Ask any NFL general manager or head coach at this time of year about the draft and they’ll tell you they’re going to get a good football player in the first round.
To them, it doesn’t matter if they have the first pick, the 15th selection, or 32nd choice of the opening round. The point is, you never know where the next superstar, or even Pro Football Hall of Famer, is going to come from: you just have to find him.
With the bulk of their pre-draft work behind them, that’s where the New Orleans Saints are as they await this year’s draft — which is formally known as the Annual NFL Player Selection Meeting.
As a result of a 7-9 finish last season, the Saints hold the 15th overall pick in the first round and five choices in all for the draft that begins Thursday night.
The first round is Thursday night, the second and third rounds are Friday night, and the fourth through seventh rounds Saturday.
With all due respect to Saints special teams standout Courtney Roby, who wears jersey No. 15, eager fans will be thinking more about another No. 15 for the next few days.
Will the Saints get the dynamic pass-rusher the defense desperately needs after giving up the most yardage in NFL history last
season, or a left tackle to protect Drew Brees’ blind side, or a run-stuffing nose tackle to plug into the new 3-4 defensive scheme, or a hard-hitting safety for the back end?
There are many options, including the possibility of trading up or down, with a pick near the middle of the first round.
Because they don’t have a second-round choice because of the bounty scandal, it makes their first pick all the more important. They’re also without a seventh-rounder, which went to the Seattle Seahawks for linebacker Barrett Ruud in August. Ruud was later released.
As of Saturday, the Saints held selections in the first, third (75th overall), fourth (109th), fifth (144th) and sixth (183rd) rounds to add some depth after they picked up a few pieces in veteran free agency.
Of course, all eyes will be on No. 15 in a draft that some have bemoaned as not being “sexy” — especially at the top a year after the first two picks yielded dynamic quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
“This isn’t a great draft for football fans, but it is for the scouts,” said Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. “Coming off a year in which Luck and RGIII came in, we’re a little spoiled. Now, everybody is expecting rookies to come in and be dynamic players and go to the Pro Bowl (right away). This is a meat-and-potatoes kind of draft. They won’t score a lot of touchdowns, but they can block, make tackles and cover.”
That’s good news for Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton.
While there aren’t as many first-round prospects at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, there are lots of tackles, defensive linemen and outside linebackers —- all perceived as positions of need for the Saints.
“There are a lot of good players in the 15 to 45 range,” Rang said. “I believe the Saints are going to get a good player at 15; I just don’t know if it’ll be a great player.”
Then again, you never know.
In 1967, the Minnesota Vikings selected defensive tackle Alan Page with the 15th pick. Sixteen seasons later, he was a three-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowl pick and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.
The Saints would love to see a top tackle like Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson fall to them to replace two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod, who signed with the Chicago Bears in free agency, but that likely won’t happen.
Many mock drafts, however, have a pair of outside linebackers — LSU’s Barkevious Mingo or Georgia’s Jarvis Jones — dropping to their spot.
Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei could also be there although he and Jones have some medical problems, and it’s not known if the Saints even have them on their draft board because of those concerns.
There’s a lot of local buzz around Mingo, a speedy 6-foot-4, 241-pound end-turned-linebacker who’s been compared to the 15th pick in last year’s draft — Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin.
The 6-3, 245-pound Irvin didn’t start a game, but he had eight sacks as a situational pass rusher for the NFL’s fourth-best defense. He’s one of seven productive players still in the league that were harvested from the 15th spot of the past 10 drafts.
The others are center Mike Pouncey (Miami, 2011); defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants, 2010); linebackers Brian Cushing (Houston, 2009), Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh, 2007) and Derrick Johnson (Kansas City, 2005); and tackle Branden Albert (Kansas City, 2008).
Of course, there’s a chance the Saints could trade out of the slot to acquire another pick or two. But if they stay there, Rang thinks it’ll work out.
“There will be some good players there,” he said. “Whether they find a guy that’s fortunate enough to stay healthy and fit in with their system remains to be seen. But it’s unfair for some people to say this draft class is lacking in talent … it’s simply not true.”
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