“The significance of the draft class can’t be overstated,” Payton said Sunday night. “It’s made all the difference.”
There’s a story involved with each of the Saints top 4 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, as it’s the rookie class that almost never was. For that, I think a quick stroll down memory lane is warranted this week, as we take a peek into how we landed what appears to be the best draft class in the Sean Payton era since 2006.
The day is April 27th, 2017 and Marshon Lattimore is the #3 player on the Saints board and has no way of falling to the Saints at 11th. Suddenly, the Bears trade with the 49ers (more on the importance of this later) for Trubisky and this pushes a ton of players down. Finally, the Bills (a CB needy team) swapped with the Chiefs so they could select Patrick Mahomes, and this cleared the way for the #1 CB in the draft to fall softly in their laps. Lattimore has been a revelation making veteran plays like the one below look easy.
.@Saints @shonrp2 with nonstop communication even in a blowout 4th QTR . Where did all the Saints secondary breakdowns GI? #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/Hrg60R864V— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 7, 2017
It gets more interesting though.
The Saints sitting at No. 32 had their eyes on 3 players. Takk McKinley, Reuben Foster, and Ryan Ramczyk. The Falcons swooped in and nabbed McKinley (darnit), and then while on the phone with Reuben Foster, the 49ers used the ammo from the Bears trade to jump in front of the Saints to nab him. Those two actions made the Ramczyk choice for us otherwise we would have still attempted to bolster the D.
#Saints rookie OT Ryan Ramczyk is a strong, reliable OL.. Patient yet strong punch. Feet can get stale on him but usually very balanced pic.twitter.com/RmkMwgUu4M— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) October 19, 2017
Still, the plot thickens.
With the 42nd pick in the 2nd round, the Saints took Marcus Williams, but according to Sean Payton that was almost not the case.
Payton revealed Saturday during a post draft news conference that the Saints discussed pulling the trigger on Kamara with the 42nd overall pick, which the team eventually used on safety Marcus Williams.
Fact: There’s a huge reason why the Saints defense isn’t being tested deep very much and It’s because the rookie from Utah is playing very well at FS.
.@Saints struck gold with @shonrp2 and @Babymagik32 with picks #1 & #2 Don't play like "rooks" #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/S0sULTZASZ— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 7, 2017
And then there’s this guy.
Sources: Jets wanted to make draft-day play for RB Alvin Kamara; Maccagnan took safe route/didn't want to pay price https://t.co/zBUVvwqfWr pic.twitter.com/tZrdnstgiB— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) August 22, 2017
An entire round later and Alvin Kamara is still sitting there in the 3rd and the Saints are scrambling to make a trade to get him. Sean Payton was probably giddy as all hell and the truth is he shouldn’t have been available had the Jets GM pulled the trigger. Whatever - their loss <shrugs> we’ll take highlights like the one below all day and twice on Sunday’s in the Dome.
Are you kidding, @A_kamara6?!— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2017
What. A. Play. #GoSaints pic.twitter.com/zYpfE0e3Iq
Look, I feel like the other 31 teams (specifically 49ers, Jets, and Bills) were in cahoots to get us back to the SB, and I just want to thank them profusely. The 2017 Saints season feels like a doppelganger of Limity Snickets classic, only it’s been a Series of “Fortunate” Events as this year has appeared predestined from the start. Whether it was avoiding a potential tragedy by doctors uncovering the severity in Nick Fairley’s condition or taking a wait and see approach before making a trade for Malcolm Butler. Sean Payton not getting RB happy in the 2nd round and the Jets eschewing playmakers, because they don’t need them to win (sarcasm) certainly worked in their favor as Saints fans are now reaping the rewards 10 weeks into the season.
- I didn’t mention Trey Hendrickson, but truth is he’s playing a valuable role and the prime reason the Saint can pick and choose when they unleash Hau’oli Kikaha. He’s got two sacks and two pass deflections on the year.
- Vonn Bell had the highest grade of his career vs. Tampa, per PFF. Also coincided with the Saints playing more 2 High/Cover 2 per Desean Jackson - something they struggled with early in the year due to poor safety play. His progression is huge.
- Someone told me Michael Thomas wasn’t making plays. I told him go and look at how many 3rd down conversions he has. Apparently our definition of “making plays” differs.
- I no longer fear Terron Armstead going down with Injury - Weird isn’t it?
- Sean Payton has been harping on Field Goal protection issues since 10/20. It’s come back to bite us twice.
- “We’re Human” - Kamara’s icy response to being asked about his fumble shows the correct mindset for getting over mistakes. He didn’t play tentative after the fumble!
- Marcus Williams looked to be playing more confidently. Filled running lanes with more aggression than in previous weeks and showed to shove Mike Evans out of bounds to prevent a reception.
- I was told Ted Ginn would drop a lot of passes. Well he’s having a career year with a 77.8% catch rate and also offering a 146.5 QB rating when being targeted. Go Figure!
- Lattimore’s technique and calm are special. On the deflection vs. Evans, he never even tried to get his head around to locate the ball. Knowing Evans has long arms and takes time to bring the ball in he just swiped through his arms to separate it at the catch point.
- The cheap shot from Evans was just that - cheap and an emotional miscue. However, I applaud the way he admitted his fault. Winston on the other hand failed to take responsibility for his actions and is partly to blame for his teammates suspension.
- For at least a week, the Saints fixed their 3rd down issues on offense (52% vs. Bucs), propensity to give up the big play in the run game on defense (0 plays of 25+ yards), while creating big plays of their own on offense (4 plays of 25+ yards).
- Did you see Lattimore press the Bucs WR into oblivion and then receive a bogus flag? If you didn’t it’s below :D
.@Saints @shonrp2 is looking to "break your will" every chance he gets. What a difference maker #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/0jkRveSfUu— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 7, 2017
New Orleans is now 6-2 as they travel to face the Buffalo Bills in Week 10. Drew Brees says they are just scratching the surface of what they can be, and I’d have to say I agree. They are young, explosive, talented, and they’ve got a confidence we haven’t seen around these parts in three years. I’ll see you guys on Thursday as we take a look at this weeks Keys to Success vs. Sean McDermott and the Bills. Who Dat!