Mike Triplett breaks down the New Orleans Saints' 2017 draft class.
Round 1, No. 11 overall: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
My take: The Saints had two glaring needs above all else: edge rusher and cornerback. And they filled one of them without having to reach. Better yet, they avoided overpaying for a veteran after mulling trades for New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler and Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson this offseason. Now they have their corner, and they still have four more picks before the end of the third round.
The big concern with Lattimore is his injury history after significant hamstring issues sidelined him for 21 games early in his career at Ohio State. But he stayed healthy and played great in 2016, with four interceptions to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden warned that Lattimore still has a way to go in his development, though, after only one full season of college experience. Gruden said Lattimore particularly needs to get better in the slot.
Hamstring history: Lattimore missed his entire freshman season in 2014 after undergoing surgery on a torn left hamstring he suffered on the third day of camp. Then an injury to his right hamstring on his third day of camp in 2015 limited him to appearances in only seven games and four tackles. He was finally healthy last season, though, and played in all 13 games. And he insisted he's "good" now, though he continues to stay up on his treatment, which includes acupuncture. Lattimore also left the scouting combine early with tightness in his hip flexor, but not before he posted a blazing 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash and impressive numbers in the vertical leap (38.5 inches) and broad jump (11 feet). He was healthy enough to perform individual drills at Ohio State's pro day.
Saints love Buckeyes: The Saints are loving the Buckeyes lately in the draft after scoring with receiver Michael Thomas and safety Vonn Bell in Round 2 last year. But it's not just a recent trend. The Saints have now drafted five Ohio State players during the Sean Payton era, seven since Mickey Loomis became general manager in 2003 and nine dating to the 2000 draft -- all more than any other school. The Saints also just signed former Buckeyes receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who went to the same Glenville High School in Cleveland that Lattimore attended.
Lattimore said he's looking forward to facing Thomas again in practice. "Right now, I'll win," Lattimore said. "I was a little freshman back then, but I'm a grown man now. So we're gonna go at it."
Round 1, No. 32: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
My take: I joked heading into the draft that offensive tackle would be the "pitchfork" pick among the fan base if the Saints did it at No. 11 -- because of the glaring need for defensive help and because, let's face it, offensive linemen are kind of boring on draft day. But it should be a little more palatable at 32, given that starting right tackle Zach Strief is 33. And it's not as though the Saints had to use all five of their picks in the first three rounds on defense.
Payton made it clear he wanted to get an offensive tackle in this draft. And I ranked it as New Orleans' No. 1 offensive need a couple of weeks ago, ahead even of running back before the Saints signed Adrian Peterson. The value at this spot was solid for Ramczyk, who was a first-team All-American and a projected first-round pick. The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder is still a bit unproven after playing only one season at the FBS level. But Payton said the Saints had him graded in the top half of Round 1 -- when New Orleans picked, Payton said, there was a clear "gap" between Ramczyk and everyone else on its board -- and every scout in the room graded him as a first-rounder. Payton said they envision him as a right tackle.
Foster, McKinley were in play: The Saints came close to making a bigger splash. Payton said they were considering dynamic Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and UCLA pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley along with Ramczyk. But the rival Atlanta Falcons traded up to take McKinley at No. 26, and the San Francisco 49ers traded up to snag Foster at No. 31. After that, Payton said the choice was easy.
Almost a welder: Ramczyk quit football for a year after originally signing with Division II Winona State. And his father suggested he pursue welding because it was "a pretty high in-demand occupation that pays pretty well." But Ramczyk eventually missed football too much, so he returned to play at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point, then spent one season at Wisconsin, where he bloomed as an All-American.
Round 2, No. 42: Marcus Williams, S, Utah
My take: It’s too bad the Saints weren’t able to find a pass-rusher with their top three picks in this draft. That remains their most glaring need after they added just one rotational DE in Alex Okafor during free agency. But I can’t blame the Saints for staying true to their draft board -- and Williams is absolutely a worthy selection at No. 42 who fills a need for a pass defense that ranked 32nd in the NFL last year.
The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder said he takes pride in forcing turnovers, which he did at a high rate in college (10 interceptions over the past two years, four forced fumbles in three years). He mostly played single-high safety and "center field," but he occasionally played down closer to the line of scrimmage. And the Saints will have the luxury of finding a role that fits him since they’re deep at safety now with veterans Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush and last year’s second-round pick, Vonn Bell.
The best-case scenario? As WWL Radio analyst and former Saints running back Deuce McAllister said, “He could be what they thought [Jairus] Byrd would be.”
High flyer: UConn safety Obi Melifonwu created a ton of buzz at the NFL scouting combine for his leaping ability. But Williams wasn’t far below him. Williams’ vertical leap of 43.5 inches was just behind Melifonwu’s 44.0 (and six inches higher than any other safety). Williams also had the third longest broad jump of any safety at 10 feet, nine inches. Williams said he played basketball in high school, where that leaping ability came in handy.
“I dunked on a couple people,” he said.
Round 3, No. 67: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
My take: It’s hard to love this pick, since the Saints admittedly needed to use this draft to improve their defense, but they have now used two of their first four picks on offense. Plus, their backfield suddenly seems overstuffed after they just signed veteran Adrian Peterson earlier this week to pair with Mark Ingram.
But by the time you reach Round 3, player grades mean even more than trying to fill immediate holes in the starting lineup. And there is nothing wrong with the value of Kamara at No. 67. In fact, I thought the Saints might target Kamara in Round 2 before the Peterson trade. And there could be still be room for all three of them since Kamara is a dual-threat running back who could play a “joker” role similar to Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.
Kamara had 1,294 rushing yards, 683 receiving yards and 24 total touchdowns (including a punt return) in two seasons at Tennessee.
Payton wasn’t lying: Payton said he loved the depth of this year’s running back class in the middle rounds (and it’s notable that he said that shortly after Payton attended a workout with Kamara). Payton also said that the Saints believed the “strength” of this year’s draft would be in Rounds 2 and 3 -- and the Saints have now loaded up with an extra pick, giving them a total of three third-rounders. The Saints gave up next year’s second-round pick and this year’s seventh-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers to move up to No. 67 for Kamara.
Round 3, No. 76: Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida
My take: Another pick that’s hard to get too excited about since Anzalone isn’t an edge rusher (at least not primarily) -- and since he is a bit of a mystery after being limited to 31 games in four seasons because of injuries. But Anzalone was projected to go around this stage of the draft. And he does have some pluses that show his potential.
The 6-foot-3, 241-pounder has some great athletic traits. He ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker at the NFL scouting combine (4.63 seconds). And he was playing very well last season until he suffered a broken forearm during Florida's eighth game. Anzalone had 53 tackles and three sacks in those eight games and led the Gators with tackles in three of them.
Anzalone also battled multiple shoulder injuries during his first three seasons but was healthy enough to play in the Senior Bowl and go through the pre-draft process.
How he fits: Great question. The Saints could obviously use help throughout their defense, but they have really loaded up at linebacker this offseason, signing veterans A.J. Klein and Manti Te'o in free agency to join incumbents such as Craig Robertson, Dannell Ellerbe, Stephone Anthony and Nathan Stupar. Anzalone will likely play outside linebacker in the Saints’ 4-3 base package, at either Sam or Will. He said he primarily played on the weak side at Florida but moved around.
Round 3, No. 103: Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic
My take: This is obviously the Saints’ best pick of the draft so far, since they finally took an edge rusher!
That’s mostly sarcasm, since it’s hard to expect the 103rd pick in the draft to come in right away and play a significant role. But the need and opportunity are absolutely there, since edge rusher has ranked as New Orleans’ most glaring need all offseason.
It’s disappointing that New Orleans wasn’t able to land a top edge rusher in free agency or earlier in the draft because Payton described the position as a “must” heading into this offseason. But Okafor has some nice upside after injuries scuttled his first four years with the Arizona Cardinals. And Hendrickson appears to have some enticing potential as well.
Disruptive player: Hendrickson racked up 23 sacks over the past two years and 29.5 over his career. He was named the Conference USA defensive player of the year in 2016. And as an added bonus, he had four blocked kicks last year, which tied for first among all FBS players. Special teams is an obvious route to the roster for him.
One more bonus: ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay listed Hendrickson on his “all-tape” team of “players I love watching the most.” McShay said Hendrickson shows a mean streak on the field.
Round 6, No. 196: Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami
My take: The Saints took a bit of a gamble on a character risk with their final pick, since Muhammad was dismissed from Miami (Fla.) because of off-field issues. He was suspended for the 2014 season after allegedly punching another student. Then he was dismissed two years later as the NCAA investigated him for receiving illicit benefits from a luxury-car rental company. But if you’re going to take that kind of risk, this is the stage of the draft to do it. Ideally, the Saints will get someone who has been humbled and is determined to resurrect a career that once had a ton of promise as a top high school recruit. If not, they didn’t sacrifice much.
How he fits: Muhammad is yet another pass-rushing option for a team that badly needs some to emerge. The biggest disappointment of New Orleans’ offseason is that it wasn’t able to land a top pass-rusher in free agency or the early rounds of the draft. But the Saints have added a handful of guys with potential at discounted rates, including veteran Alex Okafor and third-round defensive end Trey Hendrickson and Muhammad. They’ll compete with incumbents Darryl Tapp, Hau'oli Kikaha and Obum Gwacham to provide some much-needed help across from strong-side defensive end Cameron Jordan.