NEW ORLEANS — While the New Orleans Saints 2017 draft gets credited with helping the team escape the 7-9 doldrums from 2014-2016, the Saints draft the year before has quietly emerged as one of the great drafts in Saints history.

The 2017 Saints draft is the stuff of dreams and included both the offensive and defensive rookies of the year (Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore) plus an elite offensive tackle (Ryan Ramczyk) and play making safety (Marcus Williams). I sometimes speak about the Saints 2017 draft in more loving terms than I do my own family. To be fair, my family didn't hold Tampa Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans to zero catches for zero yards on Sunday like Lattimore did.

While the 2017 Saints draft proved to be filled with amazing players almost immediately, the 2016 draft operated more like a normal college player selection process; the players took a couple years to reach their full potential.

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But in 2019 the Saints 2016 draft is suddenly center stage and looking like the kind of player acquisitions other teams would die to have. The interesting thing about the Saints 2016 draft is it included General Manager Mickey Loomis' trademark aggressive behavior in identifying the players the Saints wanted and trading up to get them, as the Saints traded up to select 2 of the 5 players from their 2016 draft.

The star of the 2016 Saints draft is of course their 2nd round selection, Michael Thomas from Ohio State. Did you know Thomas is on pace for 144 catches, 1,700 yards, and 10 touchdowns in 2019? That would break the NFL  record for catches in a single season. The Saints losing Drew Brees and having no above average receivers to help Thomas hasn't slowed him one bit. No wonder the Saints had no problem giving him $100 million.  Thomas is the best receiver in Saints history and if he's blessed with good health, the Saints might give him ANOTHER $100 Million in a few years. He's that amazing and that dedicated to being great.

The Saints first round pick in 2016 Sheldon Rankins didn't start as fast as Michael Thomas but by the end of 2018 he had blossomed into a pro bowl defensive tackle and to me was the Saints best defensive player heading into the 2018 playoffs. Rankins had a serious Achilles injury against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Divisional Round but returned last week against the Dallas Cowboys and against Tampa Bay looked well on his way to returning to his 2018 form.

If the Saints 2016 draft only included Rankins and Thomas it'd be an A+ draft, but the Saints added 2 more outstanding players.

The Saints traded up into the late 2nd round to draft Vonn Bell, safety from Ohio State. After the Saints 2016-2017 drafts and trade for another Ohio State defensive back (Eli Apple), we can officially designate the Buckeyes as the Saints official feeder school. When people ask me who the Saints are going to draft, I just tell them, “Whoever the best Ohio State player that's available when the Saints pick.” The only downside to the Saints love of Ohio State is that it makes me have to pay attention to watching paint dry excitement otherwise known as Big Ten Football.

Bell after an up and down first 3 years in New Orleans looks like a pro bowl player, in 2019 he's recovered 3 fumbles, forced another, scored a touchdown, and defended 3 passes. He also has 6.5 career sacks and 201 career tackles. Bell is going to be entering free agency off a career year if he keeps playing at this level.

After trading up for Bell, the Saints figured that was so much fun, they did it again to select David Onyemata out of Manitoba, Canada. Onyemata wasn't really expected to play much in 2016 but his athleticism and work ethic got him on the field for over 37 percent of the defensive snaps. In 2017 he played in 56 percent and added 2 sacks, and last year he had 4.5 sacks while getting over 600 snaps on defense. Onyemata's performance against Dallas alone will make him one of the premier free agents in the 2020 offseason.

The Saints even made a nice selection with their final pick of the 2016 draft when they took Daniel Lasco from the University of California in the 7th round. Before a serious injury ended his career in New Orleans Lasco had carved out a significant role on the Saints special teams.

The Saints only had 5 pick in 2016 and 4 years later we can say 'THEY HIT ON EVERY SINGLE ONE.'

When people wonder, “How are the Saints still winning even without Drew Brees?” The answer is they drafted 9 starters in 2 years starting in 2016.

Vonn Bell and David Onyemata are both free agents next March and I don't know what kind of financial sorcery Mickey Loomis needs to do to keep both while figuring out the contracts of both Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater, I just know I'd like to see the Saints 2016 draft class stay intact in New Orleans.

Saints Fan Mood and Meditation Music: 

Do Whatcha You Wanna, Part 2– Rebirth Brass Band

Are the Saints not doing exactly what they want? Are we not getting exactly what we want? As long as the winning continues, the mood music shall be festive and what's more festive than Rebirth Brass Band?

The Games

Last Week: 4-1
Season: 16-8-1

New Orleans (Pick 'em) at Jacksonville: 

Did you know the Jaguars offense is suddenly exciting and explosive and their defensive is kind of a train wreck? It's true! Jacksonville's defense is dead last in the NFL in giving up 5.5 yards a rush while their offense is 6th in yards-per-game. Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew has thrown for 1279 yards, 9 scores, and only one interception. Minshew has a fun personality and had features on both ESPN.com and The Ringer this week. Former LSU receiver D.J. Chark has 27 catches, 5 touchdowns and his 485 yards is tops in the AFC. These are not the play great defense and hope Blake Bortles doesn't mess it up Jaguars of 2017.

Just like against the Buccaneers, the Saints will need to score points to win. While I'm tempted to pick the Jags because the Saints seem due to just have a week where they don't play well, those weeks always pop up when we least expect it against some awful team like Arizona or something.

This feels like another week where Teddy Bridgewater looks better and better and further locks himself into a starting quarterback job somewhere in 2020. Also, isn't it time for Latavius Murray to start making us forget how much we miss Mark Ingram?

Saints 34-21

Florida (+13.5) at LSU:

LSU in 2019 is fun, Joe Burrow is amazing, but I've seen too many LSU-Florida games, and I fully expect Saturday night to be a close, tight, football game that probably at some point gets weird. The Tigers will win but it won't be a waltz.

LSU 35-27

Tulane (-34) vs Connecticut:

I didn't think I'd ever live in a world where the Green Wave was 4-1 and favored by 34. 34! Connecticut is indescribably bad and Tulane is really good. Come Sunday night LSU/Saints/Tulane could be a combined 16-2. Is this real life?

Green Wave 56-10

Atlanta (-2.5) at Arizona: 

Every week I keep saying if the Falcons lose again Dan Quinn is getting fired. They keep losing and Quinn keeps being allowed to do a terrible job. I love 2019 football so much.

Falcons 35-31

San Francisco (+3.5) at Los Angeles Rams:

The 49ers being a good team has shocked me. If the Rams fall to 3-3, then suddenly they will be in dog fight rest of 2019 just to make the playoffs.

49ers 24-21

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Ralph Malbrough is a contributing writer and Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @SaintsForecast or download the NSFW Saints Happy Hour Podcast.

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