Now that the New Orleans Saints have officially brought in five rookies via the draft, it is appropriate to project how each new Saint will fair in 2013.
Coming into the draft, the Saints were hoping to acquire two starters—one with their first-round pick and one with their third-round pick. It is too early to say for sure if either selection in those rounds will start from Day 1.
It seems unlikely that any of the Saints' draft picks will start in Week 1 at home against the Atlanta Falcons. Still, four of the five selections are likely to see the field for the team at some point in 2013.
Here's how the five project in terms of production and statistics in their rookie campaigns.
Looking at the Cowboys' defensive snap counts from 2012 under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan helps give an indication as to how similar players might be used for New Orleans in 2013.
Snap counts indicate that the Cowboys played primarily base defense (four defensive backs) and nickel packages (five defensive backs). The question then becomes whether Kenny Vaccaro fits into the nickel defense.
Corey White excelled as a nickel corner in 2012 until he was injured late in the season. Still, Vaccaro is too good and too solid not to see the field in such situations immediately. Ryan will likely look to play more dime packages (six defensive backs) in 2013 to take advantage of his secondary talent.
Let's assume Vaccaro plays roughly 40 percent of all defensive snaps for New Orleans in 2013. He'll probably see 100 running plays against him. He'll make roughly 10 tackles on those plays.
He'll probably then see some 400 passing plays. Let's estimate he makes 25 tackles on those plays with two pass breakups, one interception and three knockouts.
Most importantly, Vaccaro will vastly improve the Saints defense up the seams, which has been seriously lacking in recent seasons. His ability to blanket slot receivers and tight ends will make life much more difficult on Matt Ryan, the man who most often burns the Saints with throws up the seams.
It is really unknown if Terron Armstead will start at either tackle spot in 2013. Common sentiment has it that he is the best athlete and most talented tackle on the Saints roster. He's also by far the most green.
With Charles Browns' injury struggles throughout his Saints' tenure, and Jason Smith's struggles to this point in his career, it is wholly possible that Armstead starts the season as a backup but sees action by the middle of the season.
Assuming Armstead starts anywhere near half the Saints' regular-season contests, a reasonable production line would look something like this: two sacks allowed, two holding penalties, five pancakes and a tremendous boost to the Saints' production in the screen game (perhaps an increase of 2.0 yards per screen attempted).
John Jenkins was a surprise selection at pick No. 82. When the Saints moved up to gain a second third-round pick, it seemed they would take a pass-rusher.
Instead they took a mammoth-sized defensive lineman who doesn't really have a true position, and that fact is actually a compliment.
Looking at the way the Dallas Cowboys, under Rob Ryan, used their defensive linemen a season ago, gives us some idea of what we can expect in terms of playing time for the rookie.
Interestingly, only Jason Hatcher played more than 38 percent of the defensive snaps along the defensive line (he played 74 percent of them). New Saint, Kenyon Coleman, played the third fewest with just 16 percent.
Most of the defensive linemen who actually played saw action on approximately 30 percent of the defensive snaps. In other words, Ryan will liberally rotate his linemen. Thus, expect to see Jenkins approximately 25-30 percent of the time, which comes out to about 300 snaps for the season, or 18 per game.
That fits in nicely with my initial thoughts, that Jenkins would play 15-20 per game in his rookie campaign. He will be a rotational defensive lineman, even in his rookie season.
His production will be based upon whether he is helping clog running lanes. He has the size and overall body mass to do so successfully, but the film shows a player likely to fall flat on his face quite often.
Still, let's land at this: Jenkins will have zero sacks, two tackles for loss and will help improve the league's worst rushing defense in 2012. After all, there's nowhere to go but up for the unit.
Last season the Saints primarily used four receivers for the entire season. Marques Colston (832), Devery Henderson (702), Lance Moore (608) and Joe Morgan (382) combined for all but 103 of the snaps taken at any of the wide receiver positions.
Henderson will not be around in 2013. In his place steps Stills. Expect Moore and Morgan to add to their snap counts in 2013. Stills will likely settle in around 400 for the season.
Of course it is an inexact science to try to determine exactly whom Stills replaces. His role in the offense will be unique from any player that has donned black and gold under Sean Payton. He will likely move in between the slot and out wide.
It's not unrealistic to think he'll see a similar percentage of targets as Lance Moore in 2012. Moore had 104 targets in 608 snaps (17.1 percent). If Stills does indeed gain 400 snaps, he would then see 68 targets.
Stills has great hands and an unreal catch radius for a player his size (much like Moore). Let's say he catches 45 passes. Half of those will be on throws of 10-plus yards. The other half will be on throws made within 10 yards.
Stills is lethal in the open field, so let's assume he averages 7.0 yards per catch on those catches (154 yards). On his receptions of 10-plus yards, he'll average 14.0 yards per catch (230 yards).
His total receiving yards will come in somewhere around 384 yards. His actual yards per catch will be 8.5. We'll say he scores two touchdowns.
For a rookie receiver working in such a dynamic offense, Stills would have to be considered a first-year success with such numbers.
Best guess here is that Rufus Johnson does not see the field in 2013. While the Tarleton State product is quite talented, he is also quite raw. His experience against upper-echelon talent is missing altogether.
A "redshirt" season is in store. That would be good for both him and the Saints.
All statistical analysis is courtesy of Football Outsiders (footballoutsiders.com) and the Washington Post (stats.washingtonpost.com/fb).