By Quin Hillyer;

Consider me concerned about what the Saints did in last weekend’s draft.

It’s not that they failed to get good athletes with some excellent football skills. They did draft such athletes. And they have the potential to greatly help a team that suddenly has excellent depth at almost every position, with a chance to be a truly fine team this coming year.

But I’m a big believer in going with demonstrated, on-field performance over time, and in the value of game experience. This Saints draft, however, featured about the most possible imaginable lack of those attributes I have ever seen from a seven-player draft.

Top draft choice Marshon Lattimore played only one full season and smallish parts of two others due to three separate bouts with serious hamstring injuries, one of them requiring surgery. Next choice Ryan Ramczyk gave up football for a while to be a welder, then turned down bigger colleges because he wanted to “stay close to home,” and finally moved up to big-time competition for, yes, only one year.

Early second-round choice Marcus Williams is one of only two draftees who raises few red flags, missing a little time last year due to injury, but nothing serious. Next choice Alvin Kamara, despite his terrific skill set and some excellent production when he did play, was never really a full-time starter. Plus, earlier in his career he missed a full season due to a knee injury; then was let go by Alabama for not one but two behavioral issues, and missed some time this past year due to another banged-up knee.

Linebacker Alex Anzalone has played less than almost any big-time player after missing most of two seasons with separate shoulder injuries and then half of this past season with a broken arm.

Breaking the trend (thank goodness), defensive end Trey Hendrickson actually made it through all four years of college largely unscathed. But then the last pick, one that truly seemed strange to me (and, frankly, a bad pick), Al-Quadin Muhammad, is the poster child for arrested on-field development. He played only one real season in college — with somewhat decent, but hardly superb, production — because he was dismissed from Miami’s team after several “off-field issues,” and he didn’t even play at all this past year. Not one down.

The seven picks, combined, played only 13 seasons of serious college football — and four of those were by one player, Hendrickson, who was basically a last-chance attempt by the Saints to grab a good pass rusher after missing out on almost all the top prospects in a remarkably pass-rusher-heavy draft.

I can see taking a chance on one or even two players with experience deficiencies due to injuries, home-sickness, or behavioral problems. But five out of seven?!? Really? In particular, the choices of Anzalone and Muhammad in the same draft looks like an extreme case of valuing athletic potential ahead of actual performance.

Combine that with the Saints bizarrely passing five times on chances to get proven edge rushers — Derek Barnett (among many others) with the first pick, future superstar Jordan Willis four times, Tanoh Kpassagnon in the second round, and Tarell Basham twice passed over in the third round, as was Derek Rivers.

The choice of the injury-prone Anzalone over Basham and Rivers — not to mention a string of excellent prospects at wide receiver, the one position where the Saints’ depth remains thin — was particularly questionable, especially because the Saints depth at linebacker already was considerable. (The roster already featured Manti Teo, A.J.Klein, Dannell Ellerbee, Craig Robertson, Nate Stupar, Stephone Anthony, promising Canadian import Adam Bighill, LB/DE tweener Hau’oli Kikaha, and developmental prospect Travis Feeney.)

So… to repeat… all the analysts, looking at the raw potential of the Saints draftees, seem to think it was a pretty darn solid draft, and I can’t argue with the possibility that these players all (maybe with the exception of Muhammad) have the physical gifts and skills and the right on-field attitudes to be excellent NFL players.

Still, there were so many other options in a talent-rich draft — options with much more demonstrated performance, more experience, and much lower downside risk — that the Saints’ overall draft performance was way too much of an unnecessary roll of the dice for my tastes.

Let’s hope the Saints have hit the jackpot, rather than crapping out.

 

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