Forecast: Hard to figure out Saints draft

The draft analyst says he likes what he's seen with the Saints draft.

COLUMN | Now that the New Orleans Saints have completed their 2017 draft, if I could describe it in two words, those words would be excitingly bipolar.

The Saints admitted when Thursday started they expected to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes with the 11th selection, which would have effectively announced the Drew Brees Era would be ending sooner rather than later. Kansas City leapfrogged them and grabbed Mahomes with the 10th pick, so the Saints drafted Marshon Lattimore when he unexpectedly tumbled down the draft board.

MORE | Saints draft better than you think

So instead of the Saints taking a quarterback at 11 and everyone reading 267 articles on “What does this mean for Drew Brees' future in New Orleans?” the Saints had a bonafide answer to, “What the heck are we going to do at corner?”

The difference in those two scenarios can't be overstated. This wasn't a moment of the Saints taking player A or player B, this was two vastly different directions for the franchise to go in 2017 and beyond.

By the way, is there anything more exciting and nerve-racking than seeing a potentially great player keep falling and suddenly realize, “Oh my God, the Saints might actually get him?!!” Lattimore only happened to be the best player at a position the Saints have spent the entire offseason trying to fix.

The Saints couldn't convince a top free agent corner to come to New Orleans,  reportedly couldn't get Los Angeles Rams corner Trumaine Johnson to agree to a contract after the Rams agreed to trade him, and then couldn't get New England to agree to trade Malcolm Butler after Butler agreed to a contract with the Saints. It seemed the universe didn't want the Saints to have a good solution at cornerback.

Describing cornerback as a giant hole on the Saints roster is a disservice to holes everywhere. Cornerback is not so much a hole on the Saints roster as it is a canyon of injury sadness.  Then, suddenly on Thursday night, Lattimore kept getting closer and closer, and then suddenly he was there when it was the Saints turn to send in a card to the podium.

Even though the Saints didn't do the equivalent of announcing with a bullhorn,  “We have started planning for life after Drew Brees and 2017 is the beginning of the end of an era!” by drafting Mahomes, they sure acted like it with their second first round pick and continued it into the second round.

With the 32nd pick, acquired in the Brandin Cooks trade, a trade which the Saints said was specifically made to improve the defense, they chose Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Ramczyk was by all accounts an excellent value pick as he wasn't expected to last until the end of round one, however, he does not, in fact, play defense, and if Zach Strief repeats his 2016 season, Ramczyk is going to be a very highly drafted tackle eligible his first season. Strief is 33, so Ramczyk might be playing sooner than we think, probably will be the starting right tackle in 2018, but was certainly drafted first with an eye on the future.

The Saints followed Ramczyk by drafting safety Marcus Williams from Utah. Maybe Williams isn't a pick with an eye mainly towards the future, as the Saints best defense in 2016 was when they played three safeties, and with the release of Jairus Byrd, the Saints grabbed a younger and better center fielder for Dennis Allen's defense. You can also say the Saints might not be planning on resigning 2018 free agent to be Kenny Vaccaro, and Williams and Vonn Bell will be the safety duo starting next season.

Then the bipolar moment of the 2017 New Orleans Saints draft kicked in. They traded a 2018 2nd round pick to the San Francisco 49ers to acquire the 67th pick in order to draft running back Alvin Kamara of Tennessee.

The Saints needed a pass-catching running back (if you doubt this, rewatch the first Tampa Bay Buccaneers game and focus on Travaris Cadet), but for a team who was set to draft the quarterback of the future, until they couldn't, and two of their first three selections might not see the field much in 2017, trading away a future asset for a part-time running back seems odd no?

Well, only odd in a sense in that it went against the theme of the 2017 draft, but Mickey Loomis trading up during the draft is as annual a New Orleans tradition as Jazz Fest. Both happen every spring.

The Saints then got back to drafting players who aren't likely to help much in 2017. Including an injury-plagued linebacker(Alex Anzalone of Florida), a high-energy defensive end from a small school (Trey Henderickson of Florida Atlantic) and a defensive end who did not have one bad play in 2016 (Al-Quadin Muhammad of Miami).

How did Muhammad not have a single bad play in 2016 and last until the 6th Round? He never actually played football in 2016 because he took illicit benefits from a luxury car rental company. Did I mention in 2014 he was suspended for allegedly punching another student? If he had any more warning signs he'd come with that tone from the emergency broadcast system test.

The 2017 Saints draft was mostly about the future, except for the part where they traded away a future draft pick to help their offense in 2017.

The Saints were never going to fill every need they had with the 2017 draft, their roster is too devoid of talent for that, but they do still have major issues on defense.

First, now that the trade for Malcolm Butler is all but officially dead, the Saints will be playing at least two defensive backs (Marshon Lattimore and PJ Williams) who have combined one start between them. If Marcus Williams plays that will make three players with one combined start. That'd be problematic if the 2017 Saints had the Dome Patrol in front of their secondary.

Another issue for the Saints is at linebacker. Someone tweeted me saying the Saints had added many linebackers this offseason and were 'stacked'. I responded by saying “The Saints are 'stacked' at linebacker the same way a $9.95 buffet is 'stacked' with food. Many options but few are actually appealing.”

While the Saints do indeed have lots of options at linebacker, the plan at defensive end opposite Cam Jordan appears to be Alex Okafor, a dozen Hail Marys, and lighting novena candles for Hau'oli Kikaha's knees. Prayers work, I'm just not sure I prefer it as a football strategy in May.

So the Saints next stop is training camp and the question, “Will the defense not be terrible this year?” that has haunted Saints fans for a decade will have some different names in 2017 but as the Magic Eight Ball might say, “The outlook is not so good.”

Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at ralphmalbrough@hotmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at iTunes.

 

© 2017 WWL-TV


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