With the regular season coming at its end, we have a chance to see how the rookies’ first season panned out. After the historical 2017 draft that featured both OROY and DROY, expectations were high for Mickey Loomis and Jeff Ireland to recreate some magic. And while no rookie this year had as much of an impact compared to that historical 2017 draft class, history shows that these young players are on a good path to become solid contributors.
Round 1, Pick 14 — Marcus Davenport, DE
Entering into the previous draft many experts in the media agreed that an upgrade at the defensive end spot across from All-Pro Cameron Jordan was a place that this team could improve upon. Therefore, the choice of Davenport wasn’t all the surprising. It was the cost of two first round picks and a fifth round pick move up to the 14th spot that many shook their head at.
One season isn’t enough to determine a pick’s grade, and while Davenport has many parts of his game that he can improve upon, his first year’s numbers are promising. Playing in 13 games, Davenport was able to register 4.5 sacks, 21 tackles, 6 TFL (tackles for a loss ), and 12 quarterback hits. The last defensive end the Saints drafted in the first round—Cam Jordan—played in 14 games his rookie year. In those 14 games, Jordan had only one sack to go along with 31 tackles, 2 TFL, and 4 quarterback hits.
Much like Davenport has a veteran to learn from in Jordan, Jordan had his own mentor to learn from. Will Smith was drafted in the first round of the 2004 draft and had the best numbers of the bunch his rookie year. Seeing the field in all 16 games, he had 7.5 sacks, 42 tackles, 5 TFL, and forced 6 fumbles.
Looking at just the numbers, its easy to be optimistic going forward that Davenport could turn into a cornerstone like the last two first round defensive ends.
Round 3, Pick 31 — Tre’Quan Smith, WR
Smith’s rookie season went the route that many first year wide receivers go, up and down. Starting off the season slow, it wasn’t until Week 5 that Smith finally got going.
His first touchdown in the NFL was on the pass that put Drew Brees at number one all-time on the passing yards list. Smith would haul in three receptions and two touchdowns in that game and looked to be filling in the role Ted Ginn Jr. had in this offense before he went down with an injury.
He would go off again a few weeks later against the depleted secondary of the Philadelphia Eagles, gaining 157 yards on 10 receptions during the Week 11 matchup. But in between and after those games, Smith showed an inconsistent ability to get separation as well as having some drops that could have gone for big plays. Missing only one game, he had 28 receptions on 44 targets, 5 touchdown receptions, and 427 yards.
The last two wide receivers drafted by the Saints — Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas —are rare talents, so instead I went further back and looked at Kenny Stills’s rookie numbers. Stills was drafted in the 5th round in 2013 and had similar stats to Smith’s: 32 receptions on 50 targets and 5 touchdowns. The biggest difference is the amount of receiving yards.
On only four more receptions, Stills gained 241 more yards for a total of 641 yards. The offense was more explosive back in 2013, so that could explain the 5 extra YPC (yards per catch) Stills had over Smith. But improving on his route running will help him be able to gain separation and increase his YPC going forward.
Round 4, Pick 127 — Rick Leonard, OT
This pick came as a shock to many, as Leonard wasn’t on many people’s radar. Projected as a project after only playing offensive line for two years in college, Leonard was cut during final roster cuts, but then signed to the practice squad. He was later released in October and then signed to the Los Angeles Rams practice squad, before being released once again. He is currently on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad.
Round 5, Pick 164 — Natrell Jamerson, S
Another draft pick unable to make it through final roster cuts, Jamerson was signed the next day by the Houston Texans. He appeared in 10 games for the Texans before being cut and picked up by the Green Bay Packers for two games. For the season, he had 10 tackles and 1 PBU (pass break up).
Round 6, Pick 189 — Kamrin Moore, CB
Moore’s preseason ended much like Jamerson’s, as he didn’t make the team’s initial roster, but was picked up by the New York Giants shortly after. He appeared in only two games and didn’t register any stats.
Round 6, Pick 201 — Boston Scott, RB
A late round draft pick that many fans were excited about seeing in a Sean Payton offense, whose short stature brought back memories of Darren Sproles, Scott was never able to make his way on to the 53-man roster. Placed on the practice squad at the end of the preseason, Scott was eventually signed by the Philadelphia Eagles after injuries depleted their running back depth. Playing in one game for the Eagles this year as a kick returner, he gained 96 yards on four returns.
Round 7, Pick 245 — Will Clapp. C/G
The pick that put to rest the “Saints hate LSU players” talk from the fan base earned his way onto the 53-man roster. He wouldn't see any game action until Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers when injuries along the offensive line began to accumulate. In three games, he has shown promise and at the very least should provide some depth going forward.
The rookies that are still on this team have a chance to further improve upon their season in the playoffs, where Davenport and Smith will play important roles on the road to Atlanta.