After seemingly thousands of mock drafts and even more rumors and speculation, the NFL draft finally took place this past weekend. The New Orleans Saints drafted seven new players over the 3-day event. Let's have a brief look at who they added, and how the new players will hopefully improve the franchise.
Round 1 (Pick #11 overall): Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
The 2017 NFL draft was loaded with cornerback talent, a total of ten were drafted in the first two rounds, but Lattimore was the consensus top cornerback available. A terrific athlete with true "shut-down" coverage skills, Lattimore is gifted enough to develop into the type of cornerback capable of shadowing any type of wide receiver, cover any kind of route, and take him completely out of the opponent's game plan. Rarely tested in his only year as a starter, he still came up with 14 pass break-ups, 4 interceptions and a touchdown in 2016. Despite a lean build, Lattimore is a solid fundamental tackler, and shows good burst to disrupt plays.
WHY THE SAINTS DRAFTED HIM: When you've had one of the worst pass defenses in the league for four of the last five seasons, and the unquestioned top cover man slips from a projected top 5 pick to No. 11, YOU DRAFT HIM. It's really as simple as that. Marshon Lattimore will be expected to step in and start almost immediately opposite Delvin Breaux and give New Orleans possibly the best cornerback duo in the NFC South.
Grade = A
Round 1 (Pick #32 overall): Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
More of a technician than brawler at tackle, Ramczyk wins battles more off fundamentals and technique than power. Light on his feet with good initial power; he was a starter at left tackle for the Badgers that will be looked at on the right side with the Saints. Ramczyk has the quickness to be an effective downfield blocker. His strength as a pass blocker makes him a great fit to protect Drew Brees.
WHY THE SAINTS DRAFTED HIM: The weakest position in this draft was the offensive line class. One tackle had already been taken off the board when Garett Bolles was drafted by Denver at pick 20, so the Saints decided to address their line need here with Ramczyk, rated the best lineman by numerous scouts. Not the sexy pick, to be sure, especially with the perceived need for a pass rusher not having been addressed. Right tackle Zach Strief will turn 34 in September, 2015 top draft pick Andrus Peat seems better suited for offensive guard, and left tackle Terron Armstead's injury struggles have had him in and out of the lineup for the last two seasons. The expectation for Ramcyzk will be for him to win a starting spot sooner rather than later.
Grade = B-
Round 2 (Pick #42 overall): Marcus Williams, S, Utah
Tremendously instinctive and athletic safety with a penchant for the big play. The classic "center fielder" at high safety that reads opposing quarterbacks well and the speed to close on a receiver fast to make plays. Although a bit undersized, Williams is just as aggressive in coming up to make plays in the run game as he is the pass. Had 10 interceptions over his final two years of college. Williams brings a playmaking aspect to a Saints secondary that's been lacking since the 2009 season.
WHY THE SAINTS DRAFTED HIM: I had New Orleans drafting Williams in the 3rd round of both of my mock drafts. He was rated by some as the third-best safety in the draft in terms of his abilities as a pass defender behind Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams, who were first round picks. When Budda Baker and Marcus Maye were selected before the Saints pick at 42, New Orleans had to move to fill the underrated need at safety earlier than the mock drafts had suggested. Marcus Williams has the potential to be an opening day starter at free safety for this defense.
Grade = B+
Round 3 (Pick #67 overall): Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
The Saints traded this year's 7th round pick, along with their 2nd round pick in 2018 to position themselves to take Kamara, who was projected by some to be a late first or early second round selection. He had limited experience as a featured back with the Vols, but showed explosive potential every time he touched the ball. Kamara only had 284 touches from scrimmage in two seasons, but also grabbed 74 receptions and 23 touchdowns. His inexperience as a running back is offset by his natural receiving talent and explosiveness in the open field.
Make no mistake, at 5-foot-10 and 214-lbs this is NOT a "scatback". Kamara has good lower body strength, underrated toughness between the tackles, and explodes through creases in the line of scrimmage. Showed flashes as a punt returner as well, and probably the second best all-purpose threat available in the draft, next to Stanford's Christian McCaffrey. Kamara adds the same dimension to a prolific Saints offense that they had with the likes of Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, and Darren Sproles.
WHY THE SAINTS DRAFTED HIM: If you didn't see this sort of thing coming, then you weren't paying attention to the Saints before the draft. Sean Payton was going to add a pass receiving/all-purpose threat out of the backfield, and he practically gushed over both Kamara and McCaffrey. Alvin Kamara will not be a starter for this team, but it will be fun to watch the mismatches that Payton and Co. will utilize this talented running back.
Grade = A
Round 3 (Pick #76 overall): Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida
Maybe the biggest surprise of the entire Saints draft. Anzalone's talent cannot be questioned, his abilities graded out as a second round value according to some scouts. His durability is a major concern, however, playing in only 18 games over his 4-yr Gator career due to a variety of injuries. Anzalone does have the ability of an every down linebacker. He has the speed and play recognition to make plays sideline to sideline, and the explosive burst to attack the backfield through gaps. Talent-wise, a terrific value, but durability issues are very real.
WHY THE SAINTS DRAFTED HIM: This pick was puzzling to some Saints fans and enraging to others. The lack of an edge rusher had still not been addressed by this point, and Derek Rivers, Tarell Bashem, and Tim Williams were all still available when the Saints walked this pick to the podium. From an ability perspective, Anzalone fills a major weakness in the team's linebacking corps....IF he can stay on the field.
Grade = C+
Round 3 (Pick #103): Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic
Dominant defender in Conference USA that garnered more attention with his performance in the East-West Shrine game and his performance at the scouting combine. Good strength and non-stop motor, Hendrickson has good bend as an edge rusher and the lateral quickness to make plays along the line. Doesn't have great measurables, but he's a high-effort player that simply makes plays on the field.
WHY THE SAINTS DRAFTED HIM: After filling other needs with their previous four picks, New Orleans finally grabbed a player that will hopefully fill a long existing hole opposite Cam Jordan. Hendrickson should work into an immediate rotation with Alex Okafor and Hau'oli Kikaha. This may prove to be the most underrated selection of the New Orleans draft.
Grade = B
Round 6 (Pick #196): Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami (Fla.)
Late round project with good physical tools, but numerous disciplinary issues have kept him off the field since the 2015 season. Muhammad has tremendous initial burst, good strength, and a powerful bull rush to push into the backfield. Plays with a mean streak that makes him a difference maker on the football field. Great potential for development.
WHY THE SAINTS DRAFTED HIM: Low-risk/High-reward pick. If Muhammad is able to put his off-field issues behind him, he has the physical tools to be an absolute steal at a position where the Saints need it the most.
Grade = B
The NFL draft is certainly an inexact science. The New Orleans Saints’ primary focus was fortifying a pass defense that has been near the bottom of the league in four of the last five seasons. They added the top cornerback available, a ballhawking safety rated in the top 5, two high-effort defensive ends, and a linebacker with the potential to be an every down player. Offensively, Sean Payton added an all-purpose matchup nightmare at running back, and the probable replacement for offensive tackle Zach Strief.
Overall Draft Grade = B
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