Saints Draft: Making Sense of Robert Meachem

Mike EaganSenior Analyst IApril 30, 2007

IconOn the eve of the 2006 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints were a vagrant 3-13 team with more roster holes than could seemingly be filled in two drafts.

The 2006 season saw a 180-degree turnaround in the team's fortunes, with the franchise completing the most successful campaign in its history and earning its lowest first round selection ever—number 27 overall.

Still, the Saints' philosophy approaching the 2007 Draft was identical to last year's: draft the best player available regardless of need...even if it leaves fans scratching their heads after the fact.
Before the draft, the Saints locked up most of their key free agents, including OT Jonathan Stinchcomb, DT Hollis Thomas, and DE Charles Grant (first tagged as a franchise player, then signed to a hefty long-term deal). 
The Saints then turned to outside free agents to fill a number of holes, particularly on defense. They added two ex-Bengals in safety Kevin Kaesviharn and linebacker Anthony Simmons, and on Friday they officially pilfered restricted free agent cornerback Jason David from Indianapolis, surrendering a fourth-round pick in the process. 
David's signing was especially critical, as the Saints' biggest weakness (cornerback Fred Thomas) became brutally apparent in playoff games against Philadelphia and Chicago.  The acquisitions of playmaking tight end Eric Johnson and kicker Olindo Mare addressed two additional (and less pressing) areas of need.
The Saints thus entered Saturday's first round without any dire positional holes hanging over their heads. Still, defensive depth figured to be an area of focus; the Saints defense overachieved much of last season, but still ranked in the bottom third of the league in rushing yards allowed, and had a disturbing propensity to give up big plays.
That given, it was a mini-surprise when the Saints picked Tennessee wide receiver Robert Meachem with their first pick—but Meachem had two factors working in his favor. 
First, he was the best player still available on the Saints' board. Many experts had the 6'3' receiver rated as the third- or fourth-best prospect at his position, and three receivers were already gone.

Second, Meachem's selection eases concerns about depth at wide receiver in New Orleans after the departure of former Pro Bowler Joe Horn.  Marques Colston—the seventh-round steal of last year's draft is a given, and Devery Henderson is a dangerous, if inconsistent, deep threat.  But behind them, the Saints are thin at wideout. With Horn gone, the Saints needed another receiving threat to attract coverage—and they got their man in Meachem. 
Now, the Saints have one of the most talented young receiving corps in the NFL, and it didn't take four top-ten picks to get it. Eat your heart out, Matt Millen.
The Saints then traded down eight spots to the 66th spot overall in the third round, picking up a fifth-rounder from Detroit the process.  Here they delivered their first eye-opener of the weekend by taking cornerback Usama Young from Kent State. 
Young wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but apparently impressed Saints scouts at both his pro day and a subsequent private workout.  He certainly seems to have the physical skills, reportedly running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and posting a 43" vertical leap. 
The Saints deserve good marks here for targeting someone they liked, then trading down to get him later and acquiring an extra pick in the process. On the whole, though, Young is a wait-and-see prospect.
With their own third round pick (No. 88 overall), the Saints stayed in the Mid-American Conference by taking guard Andy Alleman from Akron.  The 6'4", 305-pound Alleman certainly looks the part, but in reality has only played offensive line for two seasons after transferring from Pitt, where he was a defensive end. 
He may be a project, but at least Alleman is enthusiastic. His quote during a conference call: "I'm ready to go guys. Let's go. Whoo! Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush. Let's go!"
Speaking of McAllister and Bush, the Saints raised some eyebrows by trading up to select yet another running back, Ohio State standout Antonio Pittman (4th Round, No. 107).  The 5'11', 207-pounder should push Aaron Stecker for the third spot on the depth chart, and could perhaps contribute on special teams this year. 
In the long-term, though, on a team with two of the best backs in the league—it's hard to see where Pittman fits into the Saints' plans.
Things didn't get much clearer from there.  Continuing a tradition started in last year's draft, the Saints mined the depths of Divisions I-AA and II with offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod from Towson (4th Rd., No. 125) and cornerback David Jones from Wingate (5th Rd., No. 145). 
These two will follow in the footsteps of 2006 selections Jahri Evans (Bloomsburg College) and Colston (Hofstra) as small-school unknowns trying to make names for themselves in Saints training camp.  Other than the fact that Bushrod and Jones appear to have indeed played collegiate football at their respective listed positions, I've got nothing for you.
The Saints closed up on Sunday by selecting linebacker Marvin Mitchell from Tennessee in the seventh round (No. 220 overall).  Linebacker is a position of need, but Mitchell's reported 40-yard dash time of 4.87 might cap his ceiling to the scout team or special teams at best.
Overall, I'd have to rank the Saints' 2007 draft at somewhere between "Meh" and "Whaa?"  The additions of Meachem and Pittman give Sean Payton and Drew Brees more shiny toys to play with on offense, and the small college guys at least give fans some underdogs to root for in training camp. Still, the Saints' picks provided little relief at positions in need of better depth—including defensive tackle, linebacker, and quarterback. 

Of course, that's not at all what Saints management set out to accomplish.  And as Payton and Co. proved in Year One, you can expect those weak areas to be improved right up until the end of training camp.