Almost every Saints fan or pundit has the Black and Gold drafting defensive players with their two first round picks in the upcoming draft. That surely makes sense as the Saints have fielded historically bad defenses in the past four out of five years dating back to 2011.
Many teams seem to have a positional Achilles’ heel. For the Saints, it’s almost been a tie between a dominant edge rusher (besides Cam Jordan) and lockdown corner. Therefore, most draft analysts have the Saints taking one of those positions with each of their first round picks.
So here’s the part where you can get mad at me, because there’s one player I’ve wanted to see in the Black and Gold for the past two seasons of college football, and he doesn’t play defense at all.
I went to Loyola University in New Orleans, which has no football team and my mom left a traditional four-year college to pursue a nursing degree at San Francisco State. But my dad, along with two of his sisters, went to Stanford, so naturally, the Cardinals became my deferred college team.
The Stanford football team wasn’t great while I was growing up, but after I graduated from college, their program really took off. Andrew Luck, Richard Sherman, Andrus Peat, Toby Gerhart, and Doug Baldwin all came from Stanford.
There are two Stanford players I’m salivating about, but defensive end Solomon Thomas should be long gone by the time the Saints pick at 11th. And assuming LSU’s Leonard Fournette is the first running back to come off the board, there’s a reasonable chance Christian McCaffrey will still be available when the Saints get their turn.
I know defense is important, but if the Saints resist trading up a ton and spread their other six picks over defensive talent, they can still get some quality players while not missing out on the best swiss army knife, game changing, offensive player in the entire draft.
McCaffrey smoked the NFL Combine. He posted a 4.48 40-yard dash, 37.5-inch vertical jump, and one of the best three-cone drill times ever at 6.57 seconds. He’s not as big and bruising as Fournette (6-foot-0, 240-lbs), but standing 5-foot-11 and 202-lbs, he’s not small either. His bench press wasn’t out of this world, but his speed, agility, and quickness are.
Pop in a tape of his high school highlights or college highlights, and it’s easy to see that literally every time the ball is in his hands, good and possibly great things happen.
In space, McCaffrey separates from defenders like Reggie Bush did right out of USC. Instead of Bush, though, McCaffrey runs downfield and makes lightning quick decisions to weave through crowded traffic. Like Bush, McCaffrey can catch the ball in the backfield too.
But he’s not just a running back. He can split out wide or run routes in the slot just as good as any college receiver. And you know how the Saints have had terrible special teams for years? Well, McCaffrey can hold it down on punt and kick return duties as well.
I know it sounds sacrilegious to think about using the 11th overall pick on another Sean Payton offensive toy, but this year’s draft is deep with regard to cornerbacks and defensive ends, and the Saints can definitely find a quality player or two in the later rounds. This player, however, has the ability to transcend the game few others can, and drafting McCaffrey is like drafting a wide receiver, running back, and kick returner all at once.
With no off-the-field question marks and a freakishly talented genetic pedigree, McCaffrey is a can’t miss prospect who could yield incredibly high returns for the Saints immediately. If his name is called with the 11th pick, I will be ecstatic, and I can promise that by the end of next season, Saints fans will be ecstatic too.
Which running back should the Saints target in the draft?
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