After months of speculation, the 2020 NFL Draft came to a conclusion on Saturday evening. While the New Orleans Saints held five picks heading into the draft, they ended up only making four selections due to trading up for players.
Here is a quick recap of what the Saints did in the draft:
Round 1, pick 24: Cesar Ruiz, center
Round 3, pick 74 overall: Zack Baun, linebacker
Round 3, pick 105: Adam Trautman, tight end
Round 7, pick 240: Tommy Stevens, quarterback
So, what did we learn with how New Orleans decided to go about the draft this season?
The Saints remain an unorthodox team in terms of draft strategy
No one has ever accused New Orleans of having a traditional or vanilla draft strategy during the Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis era. On the contrary, the Saints strategy has largely been to trade up for their “guy” and prioritizing the quality of player. Payton and Loomis, with the help of Scouting Director Jeff Ireland, have been able to identify players that can make an impact at the NFL level. Just look to 2019 second-round pick Erik McCoy as a perfect example. Despite not owning a first-round pick in 2019, New Orleans was able to identify a player, draft them, and then have that player make an immediate impact on the team.
With a 2020 draft class that was deep in wide receivers, many believed that this would be the year the Saints traded down, something they haven’t done since 2007. Instead, New Orleans remained unorthodox in draft strategy and utilized their resources to get the guys they wanted to bring on board. Expecting the Saints to be anything but unexpected shouldn’t have even been considered.
Immediate and the future needs were both accounted for
Heading into the draft, the debate was whether the Saints should focus on making an immediate impact move, or draft for the future. Unsurprisingly they did both. As we have discussed often on this site, the selection of Ruiz is a prime of example of killing multiple birds with one stone. While not a flashy move, Ruiz represents a potential future upgrade to the offensive line. In the immediate, it makes Larry Warford and his $13 million cap hit expendable. If Warford were to be traded or cut that type of money allows New Orleans to immediately add depth or another key player to the roster for the 2020 season. Furthermore, it opens up the possibility of signing running back Alvin Kamara to a long-term extension to help solidify the running back position.
As for the other selections, Baun and Trautman represent young, athletic options that will help with depth at each of their respective positions. However, both will likely be afforded opportunities to become immediate playmakers, while also continuing to develop in order to take on larger roles in the club for future seasons. Meanwhile, Stevens will not be able to escape the Taysom Hill comparisons, and his addition very likely will help alleviate injury risk for Hill in the short-term by assuming the “Joker” role.
Athleticism and versatility were heavily valued
There were plenty of players available to New Orleans at 24 who could have been selected to play a traditional role at their position. Former-LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, and former-Arizona State wideout Brandon Aiyuk comes to mind when thinking about players that fill a traditional role. Instead, the Saints opted to select players with more versatility. Ruiz has the ability to play both center and guard, raising the question of what will happen with McCoy. But, that’s a good problem to have.
Baun is an athletic and speedy linebacker that provides New Orleans the ability to play him at Sam or Will, and could eventually move to Mike according to Ireland:
Additionally, Trautman is a former basketball player who invokes comparisons to former-Saints superstar Jimmy Graham. New Orleans could have taken players that excel in traditional roles, but instead believed in the versatility and athleticism that players can bring to the club. Overall, it helps the team create depth in more than one area, and helps the team get younger and faster.
Quality over quantity
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is what we have been alluding to all along: quality over quantity. With an already crowded roster heading into training camp, the Saints needed to use their picks on players they believe are capable of breaking camp with the team. There will be plenty of talent that already does not make the cut.
By using current draft capital to help move up and make selections, New Orleans is helping ensure that those picks aren’t wasted on a player that is unlikely to make the team. For some it is disappointing that their team didn’t get to use seven picks in the draft like other teams. But when the Saints have three or four players from the 2020 NFL Draft make the 53-man roster, whiles others have one or two, then the philosophy becomes clear.