to see if Kamara would continue to fall to the Saints at 76 (where they drafted Anzalone, 9 spots after where Kamara was actually drafted). I thought if he wasn't there at 76, so be it, at least you still have the 2nd next year. I remember all of the hype around Christian McCaffrey, and a few mocks had the Saints picking the elusive RB if he made it past Carolina. Now, Kamara is everything the NFL hoped McCaffrey would be. I firmly believe that if the Panthers knew Kamara would show this level of production this early in the NFL, they actually would have selected HIM 8th overall. So if you look at it that way, the Saints got an absolute steal by only paying a 2018 2nd (the 2017 7th is practically moot).
Bob Rose: I didn't expect Marshon Lattimore to have the immediate shutdown impact that he has had. Nearly unheard of as a rookie. Also, pleasantly surprised by the consistency showed by Ted Ginn Jr.
Tee Word: Quality free agent signings paying off in Larry Warford, Alex Okafor, Manti Te'o, and A.J. Klein.