METAIRIE — More often than not, the New Orleans Saints have used their top pick in the NFL draft to select the best player available on their board when they go on the clock.
Not surprisingly, it’s the same method used by most NFL teams.
Sometimes you hit. Sometimes you swing and miss, the latter being one of the hazards of an inexact and overanalyzed exercise which every team partakes in each spring.
Months and months of preparation will be put to the test when the draft begins a three-day run at 7 p.m. Thursday with the first round only. Rounds 2 and 3 are sFriday before it’ll wrap up Saturday with Rounds 4 through 7.
The Saints, who have five total picks for the second year in a row, hold the 15th overall pick of the first round — only the second time they’ve made their first selection in the top half of the opening round since 2009.
Their second-round pick was forfeited as punishment for the bounty program, but they will have selections in the third (No. 75 overall), fourth (No. 109), fifth (No. 144) and sixth (No. 183) rounds.
They dealt their seventh-round to Seattle last summer for linebacker Barrett Ruud, who was later released.
Even though they had some big holes to fill, especially on defense, the Saints don’t figure to change their philosophy on choosing the top player available to them following their evaluations.
That’s not a big secret for General Manager Mickey Loomis, who doesn’t float any real information or engage in subterfuge when it comes to the draft.
It’s simple: Instead of reaching to fill a perceived need, the Saints would rather pick a player who can help with the overall depth of the team and at some point in the future become a starter.
Despite tight salary-cap constraints this season, the Saints were able to pick up several veteran free agents at cornerback, outside linebacker, defensive end and safety that will help in their transition to a 3-4 scheme — leaving them options in the draft.
“We always want to do that (pick the best player available) and our goal in free agency is to fill enough holes that, if we have holes, we are able to do that,” Loomis said Tuesday. I do think that usually, when you are on the clock, it’s not a matter of just one guy head and shoulders above anyone else,” he added. “There’s usually two or three players with similar grades and players are all worthy of that pick.”
That’s where a position of need or position of greater value can come into play.
“I think we would all say that pass rushers, cornerbacks, left tackles, quarterbacks are generally the more valued positions,” he said.
“All that comes into play when you are selecting, but for the most part we are going to take the highest player graded on our board.”
Because they keep things extremely close to the vest, it’s impossible to tell what players the Saints will have in their bullpen — a group of five or six players that could be sitting there when their turn comes.
Depending on who’s on that list, the Saints could pick up an outside linebacker to help with the transition to the 3-4 or perhaps grab a left tackle to perhaps plug the gap left by two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod, who signed with the Chicago Bears.
Safety is a possibility as well if they stay in the spot and don’t elect to trade down or completely out of the first round to acquire another more picks to help in a draft that’s perceived to be different than recent ones.
ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis Colts General Manager Bill Polian said only 10 or 12 players have first-round grades and Loomis said there are 45 to 50 players rated as second-rounders.
Still, Loomis, who said it is still a deep draft, doesn’t mind picking where the Saints will be if they don’t make a deal.
“Well, I’d much rather be at (No.) 32 along with 31 other teams,” he said of the spot held by the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
“But I think being in the middle of the first round is a good spot.
“It gives you some flexibility, and yet, you know you’re going to get the opportunity to select a good player if you just sit tight,” he said, “somebody we have confidence in that can come in immediately as well as be a good player for a long time for us.”
While some players may seem like a logical pick at a certain spot, Loomis said that’s not always the case.
He said some players are removed from their draft board because of medical or character issues and others simply don’t fit their offensive or defensive systems.
“Sometimes, we think a guy is a good player and he may have a good grade, but he doesn’t fit into our system or isn’t what our coaches are looking for,” Loomis said. “It’s a factor.”