Grading draft classes in the hours and days immediately afterwards is a foolish exercise. It takes several years to really measure the impact of a rookie class as they find their roles in the NFL. That’s true for all teams, including the New Orleans Saints. What’s interesting is the same people criticizing this year’s selections were also down on last year’s historically-great, unprecedented group boasting multiple Pro Bowlers and co-Rookies of the Year in Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara.
Our first grade comes from Nate Davis of USA Today, who last year graded the Saints a C+ and didn’t understand how Kamara and Ryan Ramczyk could get snaps over the likes of Adrian Peterson and Zach Strief. In 2018, he writes:
Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis had an epic draft in 2017, but this one seems fraught with peril. When they surrendered next year’s first rounder to jump from 27th to 14th in the first round, it appeared like a calculated gamble for QB Lamar Jackson. But New Orleans actually paid that hefty price for DE Marcus Davenport, a tantalizing prospect but one who may not be ready to advance the all-or-nothing Super Bowl mandate this move clearly signals. Third-round WR Tre’quan Smith could offset the loss of Willie Snead but also looks no better than a No. 4 wideout option if Cam Meredith is healthy.
The next grade comes from Evan Silva of Rotoworld, who last year handed New Orleans a C+ and chided them for drafting Ramcyzk as “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.” Yikes! His 2018 grade:
The Saints put together one of the best draft classes of the last decade in 2017, then followed up with a head-scratching clunker. New Orleans sent Green Bay No. 147 and its 2019 first-round pick to move from No. 27 to 14 for talented but raw small-school pass rusher Davenport. Smith was one of college football’s most dangerous deep threats last year, but he figures to struggle for early snaps behind Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith, and Brandon Coleman. Leonard is a right tackle only and was a surprising fourth-round reach. Neither Jamerson nor Moore demonstrated plus ball skills in college. Scott is a Dion Lewis-like talent but will struggle to see the field behind Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Clapp is another sub-par athlete. He is a multi-position backup.
Our third grade is courtesy of Will Brinson from CBS Sports, who described the Saints’ 2017 class as one of the draft’s biggest losers. Brinson claimed to “just have an issue giving them credit for being accidental geniuses” after picking Lattimore, and joined his voice to the chorus boo-hooing the Kamara pick when the Saints already had Peterson on the roster. Hilarious. To Brinson’s credit, he’s much more measured in his criticisms of the 2018 draft class:
This is not an indictment of the 2018 New Orleans Saints. I like that team. They feel like the kind of team I’ll end up picking to lose the Super Bowl to the Chargers in August. It’s not hard to imagine the formula that made them good in 2017 working very well in 2018 and the Saints rolling up points with a dominant rushing attack spearheaded by Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees having a “down” year while carving people up and throwing for 4,500 yards. But this isn’t about next year, it’s about this draft, and I question what the Saints did, which is a dangerous proposition after Sean Payton whipped together one of the greatest classes we’ve seen in modern drafts last year.
Marcus Davenport will probably lead the NFC South in sacks or challenge for DROY and make me look stupid, but they spent two first-round picks acquiring him. That is a lot of capital to spend on a guy who is, ultimately, raw. He has piles of upside. I love the pick. I just don’t like spending multiple firsts on him, especially when the NFL is fickle enough to send a would-be contender hurtling towards the top of the draft.
Add in the Saints lacking a second-round pick (courtesy of the Alvin Kamara pick last year; well worth it!) and they came away with one standout player in the first two rounds for a pretty exorbitant cost. They got Brees another weapon in Tre’Quan Smith, although it felt like a bit of a reach in the third round.
The benefit of having a great roster is minimal holes to fill -- the Saints didn’t have lots of needs. But they also didn’t feel like a team that had to swing for the fences early on. Adding more depth and talent would have been a fine move. Win a Super Bowl next year and no one blinks, obviously.
The final grade comes from Vinny Iyer of Sporting News, who last year questioned the wisdom of investing in luxuries like Kamara and Ramcyzk (a common theme last offseason) when tight end and quarterback were bigger needs, and not picking clearer fits for the defense throughout the draft. His C-grade last year isn’t great in hindsight. Funnily enough, Iyer’s take on the 2018 draft is one of the few positive outlooks I’ve seen. But it’s still a B-minus:
The Saints gave up a lot for Davenport, who will be a situational edge rusher at first to help improve the defense. The rest of the picks were less win now-related, however, and were additional depth to positions at which they were not hurting. After last year’s class set a huge bar and blew away projections with Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams and Alvin Kamara, this was bound to pale in comparison.
Maybe the Saints’ 2018 draft class really is that bad. Or maybe these guys are wrong again. Who knows?