The Saints have the draft in the books, and are already parting ways with some veterans on the roster.
According to a league source, the Saints have released LB Kyle Knox after a nine-member draft class saw six selections (including 3 linebackers) on defense. Knox was largely a special teams contributor for the Saints.
Sources also says the Saints are releasing safety Marcus Ball. Ball was brought in last off-season from the CFL.
This is usually the day all the experts hand out draft grades for the Saints and other NFL teams, and I've see anywhere from B+ to C- for the Black and Gold. While I don't get into the grading of the draft until a full season with that class has been played, I will tell you what I like about this class on the surface. I think the A+ grades are reserved for teams that make a splash with a big time playmaker or a top quarterback, because that's what fans want to see. The Saints didn't have flashy picks like that. There wasn't a lot of sizzle to this class, but there was plenty to like and a few things to dislike.
Favorite pick: Hau'oli Kikaha (OLB/Washington) is super productive and fits exactly what the Saints are looking for with intelligence, character, production, and work ethic. He'll be in the league a long time, and will become a really good player. I think when we look back on this draft, we might say he should have gone higher. Sean Payton said "He's the player you hope to get a chance to coach" after the selection. Kikaha might not flash and contribute as much as the club's first round pick in ILB Stephone Anthony, but only because of the position he plays. I had a hunch the Saints were going to grab him in the second round if he was there. I was impressed with this guy from the moment I met him at the Senior Bowl.
Questionable pick: Garrett Grayson (QB/Colorado State) only because I'm on record as saying that if the Saints used a top pick on a QB it would be a waste of a selection. I don't mean that Grayson will be a waste of a pick, but they could have gone elsewhere. He might indeed turn out to be the eventual successor to Drew Brees, or the Saints could be drafting another quarterback of the future in two or three years. Bottom line is with Grayson there is a chance that he will be a suitable option post Drew Brees, but you could have found that option in the draft next year or when Drew Brees retires. Now, it could end up being the best pick of the group if Brees has another drop off in production. What I like about this pick is even Drew Brees will be pushed a little bit. Grayson isn't on his level, but knowing that the team drafted his replacement should spur Brees to an even higher competitive spirit.
Underrated pick: P.J. Williams (CB Florida State) will be a valuable player for the Saints as a rookie. He'll come in and contribute right away, and if not for a minor off the field incident a month before the draft, Williams probably would have gone in the second round. Williams will compete with Stanley Jean-Baptiste (2014 2nd round pick) and a host of others for playing time. The cornerback spot in general should be highly competitive this pre-season. Williams has nice size and can also contribute on special teams.
Now let's recap the whole class, and how I see them fitting into the Saints plans this year and beyond.
Andrus Peat: Offensive Tackle (Stanford) The teams first pick in the 1st round (13th overall) will contribute this season as a the teams swing offensive tackle if not the starting tackle. Peat will give the Saints some grade A depth should injuries occur with Terron Armstead and Zach Strief. Bryce Harris' roster spot comes in jeopardy with the selection of Peat. Harris was the swing tackle the last couple of seasons and while he was OK, he's not going to provide the insurance that Peat will. Peat will be the Saints starting right tackle for the 2016 season.
Stephone Anthony: Inside linebacker (Clemson) The Saints second pick in the 1st round (31st overall) will come and play in the middle of the Saints defense from day one. Donnell Ellerbe might be ahead of him on the depth chart right now, but come September 13th Anthony will be the guy. I really like the attitude he'll bring even as a rookie, he's going to be an aggressive player with a nasty streak. Frankly it's something the defense didn't have last year.
Hau'oli Kikaha: OLB/Pass Rusher (Washington) 2nd round. Hau'oli is the exact style of player the Saints covet. This guy has no ego, and will come in and outwork nearly everyone of his rookie team mates. He's got a motor that won't quict and plenty of talent with some untapped ability. I think he'll play a role in his rookie season on passing downs and sub packages on defense. He'll know the playbook by training camp.
Garrett Grayson: QB (Colorado State) 3rd round. Grayson is the 'Quarterback of the Future', at least that's the plan. Grayson will probably sit for a season or two and be the understudy to Drew Brees all the while watching a hall of fame player operate on and off the field. He's super smart, and this pick could prove very wise. We just won't know the results for a couple of seasons.
P.J Williams: CB (Florida State) 3rd round. As I mentioned above, I like this pick a lot. He's a player that will compete in the nickel and dime packages on defense and plus it pushes last year's second round pick in Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Williams will have a chance to learn behind two really solid pro's in Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner.
Davis Tull: OLB (Tennessee - Chattanooga) 5th round. His testing numbers are off the charts, so why did he last so long? Small school competition? Probably that, and he's dealing with a labrum rehab, but the Saints saw enough on tape to draft him, and admitted they would have been willing to trade up to get him. Tull is the fastest linebacker in the entire class, and while he'll have to play standing up at the NFL this is a player that I think you look for significant snaps on special teams and on defensive sub packages. Tull could end up being a really nice find a couple of years down the round and could turn into a solid starter.
Tyeler Davison: Defensive Tackle (Fresno State) 5th round. This is a depth move, with a hope that he'll be able to contribute more significantly in 2016. He will be in the defensive line rotation this year and push John Jenkins for playing time. Jenkins had a drop off in production last season, and Davison could possibly slide out to defensive end and provide some depth to Akiem Hicks.
Damian Swann: CB (Georgia) 5th round. Swann was high on the board for the Saints, so much so they were willing to trade two sixth round picks for him. He might have the best last name of the class, and I expect him to also be in the mix at cornerback this fall. Swann will make this team, and will be a good contributor on special teams.
Marcus Murphy: RB (Missouri) 7th round. The Saints believe they've found their kick returner to compete with Jalen Saunders this year. Murphy is a fun running back to watch - he's not Sproles but he can be a solid answer for the Black and Gold. I think he'll beat out Saunders as the teams return man on kickoffs, and serve as the teams primary fourth running back and will eventually find a way on the field in a limited role on offense. When the Saints grabbed Murphy in the seventh round, I received a text from an NFL executive that said "If it wasn't for his size, he would have gone much earlier. Some teams are just scared to draft smaller players. Payton will know exactly how to use him. That is a really good pick."
Overall, I like the haul for the Saints, I'm curious to see which pick doesn't make the final roster. I mean there are 9 players here, and I don't think there is room for all nine. If all nine make the roster it shows you just how good the class is, and a lot of what they think of their 2014 class, which wasn't very good last year.
Rookie mini-camp will be May 15th-17th.
The organized team activities (OTAs) will be on
The Saints will then hold minicamp June 16th-18th.
The Saints own three selections on day two of the draft, and could go in a number of directions with the 44th pick (12th pick in round 2). Here are a few players to keep an eye on: wide receivers Jalen Strong (Arizona State) Devin Smith (Ohio State) and Sammie Coates.
Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan really likes Coates, "That's a well put together player, and he can absolutely run. I like him a lot and think he would be a good fit. He's raw, but his height, weight and speed is salty," confirmed Gajan. Coates is 6'1 and 212lbs, and had an impressive pro day. Smith and Strong will likely be off the board before the Saints pick in the second round.
If the Black & Gold decide to draft an interior defensive lineman, keep close tabs on DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson) Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma) and Eddie Goldman (FSU). "It's a pretty big need for the Saints to add a defensive tackle," said Gajan. "They need a big punching bag in the middle who can disrupt plays in the backfield," continued the former Saints scout.
With three selections today the Saints won't have to force a pick, if the player they like isn't there. "The Saints need defensive help in the front seven regardless if it's inside or outside," Gajan added. Hau'oli Kikaha OLB (Washington) is another possible target, if the Saints are looking for a pass rusher.
In the third round, New Orleans might consider the tight end out of Ohio State, Jeff Heuerman.
For the first time in the Sean Payton era, the Saints grabbed an offensive lineman in the first round…Stanford's Andrus Peat. This continues the off-season effort to rebuild the offensive line. "He's a plug and play player, and well-schooled technically…sound offensive lineman," said NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier. Sean Payton clearly wants to re-establish solid protection for Drew Brees and the running game.
The Saints promised "smart, tough, and high-character players" was what they wanted this off-season and with the draft pick of Peat, they're getting just that. New Orleans also loves pro pedigrees on their roster - Peat joins DE Cameron Jordan, RB Mark Ingram & S Vinnie Sunseri as players on the Saints roster with fathers who played in the NFL. Peat's father Todd played for the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals.
What did our resident pro, Hokie Gajan, think of the Black & Gold’s first choice? “I really thought if they were to take an offensive lineman, it would be an inside guy. However, I like the pick. They might be looking to move Zach Strief from tackle to guard," concluded WWL’s Saints radio color analyst.
Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan on Andrus Peat Tbob yeah he just loves it
The Saints also feel really good about the depth at pass rusher to pass on Alvin Dupree out of Kentucky. Look for the Saints to target that position with the 31st pick. I like Hao'li Kikaha out of Washington for New Orleans.
The Saints select Stanford OT Andrus Peat with the 13th pick in round 1 - hear what our pros have to say and then tell us what YOU think! Are you happy with the pick?
The Saints are executing a very clear mission this off-season. They want talent, but with that talent, the team also wants “toughness, intelligence and character,” said Director of Pro Scouting, Terry Fontenot. That will continue to be the emphases over the next three days, especially when considering selections of draft eligible players, who might have character concerns dating back to the pre-draft process.
Terry Fontenot’s role with the team is to measure the value of a possible trades involving veteran players. Fontenot said, “We have to pay attention to when one team selects a player at a certain position and know when they are top heavy at that position…to possibly go after that player.” (If there is interest). Fontenot has spent 13 seasons with the Saints; he’s entering his third season as the team’s pro scouting director.
After finishing near the bottom of the league in defense last year, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan says the draft brings the opportunity to improve. “Our direction as a defense…we’re not going to stay status quo.” The Saints are in the market for defensive help. While Ryan didn’t tip his hand, the Saints will likely give him a few more tools for his defensive toolbox.
Meanwhile,. Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt is fired up! “Today’s going to go down as a historical day with our draft. I truly feel that.” Vitt emphasized “toughness, character and smarts” this off-season and says that mantra will continue during the draft. He also feels this crop of rookie linebackers is solid and isn’t concerned about some of the players, who have off the field concerns. “Every case is an individual case. We’ve done our homework. There is no grey area for us two hours from the draft,” confirmed Vitt. Both inside and outside linebacker figure as chief needs for the Saints.
The Saints are looking for players with certain qualities, size, and talent with their nine selections today’s NFL draft. Assistant General Manager Jeff Ireland is entering his first draft with the Black & Gold, after taking over this off-season. His reaction to the prospect of NINE picks…“It makes it funner…that’s for sure. You want the challenge of making those picks.” Ireland continued to stress character and toughness in draft prospects. “It’s something we look at strongly. You want good people representing your organization. This is a unique year. I’ve never seen this many things the week of the draft. Character is something we take very seriously. We’re looking for players with Saints traits that specifically fit what we do,” echoed Ireland.
Despite working out a handful of quarterbacks during the pre-draft process, and numerous reports that the Saints are eyeing Baylor QB, Bryce Petty, with the 31st pick in round 1…Coach Sean Payton says while he's likes Petty, after conducting a private workout, "I don't see it happening" in the first round.
Last year the Saints reportedly had interest in taking Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who ended up going in the second round to the New England Patriots. The window might be closing for the Saints and Drew Brees, but it doesn't look as though they're too concerned about finding the future…at least in the present.
The Saints will enter Thursday’s NFL draft with several areas of need at linebacker, offensive line, wide receiver, and defensive line. “This is a team that needs upgrades in a lot of areas - and this year they’re in the position to do so,” said Jim Henderson, the Voice of the Saints. New Orleans has 9 selections overall, and Henderson says he hopes the team makes more moves to acquire more selections.
In line with the conventional thought that the Saints' primary need is with a pass rusher, “The edge rushing position is really interesting - with what happened to Shayne Ray and Randy Gregory, that’s a position to watch,” explained Henderson.
Speculation abounds about a scenario wherein the Saints might be interested in trading up for USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, but Henderson is not keen on the idea of moving up in round one. “This is a team that needs so much in so many places... because of trades, the Saints have picked a league-low 6 times in the first three rounds, and the chickens have come home to roost. The Saints need more picks, not fewer,” he said.
With five picks in the first three rounds, the Saints are armed with plenty of ammunition to recoup some of those lost picks: "I expect at least three of those first five selections to be on the defensive side of the ball - outside linebacker (pass rusher), receiver, defensive line, inside linebacker and offensive line should be a priority for the Saints early," he continued.
Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan also feels as though offensive line might be the safer pick for the Black and Gold as early as round one: “My number one is a guy that can rush the passer, but if they draft an offensive lineman, it wouldn’t bother me in the least” he said. Gajan pointed out the success of years past with a strong offensive line: “My preference would be someone that can get after the opposing quarterback, but if they draft an offensive lineman I would have no problem with that.”
Hokie's Mock Draft:
Alvin "Bud" Dupree
Hokie and Jim lead off our draft coverage tomorrow at 4pm right here on Saints radio.
We’ve talked at length about whether or not it’s time for the Saints to consider drafting the eventual successor to Drew Brees at quarterback. My feelings are simple - worry about the future in the future - but General Manager Mickey Loomis said the team won’t hesitate to draft a quarterback if it’s the right one over the course of the draft Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
We evaluate the quarterbacks, obviously if the opportunity presents itself at the right time, we’re not afraid to do that,” Loomis said in his pre-draft meeting with the media. The Saints say they like Ryan Griffin, the current third quarterback on the depth chart behind Luke McCown, as the primary back up to Drew Brees.
Several players have been linked to the Saints as possible targets. Bryce Petty (Baylor) Garret Grayson (Colorado State) Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Sean Mannion (Oregon State) all fit the mold as developmental guys that could land in New Orleans to learn under Drew Brees with the eventual hope of being a franchise quarterback.
I don’t see the priority for the Saints to draft a quarterback right now. If it’s the 5th round, maybe, but before that it’s a waste of a pick. Loomis says “I don’t see the end for Drew Brees on the short term horizon, at least I hope not. It does take time for these quarterbacks to develop and we’re conscious of that.”
Petty and Grayson were reportedly in New Orleans for private workouts during the pre-draft process. Some analysts feel that Grayson might end up being the best of the rest after Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Mannion told me the other day he’s had a few visits with the Saints during his Pro Day and at the Senior Bowl in Mobile back in January.
The way I see it, the Saints have much bigger needs to fill than a quarterback that likely won’t play for a few more years. The Saints want players that can help them win now. A developmental quarterback doesn’t give the Saints a chance to win now - don’t waste the pick!
The Saints have conducted private workouts with several college wide receivers leading up to Thursday’s NFL draft. According to a league source, one of those players is Central Arkansas WR Dezmin Lewis.
I’m told the Saints worked him out privately, in addition to running his Pro Day, and also included interviews at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine. Lewis ran a 4.5 40 yard dash at his pro day, and has the size the Saints love at 6’4 and 215 lbs.
NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier has him slotted as a third round pick: “He’s more fast than quick. He still needs some work as a route runner and using his body better downfield,” Detillier said in his M & D Draft report. “I really like his size, his sure hands, and he’s a great advantage in the red-zone and third down,” Detillier added. New Orleans could be looking to grab two wide receivers with nine selections on draft weekend.
The Saints have also hosted WR DeVonte Parker (Louisville) and Devin Smith (Ohio State) on pre-draft workouts. Both Parker, and Smith are expected to go in the first or second round. Another player the Saints have also expressed interest in is Phillip Dorsett (Miami) by attending his Pro Day in force, and meeting with him afterwards. The level of intention the Saints have in drafting one or two wide recievers is hard to gauge because of the vast range in projected rounds that each prospect is expected to be selected. The Saints are clearly in the market for wide outs after trading Kenny Stills to Miami, and Tight End Jimmy Graham to Seattle.
Currently the Saints have just one seasoned veteran in the receiving corps. Marques Colston is the elder statesmen of a very inexperienced but talented group of players. Brandin Cooks is returning for his second season after an injury shortened rookie year highlighted by a handful of explosive plays before the injury. Nick Toon arrived in New Orleans in 2012 as a fourth round pick and aside from late last season hasn’t played that much. Joe Morgan was re-signed this off-season after being released at the end of last year. Morgan has immense talent but has yet to put it all together on the field.
Two undrafted rookies from a season ago make up the final spots at wide receiver, in Brandon Coleman (Rutgers) and Seantavious Jones (Voldosta State). Jones was promoted to the active roster in the final four games of the 2014 season after spending most of the season on the practice squad. Coleman caught on to the practice squad after a solid preseason a year ago.
Keep in mind, visits and pre-draft workouts are not always a sure fire sign the team plans on selecting a player. Last year, the Saints had no contact with Brandin Cooks prior to trading up in the first round to grab him. Pre-draft workouts are more of a cross the T’s dot the I’s, background check. If the player has an injury the team is curious about, they’ll bring him in for a visit. If there is a character issue, that’s another reason to visit in depth.
Also, the Saints work guys out with the intention of gathering information to be used down the road, when that player might become a free agent or they would already have the information on him if the team was interested in trading for him. Furthermore, the draft is so unpredictable each team tries to ready themselves for any possible scenario. Buckle up! Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are going to be fun.
One more thing, yeah the Derby is Saturday and some big fight is happening in Vegas.
The Saints will have the flexibility to draft the best prospect on their board when they go on the clock with the 13th pick in round 1. Teams try to position themselves to do just that, but some teams force the pick based on need. In the case of the Saints they need several different positions, so the need isn’t as important as the rank of the player. Below is a list of five suitable options for the Saints at thirteen.
1) Alvin “Bud” Dupree (OLB) Kentucky: I don’t think he’ll be on the board when the Saints pick, but if he’s there, he’s the safest pick with the pass rushers, aside from Vic Beasley (Clemson). The other pass rushers come with some question marks in regard to their Injuries and character. I don’t see him getting out of the top 10 with Atlanta picking 8th. Yep, the Saints will likely face him twice a year.
2) Vic Beasley (OLB) Clemson: He’s the pick, if I’m the Saints and on the clock at No. 13. He’s going to give you some juice off the edge and can have an impact right away. If he’s there, the Saints shouldn’t hesitate. Beasley is another player that might not get out of the top 10 though.
3) Amari Cooper (WR) Alabama: Now this is a reach to have him available, but if he is, the Saints can pass on a outside linebacker. Cooper might be the best wide out in the class, and you know what you are going to get with a Nick Saban coached player. Think back to what Sean Payton said “We want smart, tough football players.” Cooper fits that description.
4) Danny Shelton (NT) Washington: He’s a space eater in the middle, something the Saints need. He might go off the board one pick earlier to Cleveland but I would be ok with this selection. He’s a great character guy with a mean streak that I like!
5) La’el Collins (OT/G) LSU: I think he can play tackle at the NFL level, but some analysts have him slated to slide inside at guard. If the wide recievers and pass rushers are off the board when the Saints pick, this would be the safest, and wouldn’t be a reach or a forced selection. However, how much will he help the defense? Not to mention he’ll have to beat out Tim Lelito at guard first. I expect the Saints to draft one or two offensive linemen this year.
When you size up the Saints draft, I think you can look for 3 of the first 5 selections to be on the defensive side of the football at the following postions: OLB (pass rusher), defensive tackle/defensive end, and inside linebacker. Of the two remaining in the first five selections, New Orleans will likely look to add a wide receiver, and offensive lineman.
The Saints returned to work and the off-season conditioning program on Monday, and Saints QB Drew Brees says the workout is important for the 2015 season. "I'm excited for the opportunity we have, the opportunity that these young guys have... everyone wants to talk about the guys that depart. Well, how about the guys that are now given that opportunity?" Brees said.
One of the young players Brees is referring to is WR Brandin Cooks. "We spent time together this offseason and I love eveyrthing about him. His make up; he's got all kinds of talent!" Brees and Cooks worked out together in San Diego during the spring. "We have a bunch of young hungry guys that see a great opportunity," Brees added.
Brees also weighed in on what most feel is a very favorable schedule that was released yesterday: "It doesn't matter who you're playing and when your playing, you gotta play your best. These are all really good teams that are playing for the same thing we're playing for."
The NFL draft starts next Thursday and Brees might not watch every pick peel off the board, but certainly will be keeping an eye on the Saints picks. "I think we're poised to make a big play in this draft, with the number of picks we have and the amount of talent that's out there," he said.
Brees was also asked today if any discussions have taken place on a possible contract extension with the team, and he said the same thing that he told me on Sports Talk a few weeks ago: "If there was, I wouldn't say anything about it, because those conversations are between me and our organization. That's the stance I will always take with that."