Ever since Jeff Faine signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the first day of free agency in 2008, I have been of the opinion that New Orleans had to find a young guy to become the long-term solution at the position.
If I recall correctly, there really weren't too many young centers in the draft that looked to be superstars for years to come. So I understood the Saints passing on one last offseason and sticking with Jonathan Goodwin.
But as soon as this offseason began, I started right back up with the center talk. This is because I am of the opinion that the center position is one of the more underrated positions in the National Football League.
I went so far as to proclaim the Saints would trade down and grab Alex Mack with the 21st pick (kind of creepy how that is actually where he went). I thought draft day would definitely include some kind of move to acquire one of the young centers, since this year had one of the strongest classes in the draft's history at that position.
But as the 2009 draft ended, it did so once again without the Saints addressing what I've considered to be the only need on the offensive side of the ball for the past two offseasons.
But then a day or two later, I found out that the Saints did make a move for a young center.
His name is Alex Fletcher. He is a Cardinal, so the progression from Cardinal to Saint is obviously a natural one. His christening process will take place this weekend in Metairie, Louisiana.
Let's hope it's a smooth one.
Let's take a look at some of the things that make him an eligible Saint, but also some things that may prevent him from his desired destiny.
Player: Alex Fletcher, C, Stanford
Grade: 5.6 (Seventh Round)
Games Viewed: @ Arizona State and Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game (plus one game in person, @ UCLA)
SIZE 6.0 INITIAL QKS 6.5
PLAY STR. 6.0 COMPETES 6.5
PLAY SPEED 6.0 INSTINCTS 6.0
Despite not possessing great balance or athleticism, Alex is good working in space and stays on his feet well enough to maintain a block. He understands schemes both ways and can make the calls.
He has good initial quickness after the snap. He takes up a lot of space and uses his hands well enough to keep blockers away from the QB. He is very competitive and plays through the whistle.
Alex is not very strong, which makes it difficult for him in the power running game. He often gets off balance and is unable to move his defender off the ball, while sometimes getting pushed into the backfield. He needs to get lower and play with more balance.
He doesn’t move his feet as well as necessary, meaning he could get beat by a speed rush.
Alex is an underrated center who has the chance to make an NFL team because he is smart and has good physical ability. He is fairly quick for the center position and moves well in space.
However, he needs to greatly improve his playing strength. He gets pushed around quite a bit, especially in the run game. If he can get stronger and continue to develop in all areas of the game, he could be an undrafted gem.
There you have it—I believe Alex Fletcher should have been drafted and has a fantastic chance to become a good NFL center. It looks like the Saints may have found their long-term answer at the position.
Let's hope so; otherwise you'll have to hear me bitch and moan some more about how much we need to upgrade the position.
The Saints also signed a quarterback out of UCLA named Patrick Cowan. As a Bruin season ticket holder, I have seen the good and the bad Cowan has to offer.
He seems to be a winner, but that only applies when he is in the lineup. Unfortunately, those instances are few and far between.
He has a way of making plays, yet is definitely more of a game manager. He is not wholly accurate, but he also doesn't turn the football over very often.
The fact the Saints are taking a flyer on him tells me a couple things. They like his ability to win and the fact he served as a student assistant coach under Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow a season ago. They hope he can use that experience to better prepare him for the NFL.
Of course, it's also possible they just felt they needed a guy to throw the football during the rookie mini-camp. Nonetheless, they could've picked someone else. Cowan has a very strong arm and throws well on the run. He is a good athlete despite a few knee surgeries.
If he is there physically, it wouldn't surprise me if Cowan gets an invite to training camp. Once he gets there, anything is possible. I'm certainly not saying Cowan is going to become an NFL superstar, but don't be surprised if he finds a way to make an NFL roster.
As a grade, I would've given Cowan a 5.4 (meaning a priority free agent, but not one of the first to get a call).
On Wednesday, I hope to have graded a couple of Wisconsin players the Saints signed to participate in mini-camp, and possibly beyond.
Until then, Geaux Saints!