You never want to go through a bad year and see your team lose a bunch of games, but the New Orleans Saints just put us through that and we’re going to make the best of it. The 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft is a great position to find a talented new player, and history suggests the Saints can find some good help here. I’ve reviewed the prospects selected 11th overall throughout the last decade (plus one).
2006. QB Jay Cutler, Denver Broncos
Jay Cutler was a longtime starter for the Vanderbilt Commodores in college, though he didn’t find much success. Cutler’s teams went 11-35, posting a win percentage of just .239, and he completed just 57.2-percent of his passes. But Cutler showed the same big arm in college as he has been known for the in the NFL, and some evaluators gave him credit for competing in the SEC “with a team of a bunch of future lawyers and doctors”. Regardless of your opinion of how bad Cutler is, he’s started nearly every game since being drafted and traded to the Chicago Bears. The Saints could do worse than finding a QB like Cutler with the 11th pick.
2007. LB Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Patrick Willis shouldn’t need much introduction, but here it goes: the graduate out of Ole Miss was selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 2007 to 2013. Even more impressive, he landed on the All-Pro first team listing five times. Willis had a decorated career at Ole Miss, averaging 12.1 tackles per game in two years as a starter, and was the nucleus for the 49ers’ defense the moment he stepped on the field. The Saints would be fortunate to find a talent at the 11th overall pick like Willis, and that guy may be in this draft in Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
2008. CB Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills
Leodis McKelvin had an up-and-down career for the Buffalo Bills, mixing some playmaking ability with lapses in concentration and poor decision-making. McKelvin initially made his mark as a kickoff returner, ranking second in the league in total return yardage (1,468) and third in yards per return (28.2). Throughout his career he showed flashes of impact plays, averaging 1.9 interceptions and 10.1 pass breakups per year. There’s a saying going around that the first cornerback drafted in 2017 will be the worst value, and McKelvin’s contemporaries support that: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib, Mike Jenkins, Antoine Cason, Brandon Flowers, and Tracy Porter were picked in the next 29 selections but combined for 8 Pro Bowl appearances.
2009. DE Aaron Maybin, Buffalo Bills
Aaron Maybin may be a cautionary tale of getting too caught up in the hype of a big showing at the NFL Combine. Maybin started just two years in college before leaving as a redshirt sophomore, having created 16 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss, and 4 forced fumbles in just 26 games. Maybin turned it on at the combine, placing in the 92nd-percentile among defensive ends in the broad and vertical jumps. That demonstration of athletic explosion and a (limited) sample size filled with highlight-reel hits boosted Maybin’s draft stock. He never recorded a regular season sack for the Bills, after being waived in 2011. Remember Maybin’s story when evaluating other athletes with small sample sizes as a starter, like Taco Charlton or Takkarist McKinley.
2010. OT Anthony Davis, San Francisco 49ers
We shouldn’t expect the Saints to draft an offensive lineman here, but don’t rule it out. They could sure do worse than Davis, who was one of the better right tackles in the game until the tumultuous 2014 season. Davis (along with Willis, mentioned earlier) was one of many 49ers stars who were disillusioned with the poor way their team was being managed and took a break from football. Davis retired ahead of the 2015 season, briefly returned in 2016, but has since chosen to move on. At the height of his career, Davis was rock-solid on the right side, and someone like him could be chosen to replace Zach Strief eventually if the Saints have chosen to keep Andrus Peat on the left side.
2011. DE J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
This is the dream result of the 11th overall pick. 2011 was saturated with talent and future All-Pro talent, with J.J. Watt chief among them. Set on the career trajectory of a future Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, Watt is a sack artist and one of the game’s top defenders when healthy. Watt is a regular Pro Bowl and All-Pro starter, and at just 28 years old he should continue to pile on all-time great numbers. The guy most-similar to Watt in the draft, Jonathan Allen, is expected to go in the top three picks - but he wouldn’t be the first prospect to be overthought and slide further than he should go.
2012. DT Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs
Dontari Poe shocked the world at the 2012 combine when he weighed in at 6-foot-4, 346-pounds and promptly sprinted through the 40-yard dash in 4.98-seconds. Poe was a great run defender in college, seeing 21.5 of his 101 tackles go for loss of yardage, and has carried that unholy combination of size and speed into the NFL. In 2016, Poe broke JaMarcus Russell’s record for the heaviest touchdown pass in NFL history. The two-time Pro Bowl selection is a good projection for the kind of career the Saints can hope to recoup out of this pick, but I don’t anticipate them taking a defensive tackle this soon - or at all, if Nick Fairley returns on a contract extension.
2013. OT/G D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers
D.J. Fluker was a monstrous lineman in college, coming onto campus at nearly 6-foot-5 and almost 400-pounds. He shed much of that weight at Alabama and has continued working on keeping his body fat percentage down, and is now one of the more productive young right guards. Fluker has missed just four games in four years due to some unlucky injuries like a bug stinging his eye during a game. Like Saints lineman Andrus Peat, Fluker is a good indication of the type of blocker they could find at this point in the draft. Western Michigan right tackle/guard Taylor Moton hasn’t had to deal with the weight issues that Fluker has battled, but he could have a similar career path.
2014. OT Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans
Taylor Lewan did not exactly hit the ground running, starting just 6 of the 11 games he appeared in as a rookie, but has since missed just one game to a concussion. He’s a nasty blocker at left tackle who compliments right tackle Jack Conklin’s bruising style. As was the case with the examples of Anthony Davis and D.J. Fluker, the Saints don’t need an offensive tackle and this isn’t the draft class to look for one. Still, the bust rate on each of these guys is very low and the Saints could expect to get several years of starting production should they go offensive line here.
2015. CB Trae Waynes, Minnesota Vikings
Trae Waynes was the first cornerback drafted in 2015, but Kevin Johnson (Houston Texans) and Marcus Peters (Kansas City Chiefs) were picked at 16 and 18, respectively. Johnson and Peters have arguably also had stronger careers so far - Peters has been selected to the Pro Bowl in both of his first two years. In 2016, Waynes was fourth on the depth chart behind Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman, and Captain Munnerlyn, though Waynes still saw almost 600 defensive snaps and produced 14 combined interceptions and pass breakups. The Saints wish they had the cornerback room the Vikings boast, but Waynes’ struggle to get on the field continues to build evidence for why they should wait to add a cornerback early in the draft.
2016. CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No rookie cornerback played as many snaps (1,037) or allowed as many yards (1,069) as Hargreaves, though just a couple of touchdowns were completed into his coverage. Hargreaves fits the archetype of other Florida Gators cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, both of whom are headed for the NFL, as a competitive and instinctive defender on the boundary. Hargreaves had a combined 11 interceptions and pass breakups in his rookie debut. Hargreaves could be a good baseline for production the Saints could expect out of a corner taken at the 11th overall pick.