Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Writer
METAIRIE, La. ― The Saints entered the 2011 NFL Draft looking for help along the defensive front.
By 8:30 p.m. on the second day, New Orleans had addressed its most pressing needs and more.
The Saints went defense Friday, grabbing Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson with pick 72 and 16 picks later, took Louisville cornerback Johnny Patrick.
Wilson (6-foot-4, 252 pounds) is projected as a strongside linebacker while Patrick (5-11, 191) should boost the Saints’ special teams as a natural gunner.
The Saints took defensive end Cameron Jordan in Thursday’s first round before trading up to take running Mark Ingram four picks later.
The main entrée Friday was Wilson, who fills a spot at linebacker where the Saints are looking to get younger.
Wilson, projected by some draft services as a first- or second-rounder, fell to the third partly due to limited collegiate playing time. After playing both his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was given a medical redshirt in 2009 after suffering a herniated disc in his neck.
“A guy like this, you really have a grasp (on where he’d go) because he didn’t have the playing time when you look at his history,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “You see athleticism, size, stature and so there are a lot of traits we like.”
“I’m healthy,” Wilson said. “The doctors said I could continue to play football. I see some other players in the league to this day that have had the same surgery. If I keep taking care of myself health-wise, make sure my neck is fine, the strength in my neck continues to where it’s at, then I’ll be all right. I know I will.”
Wilson started 21 of 38 games at Illinois, including 13 games his final season at inside linebacker after playing early in his career on the outside. He finished with 223 tackles with nine sacks and 20 tackles for a loss.
He contributed three fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles, eight pass deflections and an interception in his three years at Illinois.
But in New Orleans, he projects to play outside linebacker. The Saints’ starter there this past season, Scott Shanle, will be a free agent whenever the NFL’s lockout ends.
“I think that when we watched him on film, you saw someone who was long, who could run and so there’s a little bit of a projection because of the position he’s going to play,” Payton said, “but there’s some traits and some size and measurable that put him at that position for us.
“But he is a guy that was productive this last year, disruptive and we’re excited to have him, especially in this round.”
That he fell to the third round will only provide a chip on his shoulder.
“I was hearing first and second round, too,” Wilson said. “I was expecting that. I went in the third round. I’m going to make the best of it and I’m going to show why I deserve to be picked (earlier).”
Patrick projected for special teams
Despite rules changes in the kicking game, Patrick likely will make his mark on special teams, where the cornerback played all four seasons at Louisville.
“He has real good short area quickness, change direction,” Payton said. “Those I think are some valuable assets in terms of being successful in special teams.”
But Patrick comes with baggage; his character was questioned heading into the draft after he was arrested for assault after allegedly tossing a woman to the ground following an argument in July 2010.
Patrick was quick to respond to questions about his “character,” thanking the Saints for giving him a chance. Payton said in instances like this, the front office has to listen to area scouts and coaches.
“There were a lot of questions about my character issues and I really, really honestly wanted to address that because the person people were trying to make me out to be, I’m not that kind of person,” Patrick said. “I’m glad the Saints gave me an opportunity to prove that, gave me a chance and they picked me today.”
While the Saints are deep at cornerback, Payton said it’s a position, like running back, that teams can never have enough of.
Regardless, Patrick is willing to do whatever he can and play wherever he can for the Saints.
“If they need me to play offensive tackle, I’ll play offensive tackle,” Patrick said. “I don’t care.”