Most NFL teams expect major contributions from their class of incoming rookies. Sure, there are players who are selected who will be developmental prospects or guys brought in purely for depth. But following three consecutive 7-9 seasons, the Saints will expect their rookies to come in and compete for starting jobs immediately.
In recent drafts for New Orleans, the early contributors haven’t necessarily panned out. Looking at the 2013 draft, they hit on Kenny Vaccaro and Terron Armstead. Kenny Stills ended up being a ‘not so much’, and that was pretty much it for the draft class. In 2014, they got Brandin Cooks and nothing else. 2015 was improved with the additions of Andrus Peat, Stephone Anthony and P.J. Williams, but Peat is the only true starter out of that bunch.
2016 went much better with the team adding Sheldon Rankins, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, and David Onyemata. But as starters go, we’re only really sure of one of those players being NFL star caliber, that being stud receiver Michael Thomas.
In 2017, almost every pick other than 6th rounder Al-Quadin Muhammad is expected to shore up an area of need on the team.
- Marshon Lattimore, CB - One of the worst pass defenses in the NFL and one wrecked by injury in 2016 is expected to reap big benefits from Lattimore, who many see as a future Pro Bowl caliber, lock down corner. He’ll have a fight on his hands during training camp if incumbents Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams are healthy, but the Ohio State Buckeye is seen as the hopeful savior of the secondary heading into this season and for many seasons to come.
- Ryan Ramczyk, T - No pressure at all on Ramczyk to start the season, right? The Wisconsin Badger only needed to come in and carry Zach Strief’s water until the long-time Saint right tackle decides to retire, right? Nope. This is the Saints. With Terron Armstead probably out for the year (or the vast majority), Ramczyk will most likely be expected to take over the left tackle position he played collegiately from day one. Keeping Drew Brees upright is the goal, and Ramczyk will be thrown to the wolves immediately.
- Marcus Williams, S - Since the departure of Darren Sharper, the Saints have been in dire need of a true ballhawking safety. They thought they were getting one in free agent Jairus Byrd, but it was not to be. Marcus Williams will be expected to bring back that element to the Dennis Allen-led defense sooner rather than later. The Saints have been woefully lacking in their ability to generate turnovers since their blip of a season in 2013. Williams is seen as a fix in that department.
- Alvin Kamara, RB - With the Saints giving up a 2nd rounder in 2018 for Kamara, expectations are off the charts. It’s hoped that he’ll be the “Joker” running back once key to Sean Payton’s offenses of the past. It’s a role that’s been played for the past two seasons by Travaris Cadet, who hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. Kamara is seen as a multi-dimensional back who could one day even become the team’s workhorse. But it’s his elusiveness and pass-catching ability that made the Saints pull the trigger on him, and he’s being counted on to be what the Saints once had in Reggie Bush.
- Alex Anzalone, LB - It’s hoped that Anzalone will be the starting weak side linebacker of the future for the Saints. With Dannell Ellerbe being out with injury on a regular basis, the team needs a consistent player to handle the assignment. The door is wide open for the former Florida Gator to take the role and possibly to even grow into the middle linebacker and defensive leader of the future for the Saints as well.
- Trey Hendrickson, DE - The Saints waited an uncomfortably long time in the 2017 NFL Draft to address what many considered their most glaring need, a pass-rushing defensive end to play opposite Cam Jordan. Time will tell if they waited too long and missed, but Trey Hendrickson is fully expected to come into 2017 as a contributor, if not a starter. In the offseason, the team went for a fairly untested prospect in free agent Alex Okafor, and he’s penciled in as the starter on many predictive 53-man rosters. However, Hendrickson will have every opportunity to take the job.
- Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE - Muhammad is the only player on this list who comes into the season with virtually no expectations. He’s seen as a developmental guy and probable practice squad member in his rookie season, but even he will be given every chance to make the starting roster. The former Miami Hurricane doesn’t have a lot of playing time under his belt, but has the athleticism to make the team and contribute as a rookie in a defense which features few stars other than Cam Jordan.
As training camp kicks off, finally back in the friendly confines of the Saints’ complex on Airline Drive in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, the fight for playing time and the future of the franchise is now underway.
Which Saints draft pick do you believe will have the biggest impact this season?
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