Lewis: Observations about Saints picks, other happenings at NFL draft

Sweeping up the debris from Draftapalooza ’14:

In wide receiver Brandin Cooks, the Saints got their man. And they were willing to pay the price of a third-round draft pick to get him.

That’s considerably less than the future No. 1 they gave up to get Mark Ingram in 2011, and at best, the jury’s still out on that one.

But if Cooks turns out to bring the missing explosive element to an already-potent offense, then everyone will be talking about what a bargain he was. Clearly the Saints feel that Cooks can be a difference-maker in a variety of ways.

And they also must have a large measure in faith in second-year man Tim Lelito to step in at center, which that third-round pick likely would have addressed, although bringing in veteran ex-Saint Jonathan Goodwin to at least compete for the spot looks like a no-brainer.

As for the rest of the Saints Class of 2014: meh.

Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, inside linebacker Khairi Fortt and outside linebacker Ronald Powell all bring the size and athleticism that Rob Ryan covets. But some analysts rated Jean-Baptiste the biggest reach in the second round, while Fortt and Powell have issues that knocked them back to third-day status.

Safety Vinnie Sunseri of Alabama plays fearlessly but may never get beyond special teams contributor.

The head-scratcher is tackle Tavon Rooks of Kansas State. Rooks thought so little of his chances of being drafted he was spending his 24th birthday with his girlfriend in South Dakota. And when Saints coach Sean Payton contacted him, Rooks said he thought he was being pranked.

For all we know, Rooks may turn out to be a late-round offensive-line gem such as Zach Strief, Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks or Jermon Bushrod. And if he makes the team, it’s going to be a great personal story.

But when Mel Kiper draws a blank when your name is called, that’s a red flag.

— Considering the excitement in Cleveland over the drafting of Johnny Manziel, imagine the excitement level for his home opener Sept. 14. The opponent: the Saints.

— If you think drafting is an exact science — more than 30 percent of the league’s players in 2013 were undrafted free agents — consider recruiting.

Powell was rated the No. 1 player in the country according to both Rivals and ESPN when he signed with Florida out of Moreno Valley (California) High School in 2010. And yet he wound up a fourth-rounder.

The second-rated player that year was tackle Seantrel Henderson. Henderson, considered the best offensive-line prospect in a decade when he signed with Miami, lasted until the seventh round when he was chosen by Buffalo, in part because he twice quit during his pro day.

To be fair, No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney was the No. 1 prep player in 2011.

But Thibodaux High grad Greg Robinson of Auburn, the No. 2 pick, was rated 90th nationally three years ago. And quarterback Blake Bortles of Central Florida, the No. 3 selection, was nowhere to be found.

In fact, Tulane recruited Bortles as a tight end.

— Speaking of the Green Wave, congratulations to wide receiver Ryan Grant for going to Washington in the fifth round. Grant is the first draftee from a Bob Toledo recruiting class at Tulane.

The Wave had one more pick than Texas, which was shut out of the draft for the first time since 1937, justifying the notion that Mack Brown’s teams went soft (with the exception of Kenny Vaccaro).

Even the Longhorns’ Jackson Jeffcoat, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, wound up going the free-agent route.

— Speaking of which, can we please put an end to the notion that being Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year carries with it a job guarantee.

And we don’t mean the talking heads who saw some kind of conspiracy theory that Michael Sam of Missouri, the first openly gay player to go to the NFL, was somehow cheated of his rightful selection spot because he came out earlier this year and teams wanted to avoid the Tebow-esque “disruptions” his presence would bring.

We’re talking about Sam himself, who, after his highly emotional reaction to being drafted by the St. Louis Rams gracelessly said later, “In all honesty, from last season alone, I should have been a high, first three rounds. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, unanimous All-American, I should have gone in the top three rounds easily.”

This from a player who had been given a sixth-round grade after his combine and pro day workouts and who declared he wanted to be regarded like any other player.

Hopefully that will be the case when it comes to Sam’s chances of making the Rams.

What he’s done did take courage, although the Jackie Robinson comparisons are a bit much. And if Sam’s moving the acceptance needle, good for him. You wish him only the best.

But if he’s just not good enough, then it’s going to be extremely difficult for the Rams to cut him lest the second-guessing heat up again.

That question may have been settled though.

Sam’s big moment came off as just a little too convenient. At a point in the draft when normally there’s no one coming to the podium, the announcement was made by Mike Kensil, the NFL’s vice-president for game operations.

Sam was picked a team from the same state where he played his college ball, meaning on the local level there’s not likely to be so much hubbub when he gets to camp.

And the pick came during the compensatory stage of the final round, which made it pretty much a throwaway for the Rams, who got plenty of praise for taking Sam.

Never underestimate the NFL’s ability and willingness to maximize every situation, while avoiding the criticism if Sam had gone undrafted.

— Which leads us to:

Commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the notions of expanding the draft from three to four days and even moving it deeper into May.

No and no. While this year’s TV ratings were the best since 1993, there’s a definite saturation point.

And do we really need another week or two of mock drafts that are forgotten once the real stuff starts?

Don’t answer.