Do not panic about the Saints’ 2021 draft class
Nobody knows anything.
Those words were written by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman to describe the business of making movies, but it could just as easily apply to the NFL Draft. Developing a film or a television show is not unlike scouting: you can describe what’s going to work and what will make a player great, and you can identify those traits in others, but when the lights are on and the stage is set, who the hell knows what’s going to happen?
Along those lines, if you’re so inclined to peruse the draft grades that various publications have assigned the team, you’ll see that the Saints’ mark ranges from very bad to average. Right now, all of this means nothing.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I screamed at the television when the Payton Turner pick was announced, but when it was all said and done, this draft class is promising. It may not have happened in the order Saints Twitter wanted, but the team did address three of their most glaring needs with their first three picks – defensive line, linebacker and cornerback – and then added a receiver in the seventh round.
The Saints’ biggest perceived need is for a second starter at cornerback. They very well may have found the answer in Paulson Adebo, the third-round pick from Stanford. Adebo opted out of the 2020 season, but prior to that, he was a two-year starter who gained a reputation as a speedy ballhawk with prototypical size. Had he played last season, his stock would likely have been much higher. What’s not to like?
With the selection of Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner in the second round, the Saints are getting a reliable and highly-regarded player who can immediately compete for playing time next to Demario Davis. As a two-time First Team All-Big Ten Conference selection, Werner was extremely productive for one of the most dominant programs in the country.
Some may bemoan the Saints’ decision to pass on Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the first round, but it has since been reported that JOK has a heart issue. Sean Payton said the Saints made an effort to draft players that were medically sound because of how the pandemic affected their scouting process, so this was likely one of the reasons the team elected not to take Owusu-Koramoah. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley had to retire after the 2016 season because of a heart condition – no one wants to go down that road again.
There was also some noise about the Saints’ interest in former LSU linebacker Jabril Cox, who was available when the Saints picked Werner. Personally, I would’ve hated that choice. The LSU defense got routinely shredded in 2020 and anyone not named Derek Stingley Jr. should be promptly ejected into the sun (as far as draft boards are concerned).
And then there’s Notre Dame QB Ian Book, whom the Saints chose in the fourth round. I love this pick, and anyone with half a brain will tell you that until the Saints find the true successor to Drew Brees, they should (and will) be in the QB market. Book was one of the best QB’s in the school’s history and he even beat Clemson in 2020.
All you really need to know about Book is right here in this Tweet from Nick Underhill:
Spending a fourth-rounder on Book is well worth the risk, because the reward is that you’ll potentially find the next Russell Wilson.
It’s becoming clear that Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and the rest of the Saints brain trust believe the team is much closer to being a contender than the fans do. Or, that’s the smokescreen they’re deploying. The perception outside of the building is that they need to replace four starters (CB, LB, DL and WR). Three of those positions were addressed with the team’s top three picks.
At the very least, the Saints got deeper. And for a team that had the middle of the roster stripped for cap reasons, and whose future ultimately rests on the throwing shoulder of whoever wins the QB job, adding depth through the draft equals success.