CLEVELAND: No early picks for Saints might not be badBy RICK CLEVELAND,
Pickings will be slim where the New Orleans Saints are concerned in the NFL Draft that begins with the first round Thursday in Nashville.
That's because the Saints have traded away many of their early picks to try to win a Super Bowl while 40-year-old quarterback Drew Brees can still play. It might have worked, too, had it not been for one of the sport's all-time officiating blunders in the NFC Championship game that literally robbed New Orleans of a Super Bowl berth earlier this year.
Now, adding insult to that catastrophe, the Saints are left with just one pick in the first four rounds of the 2019 draft. Sixty-one players will be chosen before the Saints get their first pick near the end of the second round. They don't get another one until the fifth round. By then, 167 players will have been chosen. New Orleans also has two picks in the sixth round and two picks in the seventh.
Look at it this way: As many as six Mississippi college players might be chosen before the Saints are, as they say, on the clock. That's right. State's Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons and Johnathan Abram and Ole Miss's D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Greg Little are all expected to be chosen before the Saints get to choose a player.
Saints fans can take some solace in the absolute fact that some of the Black and Gold's best players in recent seasons have been late round picks. GM Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and their scouting staff have done much of their best work in the later rounds.
Think not? The Saints get the 62nd pick of this year’s draft. Two years ago, they got Alvin Kamara in the third round with the 67th pick. He has become one of the top three or four backs in the entire league. So there's that. The Saints selected Terron Armstead, one of the best left tackles in the NFL, also in the third round with the 70th pick of the 2013 draft. Armstead played his college ball at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Somebody obviously did their homework.
And the Saints have gotten All-Pro players even much later than that. The best example was probably Payton's first Saints draft in 2006 when New Orleans got future All-Pro guard Jahri Evans in the fourth round, future All-pro tackle Zach Strief in the seventh, and future All-Pro receiver Marques Colston, also in the seventh (with the 252nd pick). All Colston did was catch 711 passes and 72 touchdowns over 10 seasons. Success can be had in the late rounds. It just doesn't happen that often.
It will have to happen this year for the Saints to get much help from the 2019 draft. Fortunately, they don't have that many glaring needs. Another competent cornerback would be nice. Another wide receiver to take some of the pressure off Michael Thomas (second round, 2016 draft) would help. Sheldon Rankins' Achilles injury has made defensive tackle a concern as well.
There's always a chance the Saints could trade up in the draft but that probably would mean trading away more future high picks, and that's how the club got in the position of having only one pick in the first 167 this year.
Whatever happens, it won't be the worst Saints draft in history.
Can't be. That dubious honor goes to Mike Ditka's lame-brained draft of 1999. Remember? Talk about an April fool. That was Ditka when he traded the Saints' entire draft for the right to pick Ricky Williams. Actually, it was worse than that. Ditka not only traded the 1999 draft (a first rounder, a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and a seventh.) But he also traded first and a third-round pick in the 2000 draft. He traded all that to the Redskins for the right to move up and pick Williams, who had won the Heisman Trophy at Texas.
“Super Bowl, here we come,” Ditka declared. Actually, the Saints went 3-13 and Ditka was fired.
Contrary to popular opinion, Williams was not a bust in the NFL. He did average more than 1,000 yards for three seasons with the Saints before being traded to the Miami Dolphins. He gained 10,000 yards as a pro. Only 29 backs have done that. But was he worth an entire draft and some of the next? No, especially when you consider the Saints replaced him with one Deuce McAllister, whom they got with one late first-round pick in 2001.
Rick Cleveland is a Hattiesburg native and an award-winning sports columnist in Mississippi. Email Rick Cleveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.