New Orleans Saints: Draft Grades and Recap

New Orleans Saints: Draft Grades and Recap

by May 4, 2019 0 comments

During the NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints built up assets to help construct the future of their franchise.

The Saints went into the draft with only one pick in the first four rounds but managed to maneuver 14 spots up in the second round to select Texas A&M center Erik McCoy and gave up a 2020 second rounder to select Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

This approach has been commonplace for the Saints throughout the Payton-Loomis era, aided by the fact that their Super Bowl window is closing quickly with aging quarterback Drew Brees. This approach has led the Saints to select players who can help “now” rather than later, in hopes of vaulting the team to their second Super Bowl. Most notably, the Saints gave up a 2018 second-round pick to gain a second 2017 second round section, with which they selected dynamic running back Alvin Kamara.

Joining McCoy and Gardner-Johnson to make up the rest of the Saints 2019 draft class are Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton, Notre Dame tight end Alize Mack, and Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss. McCoy and Gardner-Johnson will go down as the cornerstones of this draft class, while Hampton, Mack, and Elliss will need to earn their roster spots during training camp and preseason. It should be noted that of the seven Saints’ 2018 picks, four did not make the roster, including fourth-round pick Rick Leonard.

Round #2, Selection #16

Erik McCoy, Center, Texas A&M

Grade: “A”

Moving up from 62 to 48 to select McCoy cost a 2020 second-round pick, but he fills a need for the Saints and should be able to step in immediately and help the Saints push for the Super Bowl in 2019. McCoy started the majority of his games at A&M at center, but has played guard before, too. The Saints signed interior offensive lineman Nick Easton to a four-year, $24 million dollar contract but with McCoy in the fold, Easton can function as the versatile sixth offensive lineman who can fill in when a starter is inevitably hurt. Additionally, this pick makes starting guard Andrus Peat expendable; Peat is due for a new contract in 2020.

Round #4, Selection #3

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Safety, Florida

Grade: “A-”

Billed as one of the best value picks in the draft, the Saints again moved up to select Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson by trading picks 116 and 168 for pick 105. One of the most versatile players in the entire draft, Gardner-Johnson has experience as a box safety, deep safety, and slot corner. It is unclear where the Saints plan to play him with safeties Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell on the roster, but it is almost certain that Gardner-Johnson will join Williams and Bell in three-safety sets, a job that failed free agent signing Kurt Coleman was supposed to have in 2018. It is rather curious that the Saints were able to get such a talented player so late in the draft, raising the question of either medical or off the field issues. Regardless, Gardner-Johnson will look to prove the Saints right with his versatility in 2019.

Round #6, Selection #4

Saquan Hampton, Safety, Rutgers

Grade: “B”

A team captain and three-year starter at Rutgers, Hampton is another interesting addition to the Saints’ defensive backfield. A former three-star recruit out of New Jersey, Hampton will be facing an uphill climb to crack a talented roster. Working in his favor, however, are general manager Mickey Loomis’ comments, stating that the Saints had Hampton ranked in their top 70 players in his post-draft press conference. It is likely that Hampton’s best shot to crack the roster will be as a special teams contributor.

Round #7, Selection #17

Alize Mack, Tight End, Notre Dame

Grade: “B”

Mack is a late pick that plays a position of need for the Saints. Tight ends this late in the draft always have a few flaws, but one thing working in Mack’s favor is his combine testing. He tested as a 61st SPARQ percentile athlete at the combine, which is promising for his chances of making the roster. He will have to turn heads at training camp and in the preseason for the Saints to keep him along with free agent signee Jared Cook and veteran Josh Hill, in addition to competing with second-year wide receiver convert Dan Arnold and Garrett Griffin.

Round #7, Selection #30

Kaden Elliss, Linebacker, Idaho

Grade: “B”

Two picks shy of Mr. Irrelevant, Elliss was a first-team all Big Sky selection in 2018. Though everyone wants to find the next Tom Brady or Antonio Brown at this stage in the draft, Elliss is a long shot to make the team. If he can stand out on special teams he has a chance to make the roster, but it is probable that Elliss will be on a different team by the start of the NFL season in 2019.

The Saints’ 2019 draft class will likely not be the quality of the 2017 class, but McCoy and Gardner-Johnson should have an impact from day one. If those two can become quality starters, this draft will be looked back on as a success.

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