As we wind down the hours now until the Saints' first practice of the 2012 season, we're finishing up our series of 20 Saints questions.
The questions are in no particular order of importance…except for No. 1.
4. How much can this year’s draft class contribute?
The Saints were docked a second-round picks in this past April’s NFL draft as part of the league’s punishment for an alleged three-year bounty program. And New Orleans traded away this year’s first-round pick last year for Mark Ingram.
So New Orleans will go into 2012 with five rookies, none of which are first- or second-round picks
But there are a couple of diamonds in the rough, per se.
Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was an SEC recruit before some NCAA issues led him onto a circuitous route to the NFL. He has the talent. The question is how long will it take to get it out of him? He spent time in Canada playing and dominated there. The NFL is a different beast. I wouldn’t expect him to contribute immediately, though he may end up getting a healthy percentage of snaps by the middle of the season.
As for Corey White, a defensive back, that’s one of the toughest positions to come into the league and be an all-star. He’ll be fighting for a spot on the depth chart and likely won’t break through past Johnny Patrick this year. But he’ll contribute in special teams.
As for offensive linemen Andrew Tiller and Marcel Jones, both appear to be projects. But Jones was seeing some decent snaps during organized team activities and minicamp. He could emerge as the Saints’ sixth lineman if Charles Brown doesn’t get his act together this preseason. Tiller is likely a practice squad player, stowed there for the future.
But the one we expect who will contribute is receiver Nick Toon, who slipped to the Saints in the fourth round. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver from Wisconsin has the size and hand-skills to be the team’s fourth receiver. He should provide a third complement size-wise to Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham.
In all, there are 28 rookies on the Saints 90-man roster heading into training camp. As we’ve seen in the past, at least one will make the team and contribute.