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Post-2015 NFL Draft Thoughts

APphoto_NFL Draft Mr Irrelevant FootballSo after 3 days of picking, hemming, hawing and angry backlashing all over the social media waves, the 2015 NFL Draft is over.  Players have been selected.  They’ve taken their photos with Roger Goodell – whom many better hope they never hear from again – and held their jerseys and New Era caps high.  Now the hard work begins.  Contracts need to be signed.  Rookie minicamps must be attended.  The business of football is revving up again and it’s why I like the Draft so much:  it’s a signpost that our long wait for football’s return is not as far away.

I don’t like to think of draft winners and losers. No one knows right now who made the smart picks and who made the boneheaded ones.  Lest we forget that Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” is made of the following current and former members: Walter Thurmond III (4th round pick), Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Tharold Simon (5th round picks), Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane (6th round picks), Cary Williams (7th round pick) Brandon Browner (CFL signee) and DeShawn Shead, Jeron Johnson, Akeem Auguste (undrafted free agents). Only Earl Thomas was taken in the 1st round.  No one was an expert when they were bringing their all-universe DB unit together.  So don’t believe much of what’s being written and printed right now. Drafting is as much about getting the right player to fit the right team as it is about individual talent and motivation.

With that caveat, we can however do a quick look back and analysis of how things went.  So let’s do that instead.

1. A very straightforward First Round

QB Jameis Winston went #1 overall to Tampa Bay as expected.  Tennessee rebuffed the rumored king’s ransom from Philadelphia to take QB Marcus Mariota #2 overall.  OLB Dante Fowler and WR Amari Cooper went next to teams that needed their talents.  The first big surprise was Washington passing on DL Leonard Williams to take OL Brandon Scherff, but the pick made sense given their porous offensive line.  The Jets were all too happy to find Williams at #6.

And on and on the 1st Round went.  Teams appeared to have done their homework and stuck to their draft board values.  When DL Danny Shelton went to Cleveland, New Orleans took the next highest player on their list – OT Andrus Peat – and passed on defenders like OLB Bud Dupree. Unable to land Mariota, the Eagles opted to take the speedy receiver Nelson Agholor to add even more dynamism to their passing attack.  Draft Post - BucsThe Steelers were all too thrilled to find Dupree still available for them.  Even New England got a chance at a good value pick in DT Malcom Brown – heir apparent to Vince Wilfork’s giant hole in the middle of their defense.

The surprises, if they could be called that, were few and far between.  The Redskins took Scherff at #5 when most thought he’d fall to the Giants at #9, but he was the top rated offensive lineman.  The Browns used #19 to take C Cameron Erving, even though they just signed All-Pro Alex Mack to a monster contract – but he can opt out of it after this year.  The Panthers made some scratch their heads at taking LB Shaq Thompson given how that unit’s a source of strength with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.  But their draft board had Thompson that high and they stuck to it.

2. Where were the epic trades?

In recent years, the Draft has come to be known as much for the crazy, multiple pieces trades as anything.  Think Buffalo shipping 2 first-round picks to move up for Sammy Watkins last year or Washington mortgaging multiple picks for the right to take Robert Griffin III.  None of that happened this year.  No team spent next year’s first rounder (or second rounder) this year.  In fact, the highest pick from next year’s Draft traded was a third rounder by Detroit to move up in this year’s 4th round to take DT Gabe Wright.

There were two “big” deals in this year’s 1st Round.  The first one was San Diego swapping the #17 overall pick, their 4th and 5th round picks with Houston for the #15 overall pick so they could draft RB Melvin Gordon.  Then Denver gave up #28 overall, their 5th-round picks this year and next and OG Manny Ramirez to the Lions for the rights to #23 overall so they could draft DE Shane Ray (and kickstart 10,000 bad pot smoking jokes).

In terms of overall haul, the biggest was the Redskins getting the Seahawks’ 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th round picks for their 3rd-round pick, which Seattle used on WR Tyler Lockett.  Washington shipped that 5th-rounder they got to New Orleans for the Saints’ 6th-round picks this year and next while the Who Dats drafted CB Damian Swann.  Somehow Washington turned 1 pick into 5.  The Redskins hoarding draft picks? What bizarro world did we step into?

3. The Falls

Naturally, every year we have players whom everyone has rated highly and mocked going early that end up falling into Day 2 and Day 3 instead.  This year’s Draft was no different.  Many had Bud Dupree as a potential Top 10 pick and he fell to the Steelers at #22.  But players like TJ Clemmings, Jaelen Strong, PJ Williams, Eli Harold and Owamagbe Odighizuwa all found themselves falling in spite of having been graded at one point or another as potential first rounders.  To say nothing of players such as Jay Ajayi, Tre’ Jackson, Michael Bennett, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu or Grady Jarrett who were quite available on Day 3.  For some, there were fears about recovery from injuries suffered at the college level

Draft Post - GregoryFor others, however, the fall was related to character questions.  Shane Ray did go in the first round to Denver but it was still a fall from being a probably Top 10-12 pick. He enters the NFL in the substance abuse program.  But at least he went in the 1st Round.  Dorial Green-Beckham’s talents would have him taken early in Round 1, but his checkered college history dropped him to Round 2.  Jalen Collins’ several failed drug tests dropped him to Round 2 as well.  Randy Gregory – a consensus Top 10 prospect — sat through all Day 1 and most of Day 2 before Dallas felt his value was too good to pass at #60 overall. PJ Williams fell to Round 3 to New Orleans after a dismissed DUI arrest. Given the last season the NFL had with domestic violence being front and center, as well as the year-long suspensions of Josh Gordon and Daryl Washington for failing the drug tests one too many times, there’s not much willingness in NFL front offices for risking assets.

4. La’el Collins

I’m setting the former LSU offensive tackle standout aside from the rest because his story was ever-present in the back of everyone’s mind.  Put simply: would any team dare draft him?  Look, the facts aren’t all in on what happened in Baton Rouge and BRPD are still investigating.  All that is known is that his pregnant ex-girlfriend was murdered along with her delivered baby and that BRPD wanted to interrogate Collins. The police even said he wasn’t suspected of anything, but that they wanted to talk to him and possibly submit him to a paternity test for the at-the-time alive infant.

What I can say for certain is whoever his team representing him were, they failed him badly this week.  Rather than trying to mitigate the potential damage of a police investigation, Collins spoke to the police on Monday – a full week after the story broke and 5 days after he returned to Baton Rouge to supposedly cooperate.   Why come back to Louisiana if not to try and get yourself away from the story quickly so that teams could consider you again?  Did his team just not see the recent Aaron Hernandez trial and recognize how teams want no part of a murder investigation?

Instead, they released a threat on Friday that Collins would not sign with a team that didn’t take him by the end of Round 3 and would instead enter the 2016 Draft.  Unfortunately, that’s not permissible under the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.  The effect was that any team with multiple picks who could have talked themselves into taking him in the latter rounds opted to take him off their boards entirely.  Draft Post - CollinsNow Collins is an undrafted free agent.  If he’s cleared of anything to do with the double-murder investigation, he’ll have his pick of various teams offering to sign him, but he won’t make what he would have made as a Top 15 pick on Thursday Night. And that big moment is forever gone.

5. Teams doubled up on deep positions

Not surprisingly, the areas marked as plentiful in this Draft were the ones tabbed early and often.  6 Wide Receivers (Cooper, White, Parker, Agholor, Perriman and Dorsett), 5 Linebackers (Fowler, Beasley, Dupree, Thompson and Anthony) and 5 Defensive Backs (Waynes, Johnson, Peters, Jones and Randall) went in the 1st Round.  Meanwhile no Tight End went till near the end of Round 2 when Maxx Williams was taken by Baltimore.  And the next QB taken after Winston and Mariota went 1/2 was Garrett Grayson to the Saints in the 3rd Round.

So what you ended up seeing was teams going back to the well on positions they tabbed earlier in the Draft for more.  Cincinnati used their first 2 picks to take 2 offensive tackles (Cedric Ogbuehi in Round 1, Jake Fisher in Round 2).  Green Bay took S Damarius Randall with their top pick then CB Quinten Rollins in Round 2.  New England used 3 of their first 4 picks along the defensive line (DT Malcom Brown and DEs Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers).  Philadelphia took 3 CBs: Eric Rowe in Round 2 and JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans in Round 6. And on it went.  Day 3 felt like a massive run on DBs, LBs and interior offensive linemen.

6. So what about the Saints?

As it regards my Saints, the expectation was that they would target defensive prospects early and often.  It wasn’t a question of whether they would take a defender, but where and how many.  So the surprise came quickly when the 13th overall pick went to Stanford’s offensive tackle Andrus Peat.  Bypassing on pass rushers like Bud Dupree or Shane Ray?  Or on wide receivers like DeVante Parker?  What sense did that make?

Draft Post - GraysonExcept that it made perfect sense if you saw the Saints’ offensive tackle depth chart: starters Terron Armstead and Zach Strief and backups Bryce Harris and Nick Benton.  That’d be the same Zach Strief who’s been in the league for 10 years and spent much of last year playing with injuries in his chest and neck and Terron Armstead, who missed games due to a concussion and had neck and hamstring injuries in 2014.  Meanwhile Harris is a source of concern for many a Saints fan while Benton could come into Black & Gold Sports with his jersey on and I wouldn’t be able to recognize him.  Landing Peat, someone considered by many as the best OT prospect in the Draft, at #13 is a great choice.

The other “questionable” choice was Garrett Grayson, the QB out of Colorado State.  Questionable because, barring some horrible disaster, Grayson should not see a down of importance for many years.  This means that the Saints didn’t add another piece who could have provided immediate help for the upcoming season.  Particularly when there were players like OLB Eli Harold, OLB Jordan Hicks, WR Sammie Coates, DT Grady Jarrett, WR Kenny Bell, TE Jesse James and ILB Paul Dawson all sitting there who could provide relief in areas of weakness or help add depth.

Yet, given that it was a guy they worked out and Sean Payton felt comfortable tapping, I don’t object to it. In the nearly-10 years, Payton has been here, he’s yet to select a QB that he wanted to groom – Ryan Griffin being an undrafted free agent.  At age 37, it’s not like we can expect Drew Brees to play forever.  If Grayson can grow, develop and step in when needed without the pressure that is certain to fall on Mariota or Winston, I can live with it.  Everyone looks at the Packers with Aaron Rodgers, but that wasn’t a guarantee of success either – and they used a 1st round pick on their gamble.  Draft Post - Anthony

As for the rest of the picks, but for Marcus Murphy – who may be the kick return/punt return factor we’ve sorely lacked for seasons – they were all in the defensive side as the team advertised.  2 outside linebackers to get after the QB, a defensive tackle to help add depth at the line, 2 cornerbacks to back up Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner and an inside linebacker to replace Curtis Lofton.  Of 9 picks, 6 went towards adding talent, depth and support to the 31st-overall ranked defense in the NFL.  Feels like, for many Who Dats, it wasn’t enough!

I’m most excited to see Anthony and Kikaha next season.  For anyone who saw Clemson’s top-rated defense last season, it was Anthony who led it and quarterbacked it.  Not surprising to see him inherit Curtis Lofton’s Number 50 jersey, as this is the role he’ll be expected to take. From all accounts, Anthony is not only physical, but intelligent.  He could be what Jonathan Vilma was for our defense in 2009 – a leader.  As for Kikaha, I could link to his various YouTube clips to show you him getting QB after QB (OK, here’s just one YouTube compilation). If this kid shows up at the Dome with the same explosiveness and some output, he’ll be a fan favorite before too long.  I’m willing to bet Anthony and Kikaha will have the top 2 new selling Saints jerseys by season’s end.

So with all that said, say welcome to your new New Orleans Saints!  (And don’t forget the undrafted free agent rookies).  The Draft is done and now we can start to ponder about minicamps and training camp.  Rookies will have their camp on May 15 through May 17.  Minicamp will be June 16 through June 18.  And training camp opens on August 29 at the Greenbriar in West Virginia.  The season is just around the corner.

New Orleans Saints 2015 Draft ClassDraft Post - Kikaha

1 (13)    Andrus Peat, OT Stanford
1 (31)    Stephone Anthony, ILB Clemson
2 (44)    Hau’oli Kikaha, OLB Washington
3 (75)    Garrett Grayson, QB Colorado State
3 (78)    PJ Williams, CB Florida State
5 (148)    Davis Tull, OLB UT-Chattanooga
5 (154)    Tyeler Davison, DT Fresno State
5 (167) Damian Swann, CB Georgia*
7 (230) Marcus Murphy, RB/KR/PR Missouri

*Traded 187 and 2016 6th-rounder for 167

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