Sunday, May 08, 2011

2011 NFL Draft; The New Orleans Saints

Before we begin I should point out that yes, I did say it was going to be the Panthers next. But for some reason I can't explain I just started the Saints post yesterday and it wasn't until I reached the very bottom of the post after spellchecking that I suddenly realised what I'd done.

And you can fuck right off if you think I'm doing an entire post about Carolina at this hour. Tough. Here's the Saints;

It's been a funny old time for New Orleans in recent years. In 2008 Drew Brees very nearly topped Dan Marinos' record for most passing yards in the regular season. This would have been a reason for great joy, were it not for the fact that the Saints defense absolutely sucked.

Then in '09 it all seemed to come together. From worst to first, their offense flourished again but so did the defense, culminating in a date with the Indianapolis Colts in their first ever Super Bowl and subsequently a win. The 'Lombardi Gras' swept across New Orleans.

Then in '10 it all went a bit wrong. The offense started to occasionally misfire and the defense went into recession. The final humiliating blow was a loss to Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, a bitter pill to swallow given that the general consensus script said that they should have walked into Washington State and shown those dastardly Seahawks just why it is that 7-9 teams shouldn't be allowed into the playoffs.

The 2011 draft was supposed to be about the Saints getting back on the horse ready for another charge at the Super Bowl. All that was standing in their way was a tricky free agent period, where they expected to lose a number of players. But everything would be alright on the night, right? They could bring a few players in and then shore up any last ditch holes in the draft.

Except that the Union formerly known as the NFLPA threw its toys out of the pram, got up and left the negotiating table, decertified, and now here we are, deep in the middle of a bitterly fought legal battle and lockout.

That left the Saints on uncertain ground headed into the draft. With so many players headed out the door into (eventually) free agency there might have been a temptation for the Saints to work their way down the draft order and accumulate picks. Instead they chose to go in quite the opposite direction.

It all started in the first round with the selection of Defensive End Cameron Jordan with the 24th selection overall. I'm a little surprised simply because I feel that of all the issues that the Saints had, D-line wasn't really one of them. Never the less, pick him they did so the question becomes did they make the right choice?

It's hard to say. I don't mean that in the sense of "I'm copping out of making a decision". I mean it in the sense that a lot of the time in college it wasn't hard to find Jordan, because he was the one with two offensive linemen climbing all over him in an attempt to smother him.

Thus drawing an accurate conclusion based on the fact that he's unlikely to see such attention in the NFL can be difficult. One thing he did display constantly was good strength and a strong desire to chase down plays from behind, for which we have to give him credit. The fact that he was able to achieve the things he did under such pressure from the O-line is a testament to him.

Tentatively then, I'm going to nod in an approving manner at picking Jordan. One of the things that New Orleans has struggled with recently has been pass rush and Jordan offers them hope in the sense that even if all he ever does is occupy blockers and cause a lot of havoc up front, that still gives his rushing linebackers a better chance to get to the QB.

Next up is Running Back Mark Ingram, whom the Saints traded up to get, oddly enough doing a deal with the Patriots to get the 28th pick overall, which is the place where many expected the Patriots to take; Mark Ingram.

The price was a second rounder in 2011 and a first rounder in 2012. And that's what has been causing me a little bit of a problem with this pick. That's a lot to give up just to get your hands on a running back. I say that because the success of running backs is often linked quite significantly to the play of their offensive lines. I'm just not sure, given the depth of the running back class, that this was such a clever decision.

Add to that the fact that the Saints already have a solid back in Pierre Thomas, have Chris Ivory who showed a lot of promise in his rookie year, and still tentatively have Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, providing neither of those two is dumped.

Ingram does offer the Saints something in the sense that he can relieve the pressure off Thomas to be an every down, all the time back, but then Ivory and Bell could have done that as well. Ingram is strong and has some other desirable attributes you want in a running back, but I think the cost of the trade is a problem, especially looking at what was left on the board and where else the Saints could have gone (safety, pass rushing linebacker)

Onto round three then as the Saints gave up that second round pick, and here they double dipped, first at number 72 thanks to a trade with Washington the year before, then their own pick at 88.

At 72 they went Linebacker with Martez Wilson, who I really, really can't buy. The issue I have with Wilson is simple; linebackers are supposed to be baby eating demons who are 24/7 hungry for contact. Wilson seems to be the opposite. He always seemed to be looking for someone else to initiate that contact, then he might follow up in necessary.

Again, this is just the impression I got watching him. He could indeed be a baby eating demon who is hungry for contact 24/7. But if I was a betting man, I'd bet against it. Who knows, maybe he'll read this one day and to the delight of all New Orleans fans he'll ram these words back down my throat. Again though, if I was a betting man....

At number 88 the Saints went with Johnny Patrick, cornerback from Louisville. And right here I think they hit a beauty. I really like Patrick because of his combination of strength against the run and talent in pass coverage. One thing I noted especially was his versatility, including rushing the quarterback from a nickel position.

With Tracey Porter and Jabari Greer on the team, that means if Patrick is going to hit the field, then nickelback is his best shot. When you factor in as well that Gregg Williams isn't averse to a bit of risk taking, including blitzing secondary players, then I think we have a great combination on our hands.

Probably the only other more ideal place for Patrick might have been Green Bay, but New Orleans should serve him well. I think the Saints got a good corner prospect with this pick and somebody that fits their system as well, which is an added bonus. There is a possibility, especially given the free agent situation, that he might have to move to Strong Safety which I think he has the skills to cope with.

Now, due to the machinations of various trades, the Saints then went without a pick until the seventh round, where they double dipped again thanks to a compensatory selection. Which gives us a moment to pause and reflect on what will happen when the compensatory picks are dished out as a result of the 2011 free agency period. New Orleans could be big winners in the 2012 draft.

So, picking 226th overall, the Saints took Greg Romeus, the defensive end from Pittsburgh. He had a back surgery last year that restricted his season but man, if Romeus can recapture his earlier college form (and there is nothing to currently suggest that he wont), then the Saints just grabbed a bargain.

Romeus is by no means flawless. He lacks great speed and sometimes finds himself tricked out on certain running plays, plowing down the line to pursue a fullback that doesn't have the ball and leaving the edge open. But that, if not so much the speed, is coachable.

What he does possess is tremendous strength combined with great use of the hands in the pass rush, and a really relentless drive to pursue the QB. Not sure at this stage whether he'd play as a defensive end or a stand up rush linebacker, but either way I think Romeus has a lot to offer the Saints.

At 243rd overall the Saints went with Linebacker Nate Bussey and wouldn't you just bloody know it, I haven't seen a second of the kid because he wasn't on my radar. So, off I got to investigate and here you get your explanation as to why this post took longer than expected. The things I do for you guys.

And on that quick note hello to everyone in the US, Italy, Denmark and Slovenia who according to Blogger seem to have been, over the last six months or so, the main readers. Obviously the US is well in the lead, but the other three are no slouches themselves, with Italy leading the drive.

Back to Bussey and all I can say is; that was a waste of life. Bussey spent most of his time playing as a kind of bizarre, overweight nickelback. His pass coverage was nothing to write home about and against downfield speed he got toasted more thoroughly than the semi-burnt piece of bread that I'm currently munching on, and that provided me with a handy idea for an analogy.

Tackling was ok but when that is your one and only positively identifiable attribute, and I absolutely mean that, then you have problems. But it's a seventh round pick to be fair and most teams don't expect much from them, which to me is quite a lazy excuse for not properly doing your homework.

Overall then? There's a large piece of me that seems to instinctively hate the Saints, if only because I felt that they kind of got a little lucky along the path to their Super Bowl and nobody seemed to acknowledge that fact, not that it's the Saints fault. You play the hand you're dealt.

But I can't say it was a bad draft. Perhaps they gave up too much for Ingram, but if he can prove to be a more versatile and reliable back than Reggie Bush, then you could argue that he compliments well what is undoubtedly a fearsome passing attack.

Defensively I think they drafted well though. Perhaps they might consider getting a new scout for linebackers in 2012, but other than that I tip my hat to the Saints draft. Jordan, Patrick and Romeus are all good players, and in particular Romeus was a bit of a steal taken as late as he was.

All that should help the Saints with that key problem of reliable pass rush and run defense that they've had in recent seasons. Remember as well that in '09 the Saints proved that their defense only has to get a little bit better, maybe be a top 16 contender, to provide the necessary compliment for that explosive offense. Free agency will be interesting for the Saints, but at this rate it looks like they might end up back in the playoffs in 2011.

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