The results of the New Orleans Saints' 2011 draft hold enough promise that the current class has the potential to rival the 2006 crop, widely considered the best in Saints' history.
In 2006, the Saints kicked off the draft with the much-ballyhooed selection of Reggie Bush at No. 2 overall, and then went on to add Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, Zach Streif and Marques Colston. The 2006 draft supplied a vital core of players who ranged from the underrated and versatile (Streif) to the elite (Evans, Colston). Each player fulfilled a key role during the past five years for the NFC's winningest team over that span.
In 2011, the Saints added several promising players to bolster the team's foundation and fill vital needs on the roster. Let's take a look at five of the six draftees and see what their roles might be and how soon they might contribute.
Nate Bussey, OLB Illinois
Seventh round, 243rd player selected overall
6'1", 228 lbs
The second of two LBs selected from Illinois by the Saints, Bussey projects as a special teams contributor in 2011, assuming he makes the Saints' roster.
While he lacks ideal size, his speed, quickness and work ethic provide key attributes for his role as a special teams player. Impressing the Saints with his demeanor and character, Bussey already appears to be a favorite of Gregg Williams.
Gregg Williams on Bussey: "Fans will be pleased how tough he is, how versatile he is. He can play in space, and wait til you see him on special teams. He can flat get it done." (nola.com)
Sean Payton on Bussey: "He's a guy that has versatility. We think he can be guy that will contribute right away in the kicking game." (nola.com)
Johnny Patrick, CB Lousiville
Third round, 88th player selected overall
5'11", 191 lbs
Patrick should immediately see the field in 2011 on special teams, playing a key role on the coverage units as a gunner. The Saints' coverage unit was an area of inconsistency in 2010 and Patrick should help raise the level of the special teams quickly, an area where he excelled in college.
He will also compete for the nickel back spot, fortifying a defensive backfield replete with talent. Patrick's key attributes are his ball skills (he's a converted WR) and quickness.
Mike Mayock on Patrick: "He's very quick. He has good feet; he's a natural change-of-direction guy." (philly.com)
Sean Payton on Patrick: "We do think he has versatility. He's someone that can certainly provide depth right away on the kicking game." (nola.com)
Martez Wilson, OLB Illinois
Third round, 72nd player selected overall
6'4", 250 lbs
Wilson is athletically elite due to his size and his speed. He ran a 4.49 at the NFL combine this year, the fastest among linebackers. In 2010 at Illinois, Wilson was a tackling machine, amassing 112 tackles, four sacks, and three forced fumbles.
His draft stock dipped due to a neck injury in 2009, but his measurables and potential make him the real steal of the Saints' draft class, especially considering the Saints' need to upgrade the LB position.
While Wilson may initially struggle to learn the complexity of Gregg Williams' system, he will be guided along in the nuances of the schemes by the highly intelligent and experienced Jonathan Vilma, which should help speed Wilson's development.
Wilson also provides a pass-rushing presence off the edge that the Saints have lacked for several years.
Mike Mayock on Wilson: "He's big, strong, fast; some teams are looking at him as a potential outside rush linebacker because he's so long." (philly.com)
Ron Zook on Wilson: "He might be more of a pure athlete than anyone I coached with the Saints. He really has a chance to be a special player." (nola.com)
Mark Ingram, RB Alabama
First round, 28th player selected overall
5'9", 215 lbs
Maybe the most complete, polished RB to come into the NFL since Adrian Peterson, Ingram possesses the increasingly rare every-down-back capability.
With NFL bloodlines—his father, Mark Sr., was a WR for many years—Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009, maintains elite vision, great balance and burst, patience, good pass-catching skills, excellent pass-protection abilities and consistent ball security (Ingram fumbled only twice in his college career).
Ingram's role in the Saints' offense will likely evolve in stages, and I foresee his impact in 2011 to follow a similar path to Jimmy Graham's in 2010. Regardless, Ingram will provide an immediate boost to a lethargic running attack. His ultimate ceiling is that of an elite NFL RB.
Sean Payton on Ingram: "One trait that is impressive is his ability to block pressure and pick up. He is a physical back, he can catch the ball, but he is good in his protections." (nola.com)
Nick Saban on Ingram: "New Orleans is the perfect situation for him; he was the best RB in the draft. Mark is a very versatile player and this is a great fit for him." (capstonereport.com)
Cam Jordan, DE Cal
First round, 24th player selected overall
6'4", 287 lbs
Jordan provides a much-needed infusion of talent to a Saints' defensive line that struggled last year with pressuring the QB and stopping the run. Jordan will help in both areas and more immediately vs. the run, where he projects as an elite run-stopper.
His high IQ and versatility will allow him to play multiple positions in Gregg Williams' varied schemes. For this reason, he was a highly prized pick for the Saints who, admittedly, were surprised that Jordan was available to them at 24.
With the impending four-game suspension of Will Smith (StarCaps), Jordan should immediately see plenty of playing time. Also, boasting his own NFL bloodlines—his father, Steve, was a Pro Bowl TE for several years—Jordan should make a smooth transition as an every-down DE in the mold of the Saints very own Will Smith.
Mike Mayock on Jordan: "Jordan might be the best five-technique in this draft. He gives [you] scheme versatility because you can play him inside, and he can stand up." (nfl.com)
Gregg Williams on Jordan: "He won't be pigeonholed into one area. He gives you the ability to play hard against the run, but we can also move him inside on passing downs." (nola.com)