After last weekend’s draft there is one fact: there’s a lot to be excited about in the Bayou.
The Saints continued their aggressive offseason by trading up in the first round to number 20 overall to grab lightning-bug wide receiver Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State. Cooks is dynamic, tough, and a high-character locker room guy, but in order to move up those seven spots it cost the Saints their third round pick.
The subsequently picked up a cornerback, a couple of linebackers, and even a safety despite spending a pretty penny to retain Rafael Bush and sign Jairus Byrd. Before we move forward, here are a few take-aways we had after watching three days of draft mayhem:
1.) Best Saints Pick
A lot of people would likely go Cooks with this designation, but I think the taint of giving up the third rounder to move up can’t be washed off. To me, Stanley Jean-Baptiste was the best Saints selection even though it required quite a bit of luck to pull off. Jean-Baptiste had a first round grade by the majority of scouts and experts, and some even had him going to San Francisco at 30th overall. Instead, he falls into the Saints’ lap at 58. He’s the cornerback of the future for New Orleans, seemingly cut from the mold of the new NFL corner: standing nearly 6-foot-3 and 218 lbs. Whether he’s Richard Sherman or not, he’s a lump of clay that Rob Ryan is happy to be able to mold. And lastly, his name fits the Bayou culture. Jean-Baptiste? Can you get more French Quarter than that?
2.) Worst Saints Pick
This may be a bit nit-picky, but I didn’t love the Vinnie Sunseri pick in the fifth round. With two fifth round picks (within three overall picks of each other) the Saints had an opportunity to gamble a bit, but in my estimation they gambled on both (drafting Ronald Powell two spots later – which we’ll get to in a bit). Sunseri was believed to be either a seventh round pick or an undrafted rookie free agent – and if the Saints had passed on him and signed him as a free agent I would likely be raving about the pick up today. He has all the intangibles you want in a safety: great instincts, high football IQ, good hands, coachable, and a strong, vocal leader. The problem is the tangibles … he doesn’t have many of those. He’s regarded as a step too slow, a shade too weak, and a hair too short. If he makes the team it will likely be on special teams, and if that happens I expect him to be a playmaker in that role. The problem is that when they traded away their third round pick they lost one-seventh of their draft potential, and wasting another pick on a special teams possibility doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
3.) Pick we’re most excited to watch
To preface this category, I’m not basing this on whether I think this guy will start in 2014 or if I think he’s a Pro Bowler in the making. He’s the guy that, when selected, I was most surprised to see on the board and most excited to see join the Saints: Florida’s Ronald Powell. Coming out of high school Powell was the Jadeveon Clowney of his class. Big, strong, hyper-athletic and magnificently proportioned. However, his career at Florida was inconsistent at best, and a series of injuries made his time on the field shorter than expected. Dedication to the game was an issue as well, which admittedly is a pretty large red flag. All that aside, though, Powell may have the highest ceiling of anyone drafted in the fifth round this year. Talent like that doesn’t just leave you, and if the Saints can keep him healthy and direct him down the right path I am truly excited to see where his career takes him.
4.) Overall Draft Grade
We’ve already started hearing the generic coach-speak this week about how everyone was ‘really happy with their draft’ and that they ‘drastically increased their team speed’ and ‘added a lot of great competition’. But there are always winners, and there are always losers. Looking at the draft as a whole, the Saints certainly come out as winners. Yes they gave up a third round pick to get Cooks, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that they’re adding arguably the most versatile wide receiver in the draft to an offense that will use him like a swiss army knife. Add to that the upside of Jean-Baptiste and Powell, as well as Khairi Fortt and Tavon Rooks who will likely both compete for back-up roles, and you have a draft that not only exudes great value but also manages to fill holes without reaching (except for Cooks … maybe … we’ll see).
The all-powerful Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Saints a C+, which he likely attributes to trading away the third rounder and not making any splashes in the later rounds. He also was much lower on Jean-Baptiste than any other expert, and he historically gives teams with less picks (the Saints only had six) a lower grade. We don’t agree with Kiper, but we’re not willing to go all the way to an A.
In our opinion, the Saints nailed their top two picks (finding two starters and potential Pro Bowlers) and added depth/potential with the rest while simultaneously filling needs:
That earns them a solid B.