Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have cultivated through the years a reputation of being keen drafters, fellas who have been able to build the Saints through the farm system.

After all, several key contributors on the 2009 Super Bowl-winning team were drafted in 2006, a few in 2007 and a few in 2008.

Marques Colston, Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks all have become some of the best players at their positions. Robert Meachem, Tracy Porter, Roman Harper and Reggie Bush were integral parts of the engine that pushed to the championship.

But New Orleans has lived off the reputation for too many years.

It all but flubbed the draft in 2009 Malcolm Jenkins is a starter but has plateau'd, Thomas Morstead is tremendous as a punter but the other two players are out of the NFL.

In 2010, only tight end Jimmy Graham can be considered a star. Patrick Robinson might lose his starting position to Keenan Lewis and the jury is still out on Charles Brown, who hasn't been able to stay healthy. Matt Tennant is on his third team and Sean Canfield never played in the NFL.

It's too early to judge 2011, but it doesn't look great. Cam Jordan appears to be a player on the rise but Mark Ingram hasn't proven he was worth moving into the first round to get. Johnny Patrick was waived and is with Arizona, Nate Bussey is out of the NFL and Martez Wilson has shown promise but that's all.

The 2012 class is still too young, though Akiem Hicks could be a star in the making.

Then there's this:

  • 9 of 21 players from 2006-08 are out of the NFL
  • 12 of 41 players since 2006 are out of the NFL
  • 9 of 41 are with other teams after free agency

New Orleans hasn't drafted a true standout in any first-round pick under this regime. But it has found brilliance in the latter four rounds.

There's a lot being made about who New Orleans will take in the first round tonight. And that's understandable players taken in the first round generally have the highest potential.

But while looking at the short-term, Loomis and Payton also have to tend to the flock in the long term.

They've had success deep in the draft, finding Colston in the seventh round, Evans in the fourth, Nicks in the fifth, and Graham in the third.

They've had success finding undrafted rookie free agents, plucking Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Isa-Abdul Quddus and a number of other role players that way.

There's one other aspect of the Saints' draft legacy, something that brings things full circle to tonight.

New Orleans hasn't figured out how to draft defense, which is likely what scares Saints fans heading into the No. 15 pick. Only one defensive player drafted by the Saints since 2006 has earned Pro Bowl berth and none have become All-Pros.

Tonight, the Saints likely have to have defense, a player to boost the team's fortunes after allowing more yards than any other defense in league history in 2012.

Saints fans can only hope history doesn't portend the future.

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