Solid, if not unspectacular, comes to mind when I consider this year’s draft for the New Orleans Saints. Considering the circumstances they faced and only four selections, I feel as though they did the best they could. Still, I think “Ghosts of Picks-Traded Past” caught up to them and caused the team to move around more than the rest of the league.
The Saints were the first team in the draft to trade a 2021 selection away when they sent next years third-rounder and their 88th pick in 2020 to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the 244th pick in the seventh-round and the 74th pick.
Later, they moved up again for the 105th pick in the draft by trading all of their remaining selections in 2020. Then, after all signs suggested the team was finally done, New Orleans moved back into the 7th round by again trading a 2021 pick in the 6th round.
All this comes on the heels of Sean Payton suggesting the Saints may be a bit more cautious considering the uniqueness of this draft...
New Orleans was anything but, and that’s my cause for concern.
Cesar Ruiz, OL, Michigan
What I liked: The Saints didn’t push the panic button. Watching as their likely No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers went off the board in Justin Jefferson and Jalen Reagor, followed by their No. 1 middle linebacker in Kenneth Murray, could have resulted in a panic pick. Instead, they made the most of their selection by leaving the first round with the top-rated interior offensive lineman in the draft, rather than selecting the a lower-ranked linebacker or receiver. Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz is going to challenge for a starting spot right out of the box, and he should improve an offense that hasn’t been able to close games in recent years.
In 2018 against the Minnesota Vikings, it was the offense that couldn’t convert a 3rd-and-1 that would have allowed them to milk the clock before kicking the field goal. In 2019, it was the offense that went incomplete, incomplete, loss-of-six, and interception prior to the Los Angeles Rams field goal to win. This past January, it was again the offense that couldn’t stop the Vikings Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen from having their way with the interior of the offensive line, resulting in only 10 points in the first three quarters and the defense playing 79 snaps (the third-highest of the year).
This pick should be looked at in combination with the Emmanuel Sanders signing. In Ruiz and Sanders, the Saints in theory have given Drew more time to throw the ball and another reliable target that can get open. The object of football is to have one more point than your opponent at the end of regulation, and this should help them do that in 2020.
What I didn’t like: Not having more picks came back to haunt them here. I’m pretty certain the Saints wanted to come away with Kenneth Murray, and watching the Los Angeles Chargers move up to get him must have been gut-wrenching. Maybe it works out similar to the 2017 draft with Ryan Ramcyzk in place of Reuben Foster, or maybe it doesn’t. While everyone chuckled at Tampa Bay for moving up one spot to select tackle Tristan Wirfs, they at least got their man.
Ceiling: Starting Center or Guard
Floor: 6th Offensive Lineman
Zach Baun. LB. Wisconsin
What I liked: Getting the third-best outside linebacker in the draft at 74th Overall is excellent value. Baun is a versatile player that shows the ability to rush the passer, drop into coverage, and chase plays down sideline to sideline. He tested with above-average athleticism at the combine and finished his senior season at Wisconsin with 75 tackles (19.5 for loss), 12.5 sacks, 1 int and 2 forced fumbles. The former Badger plays with a mean streak and has been lauded for his football IQ. According to coach Sean Payton he’s got the ability to play the Sam position as well as the Mike with the possibility to serve a role in pressure packages. The ability to play multiple positions within the Saints defense compares favorably to what Jamie Collins could have offered if signed.
What I didn’t like: Baun was falling for a reason and word is it was medicals. This is mitigated by it being a third-round selection, so no real negative marks for that but according to his NFL.com combine prospect grade he was a 6.50 - Boom or Bust Prospect. He’s too undersized to be a consistent edge rusher and he’s never played Mike or Sam in a 4-3 base defense. Everything about his game is a projection and bunch of “we think he can’s” and New Orleans traded up for that.
Ceiling - Starting Mike linebacker
Floor - Base Sam/Pressure player in sub packages/ Versatile Backup
Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton
What I liked: Trautman finished his collegiate career with 178 receptions for 2,295 yards, both ranking first in the record books at Dayton. A small school prospect that dominated his competition is exactly what you want to see during the scouting process. At 6-foot-5 with 32 5/8 inch arms and a 34.5 inch vertical he presents a large catching radius for starting quarterback Drew Brees. Trautman also had an exceptional three cone, per Payton, that clocked in at 6.78 offering an explanation for how he’s able to create separation out of his breaks. He’s got the former basketball background that seems to be linked to all the best tight-end prospects over the last decade and Payton sees him as a complete tight end able to flex out to the Y, play in-line, and throw the occasional block. Meanwhile, General Manager Mickey Loomis said a good player comparison for the former Dayton Flyer is Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. Best of all he’ll benefit from better coaching in the NFL to unlock his full potential.
What I didn’t like: Unlike Ertz, Trautman is a small school prospect and they always look better going against talent that won’t sniff the NFL. In this regard, like Baun, he is a bit of a projection and a jump in competition and speed of play could be too much for him to handle. His 4.79 in the 40-yard dash is alarming in point because Payton expects him to carry more weight on his frame. Not only will this further slow him down, but how much will it effect that exceptional cutting ability? Does it go from exceptional to just good and what effect will it have on what is seemingly his only “special” trait?
Ceiling - Starting tight end
Floor - Backup or Role player in three TE packages
Tommy Stevens, QB, Mississippi State
What I liked: New Orleans has a vision for the player and knowledge of how to use his particular skill-set based on the Taysom Hill blueprint. He’s an athlete according to Payton and per his collegiate head coach ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. Per Payton they’ve got film of him as an F-back, have seem him act as a pass-catcher, and view him as as having the potential to be a four-core special teams player, something Stevens lobbied for at Mississippi State but was denied. With Hill planning to take on less special teams work, the Saints needed a replacement and may have found it in the form of Stevens. The Mississippi State product can also serve as someone that can run the plays drawn up for Taysom in practice without actually having to risk their now $21 million man after Hill signed his recent extension.
What I didn’t like: This trade up is probably the one that baffled me the most. Moving up for a guy in the seventh-round means that anything short of him making the 53-man roster is going to make this a questionable decision. Yes he’s a developmental player, and no you don’t expect him to play QB, but the move up suggest a vision that includes him being on opening day roster. Otherwise the same teams that you feared would select him and caused you to move up, could potentially scoop him off your practice squad if you haven’t deemed him better than 37 other players.
Ceiling - Core Special Teams player and Offensive Weapon
Floor - Cut and not on the team Week One
Overall this draft grades out to roughly a 2.5 or C+ for New Orleans, and as I mentioned before, considering the lack of picks and not coming away with the prospects you really wanted it’s still a solid haul. Best case scenario is the Saints could end up with a starter, two role-players, and a special teams asset in each of their first seasons, which would be a boon based on how the board fell. Despite getting three of their top 40 rated players history suggests that at least two of these guys won’t get a second contract with the team. In a draft that was filled with depth you have to wonder if having fewer picks forced them to be aggressive at all the wrong times for all the wrong players.
Despite the average grade we won’t truly know how well New Orleans did until three years from now as is the standard length of time it takes to properly assess a draft class.