The Black and Gold 2013 draft class and undrafted free agents hit the practice field on Friday as part of the team’s rookie mini-camp.
College football analyst and NFL draft expert Mike Detillier shared his thoughts about the team’s new additions and on some of the players the Saints’ front office took a pass on in the recent draft, speculating which rookies will contribute immediately and who will prove to be the team’s best free-agent pickup.
Were you surprised the Saints passed on Jarvis Jones to select Kenny Vaccaro?
I was not surprised, but I thought they would go after Jones. This team still is in great need of a pass rush specialist. They also need a playmaker at safety and Vaccaro is a playmaker, but more along the lines of LaRon Landry than an Ed Reed or Earl Thomas.
What does this say about Jones that they passed on him?
It means they really believe that Victor Butler will be the “pass rush” specialist for this team. Rob Ryan came on the radio with us and he talked highly about Butler. Butler now becomes the teams’ biggest off-season free agent pick-up and he is the focal point of generating a pass rush from that outside linebacker slot. He has flashed it at Dallas, but he also has never been a fulltime starter and he always had DeMarcus Ware taking on multiple blockers.
If he gets hot in New Orleans as a pass rusher, he will be the target guy for blocking schemes.
It is something Joe Horn told me years ago, “There is a difference between being a number one receiver and a “two guy”. You have to beat double coverage as a number one receiver and the number two guy rarely sees it. It freaks a lot of second receivers out when some teams make him their main guy. That holds true as a 3-4 outside linebacker as a pass rusher.
You wrote in your book that Kenny Vaccaro is similar to LaRon Landry. Was that a compliment?
Absolutely People forget Landry is one of the best safeties in the game when he is healthy. Like LaRon, Vaccaro is very physical, he comes up in a flash as a run defender, he is an intimidator in the secondary and he matches up well with tight ends downfield. Like LaRon, he doesn’t have great hands. That surprised me with LaRon because he was a quarterback in high school, but like Kenny he is not a natural catching the ball. That is what makes people like Ed Reed, Earl Thomas, Jairus Byrd and Charles Woodson special. Like Darren Sharper was, they are ballhawks, but Kenny was a pick that I thought would go in that area. This team needs to become more physical and Kenny gives them that feature.
But like it or not for Saints fans Jarvis Jones and Kenny Vaccaro will always be tied together because of where they were picked and right now there is no sure thing as a pass rusher.
On draft night on the radio with Shariff Floyd and Jones on the board you said the Saints would pick Vaccaro when they came up to pick. What changed things?
An agent friend of mine, who seems to always have a good read on where defensive backs will go, told me if Vaccaro is on the board the Saints would take him even if Jones was on the board. When I saw it occur I went with the strong tip.
He was wrong on one defensive back (Xavier Rhodes) and where he would end up, but he was dead right about Vaccaro and we both had the word that Eric Reid would end up in San Francisco.
Is he the free safety or strong safety of the future?
I think like LaRon Landry his spot is at strong safety. Kenny Vaccaro is tailor-made for that spot. In the game today you need a physical presence at strong safety in run support and yet have the flexibility to be strong in the coverage part of the game. This team has been burnt so much by the athletic tight ends in the league. He is the one-on-one matchup guy.
Who does Vaccaro then light a fire under most: Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins?
Both are professionals, but both know with a new defensive coordinator and Rob Ryan had a big say on picking Vaccaro they will both be motivated to play better.
It’s human nature to play harder or work harder when you are being pushed. In the long run Harper’s spot will be filled by Kenny. With the money he is being paid Roman knows that the team will thank him for his overall play and his contributions to a Super Bowl run, but he most likely will not be here in 2014.
This season all three will be on the field in different spots and Jenkins used more in nickel and dime schemes as a cornerback.
Did maybe Jenkins’ contract play a part in the selection of Vaccaro?
Malcolm is in a new scheme and it will be interesting to see if he fits well with Ryan’s defense, but in this commuter league it is also about matchups and the pick was all about getting more physical in the secondary and also having some one to match up well in one-on-one situations downfield against the pass.
This is a big season for Jenkins to prove he is a “playmaker” at free safety, but what I see from him is that he doesn’t take good angles to the ball against the pass and he misses too many open-field tackles. He needs to improve in those areas. He will make some real big plays, like we saw against Tampa Bay, and then whiff on others. I don’t think his contract played a part in selecting Vaccaro.
You always say the draft is about value and addressing needs. Did the Saints do this in this draft?
If Butler becomes a really good edge pass rusher, then yes they did a great job getting value and filling needs. Vaccaro was a value pick and filled a huge void at safety. Terron Armstead is a really good football player and to be honest with so many offensive linemen getting picked in Round One I thought he might be gone and I wrote in my book that he is a better today than Jermon Bushrod was when he came out of Towson. In 2014 he is the starting left tackle for this team. He is a very focused player, extremely athletic and he has the feet of a much smaller player. Terron moves his feet so well for a big man and he has excellent adjustment skills. He will need to make that adjustment to the NFL and learn that from week to week you are going up against the best pass rushers the game can offer on the left side.
You think Armstead will start at left tackle in 2013?
I think the left tackle position is Charles Brown’s to lose. It is not a question of talent, but health. If he stays healthy Brown will start, but he has been nicked up every year. I like Marcel Jones, who they picked up last season late in the draft from Nebraska, but he is more of a right tackle and I think if he can stay healthy he is the eventual replacement for Zach Strief at the right tackle spot.
You made that call on draft night on WWL Radio that Armstead would be the pick. Did you have any insight?
Well, he was the best offensive lineman on the board and certainly he fit into a big need for this team. The coaches will love his work ethic and athleticism. He also seemed to fit a mold of a small college player that this team has had a knack for finding. Lucky call on my part. But all that said, this young man can play football no matter where he went to school.
When you were talking about players available you also talked about John Jenkins and that he would make a good pick, if they went for defense and then after the Armstead pick they made the trade with the NY Jets and got Jenkins.
I thought John Jenkins would go in Round Two. He is a huge man, a big space eater in the middle and someone that could be a difference-maker at nose tackle if he keeps his weight down and he gets motivated to give his all on each snap.
Typically big men wear down during games and this is where conditioning takes its toll. I think as Saints followers we all remember that first season when Norman Hand was with the team. He was a big influence in the middle, but Norman was never the same after that 2000 season because he was just wasn’t in the best of shape after that.
Just watch the film of the last two SEC Championship games. Georgia’s defense and in particular their front line played at a very high level in the first half of those games, but once LSU started to pound the rock Jenkins and that first team unit wore down. Nick Saban did the exact same thing in 2012. He just fed the ball to Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon and that huge offensive line just wore out Georgia’s front line.
He also needs to learn how to use his hands better to get off of blocks and I was glad he told us on WWL Radio that night that he is going to work with former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith-who specializes in hand usage and leverage. If he is motivated and keeps himself in good shape he could be a B.J. Raji-Green Bay Packers-type player. He has the talent, now it is up to Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson to get the best out of him.
How do you see Kenny Stills fitting with the Saints’ offense?
Kenny is a great fit for the Saints. He played in a system similar to what the Saints run and he excels as a route runner and someone that can really work the short to medium range areas of the field. He has good hands and he is a good set-up guy to get open downfield.
He has good speed, but where he excels is in his ability to work that short area of the field and that is what the Saints do so well offensively. Kenny’s dad and uncle played pro football so he knows what it takes to play in the NFL. He was Landry Jones’s “go-to” receiver the past two seasons and he knows this game at a high level. Sure handed target and he can just corkscrew defenders into the turf with his moves downfield.
Rufus Johnson played defensive end in college. Will he make the adjustment to outside linebacker?
Well Rufus got to over 270 pounds because he thought he would play defensive end in the pros, so he will probably get lighter to play outside linebacker. I didn’t see a lot of tape on him, but he’s athletic, he can get off the snap quickly and you can clearly see he works hard on each play.
There’s no “let up” in his play. His college coach, Cary Fowler, told me he was the best defensive front seven player he had ever coached and his greatest strength was his speed and his violent hands. Interesting player.
Before the draft in our last one-on-one you talked about the Saints possibly picking Tulane’s Ryan Griffin in Round Six or if they picked up a 7th round pick. The Saints were able to sign him as an undrafted free agent. Are you still high on him?
Yes I do. He’s smart, very accurate with his throws, he has the arm strength to make all the throws in the book and he is tough. He didn’t get great protection at Tulane and he got the best aerial views of stadiums across Conference USA, but he is a good player and the Saints knew all about him because he was coached last season by Curtis Johnson, who was the Saints WR. coach.
He has the skillset and intangibles to play in the NFL. Last season Griffin and Ryan Grant-the wide receiver at Tulane were terrific when they gave Ryan some time to throw. In 2014 Ryan Grant will be a middle round draft choice and he’s a good football player also.
The Saints signed as undrafted free agents three linebackers that you graded in your book as middle round picks in North Carolina’s Kevin Reddick, Stanford’s Chase Thomas and Nebraska’s Eric Martin. Would you agree that the Saints’ front office has an eye for unearthing hidden talent?
No question that since Sean Payton took over this team has built a reputation for giving undrafted free agents a fair chance to make the team. For some guys they just talk the talk, but with Payton and his staff, they have and agents know it.
With Reddick his story is a lot like what we saw from Jo-Lonn Dunbar when he came out of Boston College. Kevin is physical, a four-year starter for NC, he plays the game on balance and he has a knack for fighting off blockers well at the point of attack. He’s a power player and instinctive.
I am a big Chase Thomas fan. He’s smart, physical, he has quick read and react instincts and he has a nice array of moves and countermoves to defeat his opponent coming off the edge. Like Reddick he is a power player, but he was not the greatest workout guy. The last two years on one of the toughest defenses in college football Thomas racked up 32 tackles for losses and 16 quarterback sacks. He reminds me a lot of Dezman Moses, who played at Tulane, went undrafted and started for Green Bay last season.
Eric Martin is an interesting player. He basically was a special teams player until the 2012 season. Then he blew up last season recording 59 tackles, 18 1/2 tackles for losses and 8 1/2 quarterback sacks and 13 QB. hurries. He can cut the corner fast and just looks as though he has a feel for pressuring the quarterback. He is also a good special teams player. He was impressive last season at Nebraska. In many ways he is a lot like Victor Butler was when he came out of Oregon State.
Which rookie will have the biggest impact in 2013?
Kenny Vaccaro, no question. He has to play and play well early for the Saints for their defense to get better. I like his work ethic, his football instincts and I love what he brings to the table from a physical standpoint.
Which free agent will make the biggest difference on defense?
Well , Keenan Lewis is the consensus pick by most observers everyone, and I like the pick-up of Lewis and I certainly like his match-up skills from a size and coverage standpoint, but Victor Butler has to play like not only an average guy, but a cut above starter because in this style defense his pass rush skills and pressure skills “potential” has to turn into production. This team needs to create a pass rush and Butler is the key.
On offense it is TE. Ben Watson. He gives this team something the New England Patriots have with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and now the Saints have two very athletic pass catching tight ends and it will cause havoc for defenses to defend and give them another big body upfront to aid the running game. This team needs to get more physical in the running game and play a little “keep away” and I think that means Mark Ingram becomes the bellcow runner too. Ingram is someone who needs to get fed the ball more and let him get into his rushing groove and I really believe Sean Payton wants that in this offense and have Pierre Thomas be the second option in the running game and he will get a lot of touches as a backup runner and also as a receiver.
But the biggest addition this season is having Sean Payton back. He gives this team focus, a strong purpose and accountability. The Boss is back. Now, we’ll have to see if they can piece together a good enough defense to combat the two powerhouse teams in the NFC right now in San Francisco and Seattle.