2005 was a disastrous year for New Orleans in football and in life. The Saints' 3-13 nomadic season was insignificant in comparison to the devastating effects of hurricane season on the city and surrounding areas.
In 2006, the city and the team needed a lift, and, as it turned out, they were there to support each other.
The Saints' 3-0 start to the 2006 season was highlighted by a Monday night win over the Atlanta Falcons. This was not just any win. It was a homecoming for the Saints who had been away from the Superdome for over a year and a half.
The nationally televised victory was the most spine-tingling, hair-raising game I have ever watched.
The Saints used the emotion of the city to catapult themselves to a division title and their first ever NFC Championship Game appearance.
This magical season, however, would not have been possible if it wasn't for an event that happened five months before the season even began: The 2006 NFL Draft.
Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton's first draft together with the Saints will always be known as the Reggie Bush draft, but it was much more than that.
Here's a look back at the Saints' 2006 draft class:
|6.||171||Mike Hass||WR||Oregon State|
Reggie Bush is the Saints most electrifying player. No one on the roster has the potential to take any hand-off, pass, or return back for a touchdown like Bush.
He has scored four touchdowns in one game. He has returned two punts to the house in front of a national audience.
Bush is also the Saints most polarizing player. He has been the object of frustration for fans as the team has sunk to consecutive non-playoff seasons.
Fans and media alike have criticized Bush, fairly or not, for his hesitation in the backfield and for the rash of injuries he has incurred in each of the past two seasons.
There is uncertainty this offseason as to the exact role Bush will play in 2009.
As the Saints waited to make to make their second selection in the draft, Loomis and Payton kept their eyes on linebacker DeMeco Ryans and for good reason. Ryans has already become a pro-bowler in just three NFL seasons.
The Saints, who needed help in the secondary, drafted safety Roman Harper. Harper fell hard to injuries in 2006, but since has been a classic in-the-box safety.
Harper plays well against the run and has been one of the Saints' leaders in tackles in each of the past two seasons.
Harper, however, has been a liability in coverage. He has been caught peeking into the backfield and has been beaten deep in coverage on numerous occasions.
Harper was the only starting safety the Saints kept this offseason. After parting ways with Josh Bullocks and Kevin Kaesviharn, the team has brought in Darren Sharper and Pierson Prioleau to compete for playing time at safety.
Jahri Evans has been the most reliable and perhaps the best Saints offensive linemen over the past three seasons. He has started all 48 games of his career. Evans has been part of a line that has allowed the fewest sacks over the past two seasons.
Evans is a restricted free agent. The Saints have offered him the highest possible tender to remain with the team.
After two successful seasons at Purdue, Rob Ninkovich was drafted by the Saints supply the team with a pass-rushing specialist to harass opposing quarterbacks.
Unfortunately for the Saints and Ninkovich, injuries have derailed his career before it could really get started.
After one season with the Saints and appearing in just four games, he was released and picked up by the Dolphins.
He has subsequently been re-signed to the Saints' roster after they suffered their own rash of injuries across the defensive line in 2008.
Mike Hass was college football's 2005 Biletnikoff winner. Due to the emergence of another 2006 draftee and the Saints' depth at wide receiver, Hass did not make the Saints' final roster as a rookie.
Josh Lay also did not make the Saints' 53-man roster as a rookie. In 2007, he was invited to the Rams' training camp but was cut before the season began. Lay has never appeared in an NFL game.
Zach Strief was a great late-round find for the Saints. He has been one of the Saints' top reserve offensive lineman and has started one game in each of his three seasons.
He is a restricted free agent and the Saints have offered Strief a mid-level tender to remain with the team.
Marques Colston is perhaps the biggest steal of the entire draft. He burst onto the scene with over 1,000 yards as a rookie. He followed that up with an even better performance in his second year.
A thumb injury slowed down Colston in 2008 but is still considered the Saints' best receiver.
Best Pick: This is a toss-up between Evans and Colston, but I am going with Evan here. While Colston has been Drew Brees' most reliable target, Evans helps give Brees time to throw. Evans hasn't missed a game in his career.
Worst Pick: Josh Lay. The Saints haven't exactly had a pro-bowl caliber secondary and Lay couldn't even make the team. Antoine Bethea, who is a pro-bowler, was selected 33 picks later.
Recap: While this wasn't the 1981 draft that gave us George Rogers, Rickey Jackson, Frank Warren, Hoby Brenner, and Saints radio color man, Hokie Gajan, 2006 was a good draft for the Saints.
The Saints drafted a star in Bush and pro-bowl caliber starters in Evans and Colston. This class was instrumental in leading the Saints to the NFC title game. They are now being heavily relied upon to lead the Saints back to the title game and beyond.