New Orleans started last season 13-0 before losing their final three games before the playoffs. They proved how little those losses actually mattered by winning their first Super Bowl ever behind Drew Brees and their high-powered offense. Their defense also played a huge part in their championship run, forcing 39 turnovers which was second to Green Bay. With the final pick in this year’s draft, the Saints targeted players with high upside and value picks over needs and Chris Tripodi breaks down their picks.
In the first round, the Saints took cornerback Patrick Robinson from Florida State. Robinson’s physical gifts are undeniable. At 5-11, 190 pounds he has the strength to jam receivers at the line and come up the field against the run and possesses the top-end speed (4.46) to run with receivers all over the field and break quickly to throws. His marginal instincts and general inconsistency are the only things that could hold him back from being a shutdown corner in the NFL. Robinson tends to bite on receivers’ first moves and relies too much on his speed to get him back into plays down the field. The Saints have the depth at corner to allow him to develop and if the light goes on, he has great potential.
New Orleans took another high-upside prospect with their second pick in USC offensive Charles Brown. Graded as a borderline first-rounder, Brown is a definite steal outside of the first 60 picks. He is strong at the point and pushes defenders off the line against the run, while displaying the necessary footwork and awareness to anchor in pass protection and potentially replace Jammal Brown at left tackle. Brown can play on either side of the line but needs to work on his balance and blitz adjustments to reach his full potential.
With their third pick, the Saints took Miami tight end Jimmy Graham. A former basketball player who joined the Hurricanes last season, Graham put his skills on display. At 6-6, 260 with 4.53 speed, Graham runs like a receiver and has excellent athleticism and natural pass-catching skills. His blocking technique needs a great deal of work but with Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas ahead of him on the depth chart he will have time to develop his skills. Graham’s upside is similar to former basketball players-turned-tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates if the Saints remain patient with him.
The Saints struggled to stop the run last season and used their fourth-round pick on LSU defensive tackle Al Woods. Woods has the size (6-3, 309) and speed to be a productive pro, but his minimal production in college makes him as a developmental prospect. He plays aggressively, has a quick first step and is tough to knock off his feet, but is ineffective changing direction and in pursuit. Like Robinson and Graham, he has starter potential down the road but needs to improve the mental aspect of his game.
Boston college center Matt Tennant was the Saint’s fifth-round choice. We had Tennant rated as a second-round prospect, so this was another good value pick for New Orleans. Tennant has great awareness and works well with the rest of the line, moving well and showing the ability to get to the second level quickly. He pushes defenders off the ball on running plays but struggles against larger defensive tackles due to a lack of natural bulk. Tennant could be a starter at multiple positions once he physically matures, something that’s hard to find in the fifth round.
New Orleans’ seventh-round pick, Oregon quarterback Sean Canfield, has limited size and arm strength and is slow getting the ball out of his hands. He is a very heady quarterback who stays poised in the pocket and can effectively lead an offense, but his physical tools project to that of a third-string quarterback.
The Saints refused to address their need for linebacker help alongside Jonathan Vilma and drafted multiple developmental prospects that will have a limited impact in helping New Orleans repeat this season. Conversely, this could prove to be an excellent draft in a few seasons if players like Robinson and Graham reach their full potential. They only had six picks but five of them could develop into starters down the line, something that very few teams can say about a single draft class. They say it takes 3-4 years to fully evaluate a draft and that is definitely the case with the Saints’ 2010 picks.