Potential first round pick could bring swagger back to the New Orleans Saints


Say what you will about Seattle Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. He is arguably the best cornerback in today’s NFL.

Two reasons stand out: 1) His lanky, long-armed freak show of a body allows him to match up with some of the premier athletes in today’s overspecialized world of sports. 2) He has a brash confidence which is impossible to miss, unless you’ve been living under a rock the past year-plus.

These two qualities are the same ones possessed by a corner that last year I begged the Saints to draft – Washington’s Desmond Trufant, who sadly went to the rival Atlanta Falcons.

They are the same two qualities possessed by Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.

Gilbert excitedly tweeted Monday that he arrived in New Orleans for a pre-draft visit with the Saints. The 6-foot All-American is being touted by most draft analysts as a mid-to-late first round pick.

Many mock drafts have Gilbert well off the board prior to the Saints’ pick at number 27. But…

If ever there were a draft that promises to be unpredictable, it is the one we are finally less than a month away from embarking on. It’s still merely speculation as to who the Houston Texans will take with the first overall selection.

In my mind, there are five or six players who realistically could say they deserve to be the first pick. There are probably another 40 who have earned a first-round grade (which is unusually high; that number is usually sub-32).

Gilbert is definitely among that group of 40-or-so players with a first round grade. He could hear his name called in the top-10 on May 8. Or he could fall to the end of the annual selection meetings’ first night.

It will be largely based on what each team needs, and the grade they put on each particular player. For that reason, the Saints are wise to do their homework on Gilbert. Yes, he’s likely to come off the board before pick number 27.

If available, though, he’d be a rather obvious selection. Like Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Gilbert possesses a somewhat unique trait that the Saints are obviously looking for in players to fill their secondary – turnover creation.

That trait seems to be the one Sean Payton, Rob Ryan and by extension the Saints’ front office have made a point to emphasize this offseason. Hence, Jairus Byrd was brought in and Rafael Bush re-signed.

Don’t expect that preference to end with those two. The Saints are still very much in the market to add one more talented corner for depth purposes, if nothing else. Finding a player who can read the quarterbacks’ eyes and/or a receivers’ route-break and step in front of the pass is the emphasis.

And the ability to haul in the oncoming pass and make something happen with it seems to be a part of the formula which Payton and Ryan are scheming for, as well. In his senior season, Gilbert picked off seven passes and turned two of them into touchdowns, despite playing in only 11 of the Cowboys’ 13 games.

For that reason, and the aforementioned similarities to Sherman, Gilbert is an almost perfect fit for the Saints defense.

He’s not the perfect corner, but those don’t exist with today’s high density passing game. A player will get burned from time-to-time, even the extremely underrated Keenan Lewis.

But like Lewis – and Sherman – Gilbert is not afraid to keep taking chances. He is confident, bordering on cocky. That’s a great combination for a corner.

Gilbert should not make it to pick number 27. But if he does, the Saints should be prepared to turn in their card with his name.

He’s got what it takes to be great, especially in Rob Ryan’s defense.

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