With the 202nd pick in the sixth round, the New Orleans Saints took offensive tackle Tavon Rooks from Kansas State. Rooks was an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 performer in 2013 after starting 10 games.
He came from Navarro Community College in Missouri, where he was ranked as the 23rd-best community college prospect. The 300-pound prospect projects exclusively as a right tackle, which is actually perfect since the Saints may have a vacancy at that spot in three years when Zach Strief retires.
Make no mistake, Rooks is strictly a developmental prospect—a player who obviously shows some flashes of potential that garnered the interest of the Saints enough they felt they must draft him, instead of take a chance he hit the meat market that is the undrafted free-agency period.
The Saints like his athleticism at 300 pounds.
Payton on what #Saints like about Rooks: His athleticism. Very athletic, he can move his feet. Growth potential with regards to weight room.— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) May 10, 2014
Though Rooks was close to the 1,000th-best prospect, according to NFLDraftScout.com—and 69 out of 70 offensive tackles in this class—there is value in taking Rooks in the draft instead of waiting to sign him as a free agent. The obvious is that in doing so the Saints guarantee they possess his rights.
More importantly, they can sign him to a longer deal—one which keeps him in New Orleans, under the team's developmental tutelage until the aforementioned Strief heads for the greener pastures of not getting his body slammed at insane rates of force.
At first, second and possibly even third glance, it seems the Saints missed the boat on this one. There were still centers on the board with “draftable grades.” Though, as I predicted prior to the draft—and again in the Day 3 primer—Jonathan Goodwin is likely the answer to that dilemma for the Saints.
Sean Payton may have something to say about that. Or maybe not.
#Saints Payton declined to say whether there's a chance they'll sign veteran C Jonathan Goodwin.— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) May 10, 2014
The question remains, why did the Saints take a player not even on most “experts’” draft boards when there remains a blatantly obvious need at center? Do they really believe that much in Tim Lelito?
Is Payton playing coy about the Goodwin thing (most likely, yes)?
Or are they that confident they can find good competition at the spot in the college free-agency period, which will open momentarily?
One thing we know for sure: Rooks was not drafted to play center. Payton quickly assured the media he is a tackle.
One thing that could be questioned, and was, about the Saints’ draft, even of Rooks, is why no small-school players this year? Here was Payton’s response:
Asked why he only picked players from known schools, #saints coach Sean Payton said to research Tavon Rooks' JUCO history.— Ramon Antonio Vargas (@RVargasAdvocate) May 10, 2014
Truth be told, Stanley Jean-Baptiste was a transfer into Nebraska, Khairi Fortt moved from Penn State to Cal and now Rooks—the JUCO transfer.
While they did not go their traditional small-school route, they did a wonderful job of finding players no one was aware existed, who have histories of transience.
Remember last year at this time. I was sitting in the same apartment, writing these articles. I almost spit out my water when I saw the Saints select Rufus Johnson from Tarleton State.
With the exception of the two fifth-round picks, that was the experience of Day 3 once again in New Orleans.
It should also be noted that the Saints have had almost zero success in the sixth round since Payton took over as head coach in 2006. The slot has produced 3-of-4 made field-goal attempts from Taylor Mehlhaff, and that is it.
Do not expect Rooks to be the exception to that rule. But at least the Saints made it interesting.
Now they get to do what they actually are good at doing—signing college free agents.