It’s NFL Draft week and one of the best analysts on the subject in the country, WWL 870 AM contributor Mike Detillier was once again kind enough to take some time from his busy week to discuss the moves the Saints have made in the off-season, including the Jimmy Graham trade, opine on the future of some of the team’s most familiar faces and other matters related to the 2015 NFLDraft.
1) The big question has to do with Jimmy Graham: was trading the All Pro tight end the smart move in either the short term or the long term?
To get value, you have to give up value. Jimmy Graham is an All-Pro player and one of the elite players at his spot in the NFL. He has caught more passes for more yards than anyone to start a career at tight end. He is a high value player. Max Unger is one of the top centers in pro football and an anchor inside. But it is important to also hit on the 1st round pick you got in exchange also. Short term you filled a huge void at center, long term it is what happens with the draft choice. I approve of the deal. Jimmy was a 3rd round pick and you get a 1st round pick in exchange and one of the premier centers in the NFL.
2) Sticking with that transaction, has the acquisition of Max Unger significantly addressed the offensive line issues or will the Saints’ front office have to invest an early round draft pick to further shore things up?
Last year in this same spot we spoke about what I considered a glaring need at center. Teams just went after Drew Brees with great pressure from the interior last year. They blew up his launch-pad. I am still a big believer in that the Saints need to use an early round pick on an offensive lineman. But this team has had good success in the middle rounds with offensive linemen like Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks and Jermon Bushrod. Yes, they need to draft an offensive lineman fairly high in 2015.
3) How much of an improvement will C.J. Spiller be over Pierre Thomas at running back?
Different style backs. C.J. is a speedster. He is more Reggie Bush-like. I think Sean Payton missed having that speed/quickness mismatch we had seen for years with Reggie and then Darren Sproles. Spiller has sprinter’s type speed and he is a good edge rusher. Spiller is also a very good receiver coming out of the backfield. He has been nicked up some at Buffalo, but when healthy he has been a playmaker. I like the fact that C.J. now gets to play 8 games a year on a fast track in the Superdome and another indoor game each season in Atlanta. Pierre was one of the best screen pass receivers in the game and also the best pass protector for Brees. He will be missed on the field for his play. But C.J. is an electrifying performer as a runner and receiver.
4) Last year the Saints invested a high draft pick on cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, yet he contributed zero last season. Is he going to be ready this season or is he another Charles Brown second round bust?
Why invest a 2nd round pick on a project player? Everyone in the league knew Baptiste was not ready for primetime and he basically got a redshirt season. With a huge hole at cornerback last season he didn’t see much action. This off-season the team spent considerable free agent money on Brandon Browner, they signed the top cornerback in the CFL and a former New Orleanian in Delvin Breaux and signed former New York Jets 2010 1st round pick cornerback Kyle Wilson. That’s not a good sign.
5) In retrospect, was wide receiver Brandin Cooks the right pick in the first round?
I still think highly of Brandin Cooks. They used him a lot when healthy in the short game, but I would like to see the Saints use him more on the deeper patterns. He is smart, a good route runner and he has that skillset to get away from the initial tackler. What surprised me was that he went down so quickly after contact when he played. I didn’t see any of that at Oregon State, but he found out quick they hit a lot harder in the NFL than in the PAC-12. I still think a lot of Cooks.
6) Strong safety Kenny Vaccaro had a strong rookie season yet floundered in his sophomore year. There was a rumor that the Saints were even interested in dealing him to another team. Which Kenny Vaccaro will we see in 2015- the 2013 version or the 2014?
It is how they use him and is he focused. He was exposed in coverage spots last season and he seemed out of place a lot. He looked confused at times and all this talk about 3-safety alignments and how it would change the league certainly didn’t work out at all. Kenny has to understand this is the NFL and put in the extra time in to be an elite player. He is very talented, but he took a Mount Everest dropoff from his rookie season. He was an impact player as a rookie and rather ordinary last year. With Vaccaro it is what he wants to put into his work and be the best player he can be.
7) Speaking of rumors, there was a panic within the Who Dat Nation about the possibility of franchise quarterback Drew Brees being traded. Did you think there was ever a chance of that happening?
I never bought into those rumors. When you replace Drew you better be damn sure you have someone that can fill those huge moccasins and he certainly isn’t on the roster and I didn’t buy into those rumors one bit. I would play Drew until the wheels come off of his football cart.
8) With the return of free safety Jairus Byrd from injury and the signing of ex-Legion of Boom cornerback Brandon Browner, do the Saints finally have a secondary that will resemble the one they fielded in 2009?
It’s much better with a healthy Jairus Byrd and Brandon Browner is still a good player. It is a matter of health with Byrd.. He was one of the top safeties in the NFL with Buffalo. With Browner you take the good and you understand the negative. You know he has great size, tremendous length, he is very physical and he brings a winning attitude to the game and lockerroom. Now, he is very aggressive and he is grabby, and he holds and tugs on opposing WR’s and he will get penalties called on him, but he is a huge upgrade at cornerback. What this team needs to do is add more depth at cornerback in case of injuries during the season because you play so much 3 and 4 cornerback sets.
9) Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan seemed to be on the bubble immediately after the close of last season. In fact, head coach Sean Payton seemed to have made a point of waiting before public stating that he would remain a part of the team. Is his career with the Saints hanging by a thread?
I would say yes. They didn’t hire Dennis Allen as a vote of confidence for Rob Ryan. That is the coaching biz though. Two years ago he was the toast of the town and I think it was a close shave for him to survive this off-season.
10) Have the Saints addressed via free agency all of the issues that led to them having a losing record in 2014 and what area still need to be covered in the draft?
This team has gotten old in a number of spots. But they need a top pass rusher at outside linebacker. they need a starting type player upfront along the defensive line-both starting defensive ends are unrestricted free agents after this season, a starter at inside linebacker, depth at cornerback, a starter type at offensive guard and they need to use an early draft choice on a wide receiver. This will be the last season for Marques Colston and Jahri Evans in New Orleans.