NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - We've graded the Saints seven-player draft class, now it's time to examine what we learned from one of the more entertaining drafts in quite some time.
Trust the Board
More than any other year, trusting the board was the theme of the Saints 2017 draft. They do this every year but never has it felt so obvious.
The Saints had two distinct opportunities to address their biggest need at pass rusher but bypassed them because their board dictated otherwise. First came at 11 when the first ten picks could not have set up better for the Saints.
At 11, Derek Barnett, Marcus Lattimore, Jonathan Allen and Malik Hooker were all available. They went highest grade and took Lattimore, who they said was their third or fourth highest graded prospect in the entire draft.
At 42, the Saints had another crack at it. After a wave of pass rushers flew off the board at the end of the first round, the second round set up with the same fortune as the first. Defensive players like Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson fell to the Saints. Again, they trusted the board and grabbed Utah safety Marcus Williams.
Time will tell if this was the right approach, but we now know when the Saints say best player available that's exactly what they mean.
The Saints wanted to improve their defense in this draft. While we don't know how it will pan out, at least they gave themselves a legitimate chance to accomplish that with the quantity of players taken. Of the seven players drafted, five were on defense with all three levels of the defense getting addressed.
It won't guarantee success. In 2015 and 2011 they drafted five defensive players as well. Only one of those ten players became a Pro Bowler, Cam Jordan.
Consider me shocked on how open Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis were about the very real possibility of taking a quarterback with their first round pick at 11. The Saints loved Patrick Mahomes so much that both Payton and Loomis admitted that had Lattimore been gone and Mahomes would have been available at 11, he would have been the pick.
Imagine how different today would have been had Mahomes been the Saints first round pick?!
NFC South is loaded
It's scary to think how lethal the NFC South will be in 2017. This is frankly my biggest concern for the Saints next season. Sure, they got better but so did the rest of the division.
In Tampa Bay, the Saints will now have to defend Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard.
In Carolina, the Saints will have to defend Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel.
In Atlanta, an explosive defense got even better with additions of Takk McKinley and Duke Riley.
With their sixth round pick, the Saints selected Miami defensive end Al-Quanin Muhammad. If he works out it will be the first. The sixth round has been the worst round of the Sean Payton era. Not a single pick in this round has played a down for the Saints. The trade up for Alvin Kamara marked the ninth time the Saints have traded up in the draft under Payton.
LSU linebacker Duke Riley wanted to be a Saint and expressed that to Payton. He even warned them that the Falcons and Panthers were showing a lot of interest, per sources. It turned out that Riley wasn't kidding. The Falcons took him at 75, one pick ahead of the Saints. Given that the Saints took Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone, I'm very curious to know if they would have taken Riley if he was available.
Speaking of LSU players, the Saints once again didn't draft any Tigers. Realistically, given the way the draft fell, I thought Riley at 76 or Malachi Dupre at 196 were the best options. Neither came to fruition but the Saints were able to grab wide receiver Travin Dural from the undrafted ranks.
The NFC South has become a hot spot for LSU linebackers with Riley and Deion Jones in Atlanta and Kwon Alexander and Kendall Beckwith in Tampa Bay.
As I reported before the draft, Grambling wide receiver Chad Williams shot up draft boards by perfecting his pre-draft process. Even I was surprised to see how high he rose. I had Williams mocked to the Saints in the sixth round. He ended up going to Arizona in the third round.