Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Writer
METAIRIE, La. ― The Saints entered this year’s NFL Draft with holes to fill and needs to be met.
They finished Saturday having done exactly what they needed to – help the defensive front seven.
The haul included two linebackers from Illinois, a highly-rated defensive end and running back, another defensive end who went into the 2010 season as one of the most highly-rated in the country and a cornerback who can help with special teams.
But first and foremost, New Orleans hit the lottery in the first round, nabbing California defensive end Cameron Jordan, a player many draft analysts rated as a top-15 pick.
“Really, starting with the first round, we were a bit surprised that Cameron was available to us at 24, and very pleased that he was,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Them trading two picks – this year’s second-round selection and next year’s first-round pick – for Alabama running back Mark Ingram was a stroke of genius by general manager Mickey Loomis, Payton said.
“Mickey was fantastic,” Payton said. “He was great through these three days, but certainly through that first round. He did a great job.”
“I don’t think we went in thinking we have to get a running back,” Loomis said. “That wasn’t a stated goal by any means. By the same token, when you’re able to get what is the best running back in the draft, obviously you seize that opportunity and fit him in.”
That one of the incumbents, Reggie Bush, felt slighted by the pick as seen in his “It’s been fun New Orleans” tweet, Loomis said the team can only continue to tell him he’s still in their plans.
At this point, the proverbial ball rests in Bush’s hands as to whether he remains in the black and gold or forces his way elsewhere.
“Reggie won’t be gone because we don’t want him,” Loomis said. “I don’t know how to state it any other way. We have a plan for him. We want him in our program. He has been a great contributor to our team.”
In all, though, five of New Orleans’ six players were defensive players. It was a draft that Loomis admitted was a combination of need being filled by players that fell to them.
When a reporter began to ask a question about how it might be truer to say they love their picks some years more than others, Payton quickly quipped, “We got our guy.”
In the cases of both Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson and Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus, Payton said the surprise was they fell to the Saints at picks No. 72 and 226, respectively.
“I do think that we were able to address some spots and some players fell to us that we didn’t anticipate,” Payton said.
In Romeus’ case, the fall had everything to do with his performance in 2010, or lack of, because of injuries that kept him out of all but two games this past season.
Romeus herniated a disc in his back on Sept. 2 in Pittsburgh’s game against Utah and then two months later, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the Panthers’ Big East Conference game against Connecticut. Romeus had entered 2010 coming off a 2009 campaign where he was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
“I think the makeup was good,” Payton said. “It was solid. All of those things were good.”
Meanwhile, both pick No. 88 – Louisville cornerback Johnny Patrick – and pick No. 243 – Illinois outside linebacker Nate Bussey – should contribute on special teams, where both made their livings in college besides in the starting lineup.
Bussey, though, was the one who made Payton’s voice rise when talking about him.
Besides starting at outside linebacker for the Illini, he owned special teams, earning the team’s Outstanding Special Teams award. He finished second on the team behind Wilson with 83 tackles and tied for the Big Ten Conference lead with three fumble recoveries.
“He’ll be able to, we think, play on special teams,” Payton said. “We worked him specifically last week and we kind of knew with possibly that second seventh round selection, which happens to be the exact selection that we selected Marques (Colston) with, really the compensatory seven that year, that this would be a good or wise pick for us because we felt like he’d be able to come in and contribute in the kicking game right away.”