The New Orleans Saints went into the 2013 NFL Draft with the tall task of trying to fill many holes on the roster with only five draft picks at their disposal. Despite those circumstances, I thought Mickey Loomis & Co. did an exceptional job of making selections that could benefit the Saints immediately as well as bringing in some ‘projects’ that could do the same down the road. The way this draft class shapes out will go a long way in determining whether New Orleans can make another Superbowl run soon. Lets take a look at my breakdown and grades of all that went down for the Saints on the 2013 draft weekend:
SAINTS TRADE RB CHRIS IVORY TO JETS FOR 106TH PICK (4TH RD)
I, as well as many Saints fans, hated the fact that we had to see Chris Ivory be traded. Numerous clamored for Mark Ingram to be the one to be shipped off, but as I’ve explained to many, the Saints were absolutely not going to give up on a guy they traded a 1st & 2nd rounder for after only two seasons. Though Ivory was such an exciting commodity in the Saints backfield, there was no way the Saints would’ve been able to give him the money and/or playing time he desired enough to convince him to stick around after the ’13 season in which he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Fans also had the misconceived notion that because Ivory was tendered with a 2nd round pick, the Saints ‘settled’ with trading him for a 4th rounder which was absolutely not the case. Remember, the Jets initially only offered a SIXTH rounder for Ivory. Receiving a 4th round pick for a 4th string RB who has barely played was ultimately a big steal for the Saints. It was tough to see Ivory go, but New Orleans will be just fine going forward.
SAINTS TRADE 106th & 109th PICKS (4th RDRS) TO MIAMI FOR 82nd PICK (3rd RD)
Mickey Loomis pulled a rabbit out of his hat to use the Chris Ivory pick to quickly move back up in the 3rd round to select 359lb DL John Jenkins out of Georgia. Jenkins was on a steep free fall down the draft after being projected as a fringe 1st round pick by ESPN’s Mel Kiper. The best thing about this trade was that the Saints got their guy, and didn’t have to surrender any picks from next year’s draft to do so. Solid move.
1ST ROUND (15th Overall): KENNY VACCARO, SAFETY
After seeing pass rushers Dion Jordan, Ezekial Ansah, and Barkevious Mingo all go in the Top 6 picks, it began to look fairly bad as to what impact defensive players would still be available by the time the Saints picked at 15. It essentially came down to Vaccaro & the former Georgia Bulldog pass rushing standout, Jarvis Jones. I couldn’t have been more excited with our choice. YES, the Saints need pass rushing. YES, Jarvis Jones was very productive in college. BUT, he is very overrated in my opinion. First off, that Georgia defense was STACKED and allowed Jones to do a lot of free-lancing to make plays in the backfield. Secondly, is Jones is already not athletic and his unfortunate spinal stenosis condition, at any point and time, could cause him to not only to be ineffective at the next level, but could end his career prematurely. Considering all of those factors, Vaccaro was perfect for the Saints. Kenny V is excellent in coverage but also aggressive enough to drop down in the box lay big hits on RBs. But what makes him even more invaluable is the fact that he dropped down and successfully played a lot at the nickel corner position. That type of play-making versatility in the secondary is exactly what the Saints have been lacking for quite some time. His addition makes the Saints secondary as deep as it has ever been, and lastly makes Roman Harper very expendable. Halleluyah!
3rd ROUND (75th Overall): TERRON ARMSTEAD, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Although Jermon Bushrod was very much overrated during his tenure with the Saints, his departure via free agency left a gaping hole at left tackle. Enter LT Terron Armstead from small school Arkansas-Pine Bluff. This was another guy that slipped in the draft after many projected he would at least be a mid-2nd round pick which made this selection even more phenomenal. Armstead is supremely athletic (ran fastest 40 time for an offensive lineman ever), which is exactly what the Saints love from their tackles, and has limitless upside. Though he came from a small school, Armstead dominated his competition and showed he could dominate at a higher level when he participated in the Senior Bowl. Matter of fact, he was recruited by a number of big schools but turned them all down for Arkansas-Pine Bluff because they allowed him the opportunity to run track along with playing football. This kid could be a Pro Bowler in no time protecting Brees’ blindside, and needless to say I loved this pick!
3rd ROUND (82nd Overall): JOHN JENKINS, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
The Saints shocked many, including me, by trading back up into the 3rd round to select the ‘larger than life’ D-lineman, John Jenkins. My initial reaction to seeing the Saints being back on the clock at 82 was that we were going to get the OLB/DE pass rushing type of player that we’d passed on with our first two picks. I was definitely hoping for a guy like Alex Okafor, or Chase Thomas, so I honestly was a bit disappointed when I saw we’d selected Jenkins. Nevertheless, he could end up being a key rotational guy for the Saints’ defensive line in 2013 and could end up unseating Broderick Bunkley as the starting NT going forward. Jenkins’ massive frame presents lots of potential, and if he can reach his ceiling, the Saints 3-4 line could be deadly with Cam Jordan & Akiem Hicks playing alongside him at DE’s in Rob Ryan’s scheme.
5th ROUND (144th Overall): KENNY STILLS, WIDE RECEIVER
Though WR was certainly not a ‘need’ going into the draft, I was ok with the Kenny Stills pick in the 5th round. He was very accomplished in an up tempo offense at Oklahoma, making several big time catches and plays for them. At the combine he surprised everyone by running a lightning 4.38 40 time that could have definitely played a part in why the Saints selected him. Despite Joe Morgan being the incumbent WR to replace Devery Henderson, adding a somewhat ‘developmental’ WR in Stills doesn’t hurt. My only problem with this pick was that there were still several impact defensive players available for New Orleans when Stills was selected. Guys like Bacarri Rambo, Cornelius Washington, & Chase Thomas would’ve been much better selections at that point. But in typical Sean Payton fashion, he couldn’t resist the offensive skill player! We’ll see how this pick plays out going forward.
6th ROUND (183rd Overall): RUFUS JOHNSON, DEFENSIVE END
“Rufus, who?!” – Who-Dat Nation in unison when the Saints selected Rufus Johnson with their final pick of the draft. Turns out the 6’5 272lb pass rusher out of Tarleton State was coming off of quite the 2012 season. He finished with 50 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks. The Saints drafted him as the ultimate ‘project pick’ as they will try to transition him to a 3-4 OLB. However, much like with the Kenny Stills pick, there were still many better options for the Saints at that point and time and they almost certainly could’ve made a run at Johnson as an undrafted free agent if they liked him that much. He’ll likely just be stuck on the practice squad for a couple of years.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
This was ironically the most exciting part of draft weekend for me and it’s all centered around three players; 3-4 OLB/DE Chase Thomas (Stanford), ILB Kevin Reddick (UNC), QB Ryan Griffin (Tulane). After being extremely disappointed that the Saints passed on selecting Thomas numerous times throughout the draft, he shockingly went undrafted and the Saints rightfully pounced on the opportunity to sign him. He has plenty of experience playing in the 3-4 (43 starts at Stanford), has an unbelievable motor, and is a stout run defender who sets the edge beautifully. NFL.com, ESPN’s Mel Kiper, and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock also rated Thomas a higher prospect than Cowboys’ FIRST round pick, Center Travis Frederick. How’s THAT for value?! Thomas should certainly be a lock for the final roster and could actually compete for a starting role at OLB in camp. Regardless he should see plenty of snaps in 2013.
ILB Kevin Reddick was another guy who projected to go early in Day 3 of the draft but somehow managed to slip through the cracks going undrafted. At 6’1, 246lb, Reddick had a great knack for always being around the ball and finishing plays with his great downhill tackling ability. He wasn’t all that great in coverage so he wouldn’t have been a good fit in a 4-3 defense, but he should definitely excel in the 3-4, which is heavily predicated on stopping the run. Reddick should have no trouble beating out Chris Chamberlain for the fourth MLB spot behind Lofton, Hawthorne, and Vilma.
Lastly, Ryan Griffin from Tulane should be the perfect developmental QB the Saints were in search for after Chase Daniel left town for a shot at starting in KC. Griffin was coached under former Saints WR coach, Curtis Johnson, and should seamlessly transition into picking up Sean Payton’s offense. He’ll likely be on the practice squad for a year or two, but we could definitely see Griffin eventually being the heir apparent to Drew Brees.
OVERALL DRAFT GRADE: A
Let me just start by saying this draft would not have gotten an A from me had it not been for the inclusion of the undrafted free agents the Saints signed. The Saints passed on too many impact defensive players in rounds five and six that could’ve hurt them in the long run had it not been for pickups like Chase Thomas & Kevin Reddick. Nevertheless, Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton did an outstanding job of making due with only five selections heading to this year’s draft. All needs & wants were had and addressed with great value. Now it’s time for guys to put in the work on and off the field to get New Orleans back in the Superbowl! I can’t wait! WHODAT!!!
By Kevin Buckles – Saints News and Saints News Radio Analyst