As it was raining cats and dogs most of the weekend we spent most of it watching the NFL Draft just like you did, and like you (we assume) we were more and more irritated with the Saints’ performance as the proceedings went along.
It’s not that the Saints did a terrible job altogether. The first pick, Sheldon Rankins, is without doubt a quality player who can help the Saints’ awful defensive line. The second pick, Michael Thomas, is a tall, physical wide receiver who can get open deep and that fills a huge hole in the Saints’ passing game. If you stop there, the draft actually looks pretty good.
But you can’t stop there, which is why this year’s draft was once again a head-shaker and just another bit of evidence that this team’s front-office management isn’t what it needs to be to make the Saints a championship-quality team.
And we’ve got seven reasons why Mickey Loomis, the general manager, is a problem for this franchise.
1. Trades away two draft picks to take a backup safety in the second round.
We have nothing against Vonn Bell, who was a very productive player for Ohio State – particularly as a sophomore during the Buckeyes’ national championship run, when he had 92 tackles and six interceptions. Bell can cover a receiver in the slot reasonably well and he has some ball skills which is a plus for a New Orleans secondary which has virtually no ability to get interceptions.
But a second-round draft pick, particularly one which costs a team with tons of needs a 3rd-round pick and a 4th-round pick to obtain, needs to produce a starter. And Bell isn’t. The Saints are going to stick with Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd at safety this year, even though it’s perfectly valid to question whether either one of them is more than a high-priced bust. Given that, what you’ve given two draft picks up for is a reserve player.
Now, perhaps Bell can be the Saints’ nickel back. In a healthy secondary you have a number of cornerbacks – P.J. Williams, Damon Swann, Kyle Wilson – who might capably fill that role, but using a safety as a nickel man gives you a more physical presence than a corner would. Except Bell isn’t known as a big hitter. He’s a drag-’em-down tackler like a cornerback could be expected to be. So does he really give you a more physical option for your nickel defense?
It might have been a lot more defensible to gamble that Bell would have been available some 15 picks later and taken him with the Saints’ 3rd round pick. That would have preserved a 4th-rounder to service the team’s many needs.
2. Trades away two draft picks to take a Canadian college kid no one has ever heard of.
The drafting of David Onyemata was idiotic. That’s not to say Onyemata can’t end up a good player for the Saints. The competition at the University of Manitoba in Canada isn’t much to speak of, but he was essentially the Outland Trophy winner up there. He’s a 6-4, 300-pound defensive end who runs a 5.0 in the 40, which is good size and OK, at best, speed. And he’s played basically four years of football, having immigrated to Canada from Nigeria.
Onyemata killed it with the measurables. He’s a really good athlete. But he’s a project.
And the Saints traded a 5th-round pick this year and another one next year to move up to the fourth round to draft him, after they’d unloaded their 4th round pick in the Vonn Bell trade.
On the board when the Saints took Onyemata was Andrew Billings, the monster defensive tackle from Baylor who had been considered a possible late 1st round pick.
Nothing about that pick made any sense. Nothing. Onyemata wasn’t the best defensive lineman to fill a need on the board – he might project as an end while Billings is a tackle, but Rankins could play either position so you had some flexibility and perhaps most important was that the Saints find someone who can help stop the run up front, which Billings certainly can do and nobody knows whether Onyemata can. But worse than that, Onyemata was a reach in the fourth round. He could have been available several picks later when the Saints were due for their 5th round pick.
3. Continues to refuse to draft anybody from LSU.
It’s not some crazy coincidence that the Saints don’t draft or sign LSU players. It’s policy. And when LSU has more alums in the NFL than any other school (that’s likely not going to be the case this fall, as LSU had a bit smaller draft class than normal with only four Tigers drafted), it’s a stupid policy that looks driven more by prejudice, animus or pique than intelligent analysis.
This wasn’t a killer year for the Saints to target LSU players. While Debo Jones was a great get for the Falcons in the 2nd round, the Saints had spent on Dannell Ellerbe, Stephon Anthony, Hau’oli Kikaha and James Laurinaitis in the last 12 months to stock the linebacker corps; using a #2 on Jones wouldn’t have made sense. And with the additions of Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams and Swann in the last year at cornerback it really wouldn’t have made a lot of sense to take a chance on Rashard Robinson in the 4th round. With Andrus Peat and Terron Armstead set as young tackles, Jerald Hawkins didn’t make a lot of sense, either – and while the ESPN draft analysts were talking about Hawkins as a player whose future might be at guard, where the Saints do have a five-alarm fire, he wouldn’t be all that good a fit at the position (when your quarterback is 5-11, you’re really not all that fired up about drafting 6-6 tackles to move to guard). The decision not to look at Jalen Mills, who lasted until the 7th round, isn’t alarming given the selection of Bell earlier; Mills and Bell are pretty similar players and Mills never had a season as good as the one Bell had in 2014.
That said, Vadal Alexander didn’t get drafted until the 7th round. The Saints had several opportunities to pick him up, though admittedly they traded at least a couple away, and didn’t bother. That seems crazy, even given Alexander’s height and Drew Brees’ lack thereof.
Considering how many Saints fans are also LSU fans, at some point you’re alienating a big chunk of your fan base by refusing to have any LSU players on your team. When Saints and LSU fans alike look at Jarvis Landry, Eric Reid, La’El Collins, Trai Turner, Kwon Alexander and some others over the past few years that the Saints ignored to their detriment, there’s a lot of “SMH” going on. If Alexander ends up being a Turner for the Raiders, well…
4. Who’s playing guard, Mickey?
You trade away two draft picks in this year’s draft and you neglect to fill all your needs, and that’s crazy. Particularly when the most significant need you have is at guard, and in the Saints’ offense the guard positions are crucial – the Saints don’t run a whole lot of sweeps; they run mostly inside the tackles, so having road graders in the interior line is important. And more than that, Brees’ success is due in no small part to his ability to climb the pocket and find receivers in secondary reads. It’s kinda hard to climb the pocket when your guards are bad pass blockers who get pushed back into the quarterback.
When the Saints have had success it’s been due to marquee-quality guard play. Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, and then Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, made up one of the most high-profile guard tandems in the league with the salaries to prove it. And now? Evans was let go in the offseason, which made some sense given that he’s a declining player (maybe he can be brought back later at a discount) and right now the starters are Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete.
There is no way that you spend $20 million on a quarterback and to protect that investment from a giant defensive tackle roaring through the inside to blow him up you’re going to depend on Lelito and Kelemete. That’s absolutely crazy.
Guard should have been a huge priority in this draft. The Saints needed to draft two of them. They didn’t take any, and traded picks away while not taking any. How that’s anything but dereliction of duty is beyond us.
And this was Loomis on that question…
They did sign North Carolina guard Landon Turner as a free agent. The 330-pound Turner managed some All-America recognition as a senior, and he’s about as good a free agent sign as you can get (the book on Turner was that he would go as high as the 4th round). But rookie free agents can’t generally be counted on to fix major weaknesses, and that’s what the Saints have at guard. Unless Peat is going to be asked to play there, which would put a 6-7 guy at guard for Brees to try to throw over, this is a real problem which isn’t being fixed.
5. Is there a pass rusher in our future?
The other weakness going into the draft which simply had to be addressed was the total lack of anybody outside of Cameron Jordan who can rush the passer. The Saints took Kikaha with a 2nd round pick last year, and he was certainly a credible pickup having had some 32 career sacks at Washington, but Kikaha was a 4-3 defensive end in college and now he’s a 4-3 outside linebacker for the Saints. So potentially the best edge rusher on the roster is spending his time learning how to cover backs out of the backfield.
That’s incredibly stupid program management, and if it’s not rethought it can’t just be chalked up to the fact that when the Saints drafted Kikaha it was with the idea they were going to be playing a 3-4 defense and Kikaha was to migrate from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker but things changed. Kikaha ought to be the rush end opposite Jordan; if he isn’t going to be, then the Saints will have spent yet another 2nd round draft pick on a backup defensive player (and it will be three years in a row for them doing that – starting with Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who’s no longer around, then Kikaha and now Bell). Meanwhile, Bobby Richardson, a rookie free agent last year who did little more than eat up snaps, will go into the season as the starter at the end opposite Jordan yet again.
This is nuts. The Saints need a legitimate outside rusher. Kikaha has to be it since they didn’t draft one – and no, Onyemata isn’t it, because Onyemata isn’t a speed rusher. Unless we’re supposed to believe Obum Gwacham is going to blossom into something more than a guy with an interesting name or Kasim Edebali has some ability we’ve not seen yet, or unless Davis Tull is a superstar in the making hidden from us due to injuries last year, this is a major hole.
Rankins should team with Nick Fairley to give the Saints a good pair of defensive tackles. Jordan is very good. But even after this draft the Saints still don’t have enough pieces on the defensive line. That’s just bad management.
It’s been several years of clearly declining talent on the Saints’ roster, and Loomis continues to make moves that only appear to exacerbate the problem. We didn’t even get into the question of Daniel Lasco as the 7th round pick; Lasco looks like a fine prospect who would have been a higher pick but for an occasional issue with fumbling and an injury-plagued 2015 season at Cal. But if Lasco turns out to be a quality player and pushes for playing time, he’ll make Marcus Murphy a wasted pick from last year and more to the point he’ll make the signing of C.J. Spiller as the third-down back a complete waste of money.
All that money spent on Spiller probably could have paid for a guard. Or a pass rusher. Or somebody from LSU.