After Further Review: Grading Sean Payton's draft

(AP Photo) Marques Colston owns just about Saints receiving record. Not bad for a 7th round draft choice back in 2006.
(AP Photo) Marques Colston owns just about Saints receiving record. Not bad for a 7th round draft choice back in 2006.

At this stage of the draft game, I'm 'mock-drafted' out.

These days it seems like every person that has any affiliation to the NFL seems to put out a mock draft. And somehow I feel like I've read every one of them.

In this entry I took a look back at the draft history under Sean Payton. And it revealed some interesting patterns of both success and failures and where the Saints have found the best value.

Tier 1: Homeruns:  Players that became cornerstones of the franchise. Game-Changers  that are considered not just the Saints' best but the NFL's best as well.

- Jimmy Graham (3rd round/ 2010)- Who knew a former Miami basketball player would become such a talent? The Saints did. In one of their few gambles on unproven potential, the Saints hit the jackpot. Along with Rob Gronkowski in New England, Graham is the next generation of great tight ends in the NFL. He's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses that's caught 184 passes and 20 touchdowns the last two seasons. I can recall Mickey Looomis saying that when we all look back at the 2010 draft, Graham will be the biggest steal. I'd say he was right. Graham is in for a BIG payday very soon.

- Jahri Evans (4th round/2006) – Small school unknown who's been a starter from day one. Widely regarded as one of the games' best guards, Evans has made four consecutive Pro Bowls. The Saints rewarded Evans with, at the time, the biggest contract ever signed by a guard.

- Marques Colston (7th round/2006)- I will never forget looking on the Saints official website the day after Colston was drafted and seeing: Marques Colston TE Hofstra. That's how much of an unknown Colston was. The official team website didn't even have his correct position listed. Now entering his eighth year, no one would ever make that mistake now. Colston has become, in my opinion, the greatest wide receiver in team history and somehow done it under the radar. His numbers haven't just been good since 2006, they've been better than just about every other wide receiver during that time frame. Yet despite it all, Colston still has not made a Pro Bowl. If you've read my blogs over the years, you know how much of a travesty I think that is. Colston isn't just deserving of a Pro-Bowl, but of All-Pro status as well. Given where he was selected, you could certainly make a case that Colston has been the best draft pick in team history.

- Carl Nicks (5th Round/2008) – Labeled a risky pick because of character issues at Nebraska, the Saints took a chance on the former Cornhusker and were rewarded handsomely. Nicks was inserted into the starting lineup during the 2008 season and never looked back. He and Evans made up one of the best guard tandems in the NFL. He made two Pro-Bowls and eventually cashed in big. The only problem for the Saints is that it was with NFC South rival, Tampa Bay.

- Thomas Morstead (5th round/2009)- The Saints traded up to grab Morstead in the 2009 draft and he's rewarded their faith in him by becoming one of the game's best punters. Morstead is a touchback machine on kickoffs and consistently reverses field position on punts. Last season, he may have been the team's MVP. After signing a seven-year extension with the club last season, Morstead will be in black and gold for a long time.

Tier 2: Steady Performers:  Guys that were not superstars but were overall were good players that became key contributors to the Saints success. 

- Jermon Bushrod (4th round/2007)- A development prospect, that went from unknown player out of Towson to protector of Drew Brees' blindside. Bushrod steadily improved every year and even earned two Pro Bowl trips. His efforts got him a nice payday with the Chicago Bears.

- Roman Harper (2nd round/2006)-  Saints fans love to beat up on him now, but when taking their entire draft history under Payton into account, Harper has been one of their better selections. His best season came in 2009, the first year under Gregg Williams, where he earned a Pro Bowl nod.

- Malcolm Jenkins (1st round/2009)- Jenkins can be frustrating at times because there's a feeling that he's capable of so much more.  However, his leadership and intangibles make him one of the most respected players in the locker room. He's been a starter at free safety since 2010 and while he's not biggest playmaker, he has been solid.

- Zach Strief (7th round/2006) – Another testament to the Saints ability to develop prospects, Strief was the team's utility lineman from 2006-2010 and created a nice niche for himself as the 'tackle eligible' in the team's jumbo package. In 2011, he became a starter at right tackle and has done a decent job at protecting Drew Brees.

- Robert Meachem (1st round/2007)-While he was never a number one threat, Meachem became a nice weapon in the Saints diverse arsenal. Meachem became a field stretcher with a knack for big plays.

- Tracy Porter (2nd round/2008)- Porter made two of most clutch plays in Saints history when he saved the NFC Championship by picking off Brett Favre, then ensured the Saints Super Bowl win by doing the same to Peyton Manning. Porter could never stay completely healthy, but this Louisiana product did his home state proud during his four years in New Orleans.

- Reggie Bush (1st round/2006) – When he came to New Orleans the first season post-Katrina, there was no other player or coach that gave the fan base more hope. Taking Bush second overall in the 2006 draft generated an instant buzz at a time this town desperately needed it. Bush was not a bust, but it is fair to say he didn't live up to the enormous expectations. He was at times electrifying and other times incredibly frustrating. Despite their attempts, Bush was never an every down back. All in all though, he was a key contributor to the Saints Super Bowl run.

Tier 3: Average Contributors: Nothing spectacular but did contribute in some form or fashion. 

- Sedrick Ellis (1st round/2008)  – Calling him a bust would be unfair, but I don't think it's farfetched to say Ellis has been the worst first round selection the Saints have had under Payton.

- Usama Young (3rd round 2007) - special teams guy, who was a reliable backup at cornerback and safety.

- Marvin Mitchell (7tn round/ 2007) - A seventh round pick that contributed on special teams.

- Adrian Arrington (7th round/ 2008) - One of the best preseason players in team history. Arrington always seemed to slide in on the final cut day and remained with the Saints from 2008-2012, despite recording just nine career catches.

Tier 4: On the Brink: Players that appear to be on the path to big things but haven't played long enough just yet. 

- Cam Jordan (1st round/2011) - One of the few bright spots in a historically bad year for defense last year was Cam Jordan. With his ability to play both the pass and the run, Jordan has Pro Bowl potential. I think the 3-4 defensive switch will only enhance his game. I expect big things out of Jordan in 2013.

- Martez Wilson (3rd round/ 2010) - His dynamic athleticism caught my eye last training camp. As a standup 3-4 outside linebacker, Wilson has the potential to be an elite playmaker for Rob Ryan's defense.

- Akiem Hicks (3rd round/ 2012) - The most impactful rookie on the team in 2012. Hicks showed supreme athleticism along the interior defensive line. The question now is how does his skill set translate to a 3-4 defense.

Tier 5: Jury Still Out:  Intriguing players that haven't created enough of a buzz to be considered on the brink, or in the case of most of the 2012 draftees just simply haven't gotten on the field yet. 

- Mark Ingram (1st round/ 2011) - Given his high number of carries, it certainly appears the Saints want Ingram to be their featured back. The problem is despite leading the team in carries the last two seasons, Ingram has only averaged 3.9 yards per rush.  Ingram showed flashes last season but lacked consistency. With Payton returning, I would expect Ingram to have just as many opportunities in 2013. He has to rise to the occasion.

- Patrick Robinson (1st round/ 2010) - I know a lot of people have given up on Patrick Robinson. I understand why, but I haven't. He's a big, physical corner that I believe can flourish under Rob Ryan. Remember, Robinson had a team-high four interceptions in 2011. I'm not ready to write off P-Rob, but I do think it's time for him to step up.

- Charles Brown (2nd round/ 2010) - His talent is not a question. His health is. Brown is slated to be the team's starting left tackle. I know I'm not the only one that cringes at that notion. Not because of his ability on the field but for his inability to STAY on the field.

-Marcel Jones (7th round/2012) - Spent rookie year Injured Reserve

- Andrew Tiller (6th round/ 2012) - Spent rookie year on Injured Reserve

- Corey White(5th round/2012) - showed flashes his rookie year, curious to see his development in year two.

- Nick Toon(4th round/ 2012)  – Spent rookie year on injured reserve

Tier 6: The What ifs- Players that never materialized with the Saints but went on to success elsewhere.

- Rob Ninkovich (5th round/ 2006) - To this day, I don't quite understand why the Saints were so quick to dump Ninkovich. He eventually caught on with the Patriots where he's been a steady pass rusher. Something the Saints have lacked for a while now.

Tier 7: Completely Insignificant- Draft picks that very little to no impact

Johnny Patrick (3rd round/ 2011)

Matt Tennant (5th round/2010)

Sean Canfield (7th round/2010)

Al Woods (4th round /2010)

Mike Hass (6th round/2006)

David  Jones (5th round/2007)

Taylor Melhaff (6th round/2008)

Antonio Pittman (4th round/ 2007)

Josh Lay (6th round/2006)

Stanley Arnoux (4th round/2009)

Chip Vaughn (4th round/2009)

Nate Bussey (7th round/2011)

Andy Alleman (3rd round/2007)

Demario Pressly (5th round/2008)

Greg Romeus (7th round/2011)

Ranking the Draft Classes

1.)    2006

2.)    2008

3.)    2007

4.)    2010

5.)    2011

6.)    2009

7.)    2012

My Final Analysis

The first round gets all the attention, but the truth is the Saints have yet to really strike gold on any of their seven first rounders under Payton. At least not yet (I still have hope for Jordan and maybe Ingram someday). On the flip side, they haven't had any busts in the first round either. All of them, with the exception of Ellis, became or will become steady contributors.

Where the Saints have really excelled is in the middle to late rounds.

All five homeruns on this list were picked in the third round or later. Throw in two steady contributors and two players on the brink and that's nine players not picked in the first or second round that have been instrumental to the Saints success.

So while all of us obsess over who the first or second round pick will be, equal attention should be given to the players picked afterward. History has shown that under Payton, those are picks are just as valuable.

At times, maybe even more.