Reading the Tea Leaves (or Mock Drafts)
From Mel Kiper, Jr. to Don Banks to Peter King, I looked at the mock drafts of every reputable NFL writer and draft expert for three months. I debated with friends, family, and fellow B/R writers as to whom the Saints should pick.
At first it seemed as if the Saints had fallen in love with the raw athleticism of Vontae Davis. Davis is chiseled in granite. He has good speed but not Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie speed. The more I researched, though, the more I didn't like that he wasn't a sound technician.
In the NFL, everyone's fast so it takes someone who is smart and does all the little things in order to be successful. I just didn't see Vontae Davis as that guy.
After Davis, came Brian Cushing. Cushing was a productive linebacker at USC. He fits as an outside linebacker, a position the Saints are in need of upgrading. However, there were two problems with Cushing:
For one, he was surrounded by a lot of great defensive talent in college. It is hard to judge how much of his production is a by-product of his team having so much more talent than the opponents.
Secondly, he tested positive for steroids. At the combine, Cushing tied for the best bench press among linebackers. He was also among the best at his position in the vertical and broad jumps. We'll never know how much of that was natural strength and how much was the juice.
As we rolled into March, the name Chris "Beanie" Wells was stamped at the fourteenth pick on virtually every mock draft. I started to get nervous. I liked Wells as a pro prospect, but I didn't think he was a fit for the Saints.
You don't pay millions of dollars to guy you are going to hand the ball off to less than 15 times per game in an offense that revolves so much around the quarterback. Yes, the Saints need someone to step up, pound the rock, and continue drives, but they could get that late in the draft or in free agency.
Wells continued to be the pick right up until a week before the draft. Suddenly, Wells' Buckeye teammate, Malcom Jenkins, appeared to be the Saints' man. This was a guy who didn't necessarily have the best combine workout, but he had a ton of production at Ohio State.
This seemed like the best move. Not only can Jenkins' smarts and aggressiveness easily fit into Gregg Williams' system, but he can play both cornerback and safety.
The injury situation from 2008 showed the Saints that they need to put a premium on versatile players.
On the first day of the draft, my brother-in-law and I arrived at the Saints draft party, which was hosted by WWL 870 AM radio, about an hour before the Saints made their first selection. The outdoor grounds were swarming with hundreds of fans proudly decked out in black and gold or in the New Orleans Hornets' gear they had worn to the NBA playoff game.
We sat under a tent and watched the tv as the picks were announced. At about 4:35, much sooner than expected, the Saints were on the clock.
Shouts of "defense" filled the tent. It seemed that many Saints fans felt the same way I did.
With the Fourteenth Pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select...
Malcolm Jenkins. Cornerback. Ohio State University.
The crowd huddled under the tent on Airline Drive erupted with joy. The Saints had picked the best defensive back in the entire draft and addressed a glaring need in the process.
Soon afterwards, many fans left. The Saints would not pick again until Day Two of the draft. It seemed as if they had experienced just as much relief as they did joy. Right after the pick, I simply texted a couple of friends, "whew!" It completely summed up the relief I felt,
More Defense and... a Punter?!
As I awoke on Sunday, I was still excited about Malcolm Jenkins, but now I turned my attention to the Saints' day two picks. I felt they still had defensive holes to fill and could always use another offensive lineman.
I was happy with the two fourth round selections. Chip Vaughn seems to be a good athlete who can give the Saints depth in the secondary and contribute immediately on special teams. He could be in line to be Darren Sharper's replacement in a year or two.
Stanley Arnoux appears to be another player whose is versatile. While he started 42 games for Wake Forest at middle linebacker, the Saints are projecting him as a weak-side linebacker. He is going to have to get stronger, though. His performance on the bench press was worse than even many of the smaller safeties and cornerbacks at the combine.
I think that the Saints got two eventual starters with their fourth round picks.
Then, I read about the Saints selecting a punter. Not only did they pick a punter, but they traded into the fifth round to get a punter. I was disgusted at first.
As I thought about it, the selection made some sense. Glenn Pakulak, the current punter, had a fantastic average of 47.7 yards per punt. However, he only pinned one out of every eight punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Thomas Morstead, the punter the Saints picked in the draft, is another versatile player. He was the punter and place kicker for SMU for three seasons.
Half of his punts in 2008 were not returned, and just over a third were downed inside the 20-yard line.
The number one offense in the league punted 53 times last season. Only nine were pinned inside the 20. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a defense, especially a shaky one, is to give it a long field with which to work.
I do not pretend to be a draft expert. I'm sure that Mel Kiper, Jr. is already working on his 2010 big board. I'll leave the instant draft grading to guys like him.
I do think, though, that the Saints walked away with a good draft. They addressed the defensive side of the ball and picked up some versatile players. Jenkins could be a star in this league. Vaughn and Arnoux come from a well-coached Wake Forest defense that is always highly ranked.
If the Saints did indeed select three eventual starters, as I think they did, this will go down as a very successful draft.
The Saints seem to have added enough quality defenders this past weekend to turn the unit into a respectable one. Only time will tell if they made the right moves to send them to the playoffs.