Draft grades awarded before prospects have practiced a single time aren’t that valuable, but it’s a good barometer of how draft media are perceiving decisions. For the New Orleans Saints, early returns are favorable.
First up, CBS Sports senior writer Pete Prisco is feeling optimistic about the Saints’ draft class though he isn’t a fan of the team’s hardline “best available player” stance late in the first round:
They probably thought they had no chance to get Ohio State corner Marshon Lattimore when the draft started, but they end up getting him in the 11th spot. That was a nice pick of the top corner. I didn't love the pick of Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk with the 32nd pick -- he has some medical issues and is that really a major need? -- but they added some nice players later in Utah safety Marcus Williams in the second and pass rusher Troy Hendrickson in third. I also think third-round linebacker Alex Anzalone from Florida has a chance to [be] a long-time starter if he stays healthy. That's a big if, based on his career.
Elsewhere, Nate Davis of USA Today is lukewarm on the Saints’ draft haul.
New Orleans Saints: GM Mickey Loomis went to work patching the NFL's worst pass defense from 2016 by selecting Marshon Lattimore, who projects as this year's top corner, 11th overall. Marcus Williams, taken in Round 2, could be the new free safety. If he shakes the injury bug, look out for third-round LB Alex Anzalone. Some of Loomis' other choices could stir debate. T Ryan Ramczyk, the final pick of Round 1, may need a fair amount of time to crack the starting five. RB Alvin Kamara (Round 3) could be dynamic, but how many touches can he steal from Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson?
SI.com analyst Chris Burke had one of more-favorable reactions:
The secondary should be better, no question (although that’s a refrain that's been sung before about the Saints). Projected top-10 cornerback Marshon Lattimore fell into New Orleans’s lap at No. 11, then Marcus Williams - a prospect just a notch below Malik Hooker as a deep safety - was the call at pick 42. The Saints wound up with six picks in the top 103, with the most interesting perhaps being OT Ryan Ramczyk at No. 32. Ramczyk will battle veteran Zach Strief on the right side, but he’s a long-term answer at tackle one way or another. RB Alvin Kamara (No. 67) made for an interesting trade-up - the Saints spent a seventh-rounder and a 2018 second to go get him. They really need LB Alex Anzalone (No. 76) to stay healthy and edge rusher Trey Hendrickson (No. 103) to create some havoc.
Frankly, after finishing a disappointing 7-9 in 2016 the Saints needed a massive overhaul on the defensive side of the ball. Fortunately for New Orleans fans, the 2017 draft provided that, with sticky cover corner Marshon Lattimore coming in the first round, an underrated ball-hawking centerfielder in Marcus Williams in the second and two instinctive, hard-charging front seven defenders in Alex Anzalone and Trey Hendrickson in the third.
Hendrickson was a standout throughout his career at Florida Atlantic and was one of the big winners at the East-West Shrine Game, earning Defensive MVP honors during the game itself. Durability concerns dogged Lattimore during his career, but he possesses the fluid change of direction and easy acceleration of a Pro Bowler. Williams' range and sticky hands should provide the perfect complement. The selections of Wisconsin left tackle Ryan Ramczyk and Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara were relative surprises given the Saints' depth at these two positions, but each were among the top talents on the board when selected, as was the talented but troubled Al-Quadin Muhammad of Miami.
College football analyst Chad Reuter of NFL.com had the most-positive take I’ve seen so far:
Lattimore is the best cover man in the draft, and a no-brainer at No. 11. Then, instead of continuing to bolster the defense, they improved the offensive line by picking up-and-coming left tackle Ryan Ramczyk. But should they have helped their defensive front instead?
The Saints got a safety to own the back half in Marcus Williams, an athletic and hard-hitting player from Utah, and then they found running back Alvin Kamara waiting for them. They traded away a future second-round pick to get him, though. Not sure I love the future pick trade, though Kamara's a very good player. Alex Anzalone has great potential as a cover linebacker and blitzer, but he needs to stay healthy.
New Orleans' pass rush got an upgrade with a hustling, powerful guy in Trey Hendrickson. He was a good value in the third round. New Orleans had only one pick on Day 3: Al-Quadin Muhammad, who is an underrated pass rusher, which the Saints truly need.
Conversely, Rotoworld fantasy football writer Evan Silva was very critical:
Overview: Due to a top-ten offensive frenzy, the defense-desperate Saints stole near-consensus top corner Lattimore at No. 11. They got sniped late in round one as the 49ers leapfrogged New Orleans for Reuben Foster at No. 31. Drafting likely 2017 backup Ramczyk seemed like an ill-advised, panicked move with pass rushers Tyus Bowser and Malik McDowell on the board. At one point in the offseason, the Saints could have acquired Malcolm Butler for that 32nd pick, a move they absolutely should have made in hindsight. Whereas second-rounder Williams was a prospect I loved, non-productive, always-injured third-rounder Anzalone was the opposite. The Saints gave up their 2018 second-rounder to trade up for committee back Kamara. Back on a positive note, ultra-productive and ultra-athletic edge rusher Hendrickson was an awesome third-round compensatory pick. Muhammad has played football in just one of the last three years and is a probable throwaway. I have major mixed feelings on this draft, loving it in some areas and strongly disliking it in others. I do like that the Saints got a lot of upside on defense.
The Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling saw the Saints’ draft as a mixed bag, but didn’t undersell how strongly New Orleans started with its first four picks:
Things started out extremely well for the Saints, who landed the most complete corner in the class (Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore) outside the top 10, then an immediate starter at left tackle (Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk) with the last pick of the first round. They kept a good thing going on Day 2 with athletic playmakers on both sides of the ball (Utah safety Marcus Williams, Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara).
After that, things got strange. With two more third-round picks, the Saints reached for an injury-prone linebacker in Florida’s Alex Anzalone, then again for a low-ceiling edge rusher in FAU’s Trey Hendrickson, despite much better talent available at the position. Three rounds later, the Saints got a rusher with more upside in Miami’s Al-Quadin Muhammad.
ESPN’s NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper had a lot to say (ESPN Insider subscription required for full article):
The Saints had an extra first-round pick because they traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for the No. 32 pick overall, noted at the top because Cooks has 315 catches in three seasons. With two first-rounders, you really have to be looking for a couple of players with the ability to make an impact relatively soon (especially for a team coming off a third straight 7-9 season), and I think the Saints got that done. Marshon Lattimore comes with what I'd call an orange flag -- not quite red -- because of lingering hamstring issues, but if he's healthy, he's the top cornerback in the draft. This is an exceptional athlete (4.38 40) who can look effortless. Put the Malcolm Butler trade talk to bed.
Ryan Ramczyk is a reasonable selection at No. 32 overall, given that left tackle Terron Armstead has dealt with injuries and right tackle Zach Strief is almost 34. Ramczyk has the ability to play right away (better if it's on the right side), but he also carries some risk, as his hip has been a problem. The secondary was a priority, and Marcus Williams isn't a far cry from what Malik Hooker brings -- and much further down the board.
A big question mark here was the value given up to draft Alvin Kamara. Even if you question any possibilities beyond 2017 for Mark Ingram or Adrian Peterson, trading a second-rounder to move up and take my No. 88 overall player is iffy. Give them this: The backfield is officially loaded.
I like Alex Anzalone, and if he's healthy, he can help, but the injury history is significant with three major injuries at Florida. A potential steal here is Trey Hendrickson, who was a monster in Conference USA.
Overall, you have to like the fact that there are two potential immediate starters (if needed, in Ramczyk's case) out of Round 1 and an emphasis on defense. But we can't forget this draft involves the departure of a Pro Bowl player in Cooks and now a second-round pick the Saints don't have in 2018.
We’ll close this out with an optimistic take from Dan Kadar here at SB Nation:
The Saints had one of the best picks of the entire draft, getting cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the 11th overall pick. Lattimore was rated as a top-five overall player and fills the biggest need the Saints had on draft weekend. The Saints got not only the best cornerback in the draft but arguably the best offensive tackle in Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin. I don’t see a lot of need in an offensive tackle for the Saints, but you can’t fault the value.
In the second round, the Saints got a coverage safety to go with Lattimore in Utah’s Marcus Williams. The three-year starter at Utah is at his best in single-high coverage. Normally I’m not a fan of trading future picks, but that’s what the Saints did to get running back Alvin Kamara in the third round. He’s got good speed, can be put in the slot, and is a nice foil for starter Mark Ingram.
Third-round pick Alex Anzalone is a solid linebacker who moves well and is a sound tackler. As much as I loved the picks of Lattimore, Williams, and Kamara, I thought the Saints needed to find a better pass rusher and a quarterback at some point. The future replacement for Drew Brees will have to come another year.
How do you grade the New Orleans Saints’ 2017 draft picks?
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