New Orleans Saints: 10 Best Draft Picks of Sean Payton Era

Zayne Grantham@ZPGSportsContributor IIINovember 18, 2011

New Orleans Saints: 10 Best Draft Picks of Sean Payton Era

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    The New Orleans Saints are in the middle of their bye week. This is often times a down week for fans because they normally have no news to look into, especially Saints fan.

    The Saints do not have many injuries to check on and, of course, no drama surrounding the team.

    So what better time than now to look back on some of the things that have happened since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006.

    Ever since Payton (and Brees) came to New Orleans, the atmosphere has been completely different. The offense always scores points and puts up stats. The defense normally seems to be one step behind, and the special teams, until this year, has been almost unbearable. However, Payton has won a Super Bowl, been to two NFC Championships and made three playoff appearances in five years.

    One of the most important factors in Payton's success, or any coach's success for that matter, is the NFL draft. Granted, Payton gets a ton of help from Mickey Loomis, but the Saints' drafts have been darn near perfect since Payton came on board.

    Let's take a look at the top 10 players drafted by Sean Payton.
    (Side Note: I did not include the 2011 draft on this list) 

Honorable Mentions

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    Before we get started with the list, let's look at some honorable mentions. 

    Jermon Bushrod
    2007 | 4th Round | Towson

    Bushrod has been a good starter for the Saints since he took over for Jammal Brown at the start of the 2009 season. He played well enough in '09 for the Saints to trade away the former Pro Bowler and designate Bushrod the starter. Since, Bushrod has played well enough to keep his job. At times, he is a liability and struggles, but just as often Bushrod will shut down the opposing teams lead rusher. 

    Zack Strief
    2006 | 7th Round | Northwestern

    Strief has a very similar story to Bushrod. He was the longtime backup at right tackle to Jon Stinchcomb but got his chance at the start of this year. For a while Saints fan knew Strief as "No. 64 is eligible." He did a great job as an extra lineman and was a reliable backup. As a starter Streif has been a little up and down. He started off this year well, but lost the job to Charles Brown after suffering an injury in Week 3. Strief has since reclaimed his starting role and has played well.

    Patrick Robinson
    2010 | 1st Round | Florida State

    I include Robinson on the honorable mentions portion of this list mainly because he has not had quite enough time to develop yet. At times, Robinson looks like one of the best young corners in the league, but he has also been picked on by elite quarterbacks. I have no doubt that Robinson will grow into a great corner, but he needs another year or two to become that guy. Overall, he has been good for the Saints and had taken over the starting spot this year before injury.

    Thomas Morstead
    2009 | 5th Round | SMU

    Many Saints fans, myself included, were horrified when the Saints drafted a punter in the fifth round of the '09 draft, but we were all wrong. This guy is nearly perfect on kickoffs, leading the NFL in touchbacks with 42 so far this year. The closest guy to him is Mason Crosby with 33. Morstead is also currently fourth in the NFL with a 42.5 net yard average on punts. Then who could forget his onside kick that helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV. Punters are often overlooked, but Sean Payton would be the first to admit that Morstead plays a huge role with the Saints. 

10. Sedrick Ellis

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    2008 | 1st Round | USC

    We can sum up Sedrick Ellis' play by saying that he is great whenever he plays, but he has been injured often in his NFL career. Last year was Ellis' first year to play all 16 games and it showed in his stats. He racked up 44 tackles, six sacks and two forced fumbles.

    If Ellis can stay healthy and play to the level that he did last year, then the Saints will have a good defensive tackle for years to come.

    I have Ellis at the 10 spot because he was a top 10 draft pick and has not been as dominate as everyone expected, but still productive and definitely a major part of the Saints' defense.  

9. Robert Meachem

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    2007 | 1st Round | Tennessee

    Robert Meachem is another former first-round pick that hasn't been quite as dominate as the Saints might have hoped. However, he has been an important part of the Saints' offense since he came into the league in 2007.

    In his career, Meachem has a little over 2,000 receiving yards, 21 touchdowns and averages 15.4 yards a catch. Meachem has always been a deep threat and has made great catch after great catch in the end zone. 

    He played his best football in the 2009 season and it seemed like Meachem was good for one great touchdown catch every game that year. It seems like he is back to the 2009 form so far this season. He may not end up with as many catches or yards, but he does have four touchdowns so far.

    The touchdown catch he had last week against Atlanta reminded me of what he did so much in 2009. Hopefully we will see much more of that in the coming weeks and years.

8. Reggie Bush

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    2006 | 1st Round | USC

    Reggie Bush. What all can I say about Reggie Bush?

    As a Saints fan you probably either hate Reggie or you love Reggie. I am one of the ones that loved Reggie. Sure, I couldn't stand whenever he would run 20 yards east to west and gain two yards or fumble in a crucial moment. 

    However, I loved the fact that Reggie could take the football to the end zone every time he touched it. He is a freak of an athlete.

    Watching the 2006 season I knew that Reggie was not going to rush for 2,000-plus yards like everyone said he would coming out of college. Many people point out that he only ran for a little over 500 his rookie year, but he also caught for around 750 yards, which means he gave the Saints over 1,200 yards that year. I don't know many teams that would complain about a running back who gets them 1,200 yards.

    I don't know many people that would say Reggie's rookie year was much of a disappointment. I think it is the years that follow that get people upset. He was injury prone and missed a lot of games, but when he was on the field he was contributing. 

    He was a huge part in the 2009 Super Bowl victory, especially in the playoffs. He may not have always had the stats to show for it, but he was an imperative part of the Saints' offense.

    I have Reggie as the eighth best player drafted by Sean Payton because he did not meet expectations as a running back, but still performed greatly at times. 

7. Malcolm Jenkins

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    2009 | 1st Round | Ohio State

    I strongly believe that Malcolm Jenkins is on his way to becoming a top five safety in the NFL. He just isn't quite there yet. I really wanted to put Jenkins higher because I have been a fan of his as soon as I saw him play in the Black and Gold. 

    What I love about Jenkins' play is that he is aggressive, but knows how to play safe as well. I never really see Jenkins get beat deep, but it also seems like he is always around the ball. He is fast enough to make up for his mistakes and athletic enough to make play after play.

    Any true Saints fan knows that Jenkins was drafted as a cornerback, but many said he could be an NFL safety. I believe that Jenkins could have been a good corner, but I think he will be an even better free safety.

    I have him at seventh mainly because of the talent that is ahead of him. The fact one of the best young safeties in the game is only seventh on this list should show how great Payton and his staff are when it comes to draft day.

6. Tracy Porter

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    2008 | 2nd Round | Indiana

    It could be argued that Tracy Porter could be a little lower, or higher, up on this list.

    If you do not believe that Porter should be this high on the list then please refer to the video, as well as the end of the NFC Championship game in 2009. Porter played an enormous role in the Saints winning a Super Bowl.

    Porter has been slightly injury prone thus far in his career, especially early on and this season, but he is a great corner whenever he does play. The fact that he has missed some time because of injuries makes me believe that he should be around this spot on the list. 

    At the beginning of the season, Porter lost his starting job to Patrick Robinson, but has recently gained it back and played well. I know that Porter can be one of the best corners in football at times and I believe that he is going to continue to grow into an excellent cornerback. 

    As the narrator in the video says, the Who Dat Nation will never forget Porter's interception in Super Bowl XLIV. 

5. Jimmy Graham

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    2010 | 3rd Round | Miami (FL)

    This guy has talent. The Saints' coaches have even said that he has Hall of Fame-type potential, and so far Jimmy Graham has not disappointed. 

    Graham is currently fifth in the NFL in receiving with 873 yards and nine touchdowns. Graham is also one of the most passionate players on the Saints' roster, and that's one of my favorite things about him. The emotion and fire that he brings to the team ignites the other players.

    I think it is easy to say that Graham was an absolute steal in the third round of the 2010 draft. If scouts would have known that he was going to be this productive through only one-and-a-half years of playing, Graham would have went in the top 10 in 2010.

    I have Graham at fifth because he still makes mistakes, which is expected from a young player. Graham occasionally runs incorrect routes and has dropped a couple of catchable passes this year.

    However, Graham is on his way to being one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. I, as many other Saints fans, cannot wait to see how much better Graham can get.   

4. Roman Harper

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    2006 | 2nd Round | Alabama

    Roman Harper seems like the kind of guy that fans either love or hate. There is not much room for indifference with Harper.

    There have been times where I brag about him, but other times when I'm wanting to throw my remote at the TV because of his play. 

    However, Harper is a force for the Saints' defense. Every Saints fan knows that Harper is at his best when allowed to rush the passer or play run defense. Harper can be exposed in pass coverage, but he has done a great job against elite tight ends in the past. Granted, he has also done horrible against average tight ends as well, but Harper was not picked to be a shut down safety in coverage.

    We drafted Harper out of Alabama in the second round of the 2006 draft. I would have to say that Harper has done more than enough to prove he was worthy of that pick. He has made two straight Pro Bowls and looks to be well on his way to a third consecutive trip.

    Harper is only 28 years old and will probably end up being one of the best strong safeties Saints fans have ever seen suit up in the black and gold. Harper is one of my favorite players to watch and I'm excited that we were able to resign him this past offseason. 

3. Carl Nicks

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    2008 | 5th Round | Nebraska

    Carl Nicks is arguably the best guard in the NFL, and the Saints managed to get him in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft. That's a steal.

    Many teams avoided Nicks because of character issues, but he has shown no problems in the Saints' locker room.

    Nicks has only played three years in the NFL, but has already made one Pro Bowl and was a second-team All-Pro in 2010. Last year Nicks was voted the 55th-best player in the NFL by his peers.

    Nicks is a better pass-blocker than run-blocker, but he can still open up gaps for the running backs. I would be surprised if the Saints do not re-sign Nicks for the long term, because he has a very bright future in the NFL.

2. Jahri Evans

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    2006 | 4th Round | Bloomsburg (PA)

    While Nicks is arguably the best guard in the NFL, I would have to say that Jahri Evans is the best guard in football. 

    Coming out of Bloomsburg in 2006, Evans has started every game for the Saints since his rookie year. He is a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. Evans is a major reason why Drew Brees is rarely sacked and why the Saints have been a top five offense since 2006. 

    Evans was voted the 34th-best player in the NFL by his peers and was voted the best guard in the NFL. That speaks volumes as to how other players see Evans.

    The Saints were able to draft the NFL's best guard in the fourth round of the '06 draft. That's some great scouting by Sean Payton and his staff.

    P.S. I apologize for the video not being better. I wish I could have found some actual highlights of Evans' play, but this was all I could come up with.

1. Marques Colston

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    2006 | 7th Round | Hofstra

    Was this really ever a question? Of course Marques Colston is the best draft pick of the Sean Payton era.

    If Colston played in an offense that didn't have limitless weapons, then he would probably be considered one of the top three receivers in the NFL. His peers voted him the 53rd-best player in the NFL and also the 10th-best receiver in the NFL.

    Sean Payton and the Saints were able to snag a top 10 NFL receiver in the seventh round of the draft out of Hofstra, which doesn't even have a football program anymore.

    Colston currently has 5,686 receiving yards and 43 touchdowns in his career. Colston easily has three or four more good years left in him and will be recognized as one of the greatest receivers to ever play for the Saints.