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DeMarcus Ware’s success helped Sean Payton, Jeff Ireland buy into Marcus Davenport

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Wait, what?

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 19:  Linebacker DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas  Cowboys celebrates with defensive ends Jay Ratliff (R) #90 and Stephen  Bowen (L) #72 after a sack against the New Orleans Saints at the  Louisiana Superdome.
NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 19: Linebacker DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates with defensive ends Jay Ratliff (R) #90 and Stephen Bowen (L) #72 after a sack against the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

There’s been an abundance of stories explaining the boldest move in the 2018 NFL Draft, fueled by fiery reactions from all around the football landscape questioning why the New Orleans Saints traded up for Marcus Davenport. The latest comes from SI.com’s Albert Breer, who included what he learned from asking around the league in his latest column:

2. Saints pay big-time price, believe they’ve got a big-time player. I understand why some people are scratching their heads over the Saints selling out for a pass-rusher. After all, to move up 13 spots to get Texas-San Antonio phenom Marcus Davenport, they gave up a 2019 first-round pick to get one, which something none of the three teams moving up for quarterbacks did. There’s risk involved, to be sure. But what if I told you that, when he was discussed over the last few weeks, DeMarcus Ware’s name was invoked? And what if that was backed by weight of two men, coach Sean Payton and assistant GM Jeff Ireland, in prominent positions who were there when Ware was drafted by Dallas in 2005? Then would you be okay with it?

Where some teams saw a different dude in Davenport (he’s into poetry) and wondered how that temperament would befit an NFL pass-rusher, the Saints saw someone whose makeup wasn’t far off from Ware’s, complete with the same ability to flip the switch on game day. In fact, New Orleans marked his motor and competitiveness among his strengths. There are others too, of course—Davenport’s a freak athlete (4.58 in the 40) who’s still growing at 6’6” and 263 pounds, and he hit the trifecta when it came to smarts (good in school, good studying football, good processing in-game action). But having seen a guy similar to him make it playing that position, like Payton and Ireland had, was an important element.

Another key factor was how it hard it is to find legit pass-rushers, especially this year. You almost never find them in free agency, because teams that have them wind up keeping them, and it’s tough to land one outside the top 20 picks because that premium is placed on them. And this year, the Saints had medical flags on three of the four edge players ranked behind Chubb and Davenport, and that’s without mentioning guys with other problems (like LSU’s Arden Key). So they took the confidence in their evaluation, buoyed by that Ware example, and tied it to the scarcity that existed at the position. Add to it a desire to help out All-Pro Cam Jordan with a bookend, and also maximize what’s left of Drew Brees’ championship window … and no, their aggression really wasn’t that crazy.

These points together kind of make sense, especially the bit about scarcity at the position and injury concerns. We don’t know for sure which pass rushers the Saints ranked after Chubb and Davenport, but the four selected after those two include: Harold Landry (with concerns about his ankle injury), Breeland Speaks (clean bill of health as far as I know), Uchenna Nwosu (MCL and hyper-extended elbow), and Kemoko Turay (recurring shoulder issues).

Anyway, the elephant in this room is the DeMarcus Ware comparison, apparently suggested by Sean Payton and Jeff Ireland themselves. I’m still skeptical of that kind of expectation, but look at their college careers. Ware styled all over the Sun Belt Conference, starting for three years while setting school records in sacks (27.5) and tackles for loss of yards (55.5) before gaining national attention at the Senior Bowl.

Now look at Davenport: he dominated Conference USA, starting for three years and raising the bar with school records for sacks (21.5) and tackles for loss (37.5). He also dramatically boosted his draft stock at the Senior Bowl, meeting briefly with the Saints and laying the groundwork for eventually being picked by them.

Sure, Davenport wasn’t as productive as Ware in college. Ware was very likely more-experienced in playing out of a three-point stance and had more pass-rush moves coming out of the gate. He also had a different body type than Davenport, measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 258-pounds. But Payton and Ireland were in the room back in 2005, when the Cowboys made Ware the 11th-overall pick, and made the call themselves to move up for Davenport at 14th. It’s not that hard to pick up what they’re putting down.