Strief: New Orleans Saints' draft is small on quantity large on value

The New Orleans Saints adjusted to this year’s new look draft, with a new look draft class. After trading away their last 4 picks to move back into the 3rd round, the Saints added just three players via the 2020 NFL Draft.  It would have only been three had they not spent a 6th round pick in 2021 to sneak back into the 7th to draft athlete Tommy Stevens, who they feared would evade them in free agency. The moves marked a continuance of aggression shown in previous years draft, but with even more urgency considering the situation we all find ourselves in due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Saints started their draft out by staying put and waiting for the draft’s top interior player, Cesar Ruiz, to fall to them.  The Michigan product has proven to be a top flight pass protector having given up only 8 pressures in 447 snaps last season.  

Many questioned the pick citing the Saints drafting Eric McCoy last year in the 2nd round.  Reviewing each of them shows, however, they’re different players.  McCoy had a stellar second season and proved to be worth the Saints trading this year’s second round pick to jump and and grab him in 2019.  He started all 16 games and was a force inside for the Saints.  McCoy, more of a mauler, will be very well served playing next to the athletic technician that Ruiz is.  The 20 year old center has shown the ability to block in space and is an elite pass protector on the inside.  While his run game technique is not fully developed, his ability to extend and protect will serve him very well in the Saints scheme.

Like often is the case, the fanbase may not totally understand the short term decision, but after paying Andrus Peat and an impending super deal slated for Ryan Ramcyzk, the Saints will be well served in the future making the selection of another stud on the interior of their line.  

In round 3, the Saints had enough of sitting still, and like they had 17 times in the last 13 years, GM Mickey Loomis and head Coach Sean Payton moved up to grab the player they coveted.  It was not the first time they had tried to do so.  In fact, they tried since the second round to jump up and grab Zack Baun, the Wisconsin linebacker.  Fortunately, their man slipped into the 3rd round and they were able to sneak up to grab him at pick 74.

Baun spent time on the outside in Wisconsin’s 3-4 defensive set and flourished as a pass rusher. After posting 12.5 sacks in his final year in Madison, Baun was predicted by many mock drafts to be taken in the first round.  Maybe it was the diluted sample in his drug test, or perhaps it was having just one explosive season at Wisconsin, but whatever it was, the Saints had a first-round talent drop to them at 74.

Though he played outside linebacker in college, the Saints see Zach Baun as an explosive, sideline to sideline player, who plays with tremendous effort.  He’s expected to move inside with the Saints, giving them the athletic thumper, they needed at the middle linebacker position. Braun’s ability to rush the passer will also serve him well in Dennis Allen’s multiple, aggressive defensive scheme.  The Saints weren’t done jumping around just yet.  

At the end of the 3rd round the Saints went Mike Ditka Jr., trading their final four picks of the draft to move back into the 3rd round to grab tight end Adam Trautman.  Another player, who slid further than many people thought, Trautman gives the Saints another former basketball player, capable of trolling the middle of the field. Trautman, the first Dayton player to be drafted since the 70’s, is also a willing blocker. His small school, lower conference standing may have hurt him in a season were workouts and pro days were cancelled due to coronavirus, but the Saints were able to see him at the Senior Bowl and saw enough to pull the trigger.  

While still raw, Trautman’s ability to go get 50-50 balls and his complete lack of intimidation at the Senior Bowl, should serve him well as he makes the transition to the NFL.  He’ll join another small school success story in Josh Hill, along with the explosive Jared Cook, to give the Saints a strong and deep tight end room.  

Finally, the Saints made another trade up, this time to the seventh round to pick athlete Tommy Stevens.  The Taysom Hill effect is in full display here.  Stevens, originally a Penn State Nittany Lion, later transferred to Mississippi State, where he got his first starting experience at the quarterback position.  However, it was his time as a back-up in State College that intrigued the Saints. The 6’4, 233 lb. athlete spent time at receiver, running back and quarterback for Penn State.  His versatility, along with his time in high school as an all-state safety, was enough for the Saints to take a chance on a future Taysom Hill type weapon.

When we spoke to Stevens after the draft, he was quick to point out his willingness to play wherever the Saints saw fit.  He could push for time on special teams and in time develop into the type of versatile weapon that Taysom has in the Saints arsenal.  

The Saints went small on quantity this year, but large on value.  Each of their top three picks was widely regarded as one of the top two prospects at their positions.  The lack of numbers could have as much to do with circumstance as design.  Teams are not yet sure how much time they will get to spend with their rookies in person before the beginning of camp.  So while some teams had up to 15 picks, the Saints could have questioned whether rookies of questionable ability would even have a fair chance to prove themselves before the cut downs occur.  

Already with one of the most talented rosters in football, the Saints went and found great value in players they feel have a very good chance of filling holes on their roster.  It will be interesting to watch how it really works out come camp time, but one thing is for sure, the Saints found the few players they felt would come out on the other side.

The Saints are locked, and reloaded for another championship run.