April 17, 2012

Despite Small Inventory, Saints' Draft Picks Have History

Depressed by the Saints' paltry, decapitated 2012 draft class?  Fear not, this franchise has made the most out of picks just like the scant five the Saints' have this April.  

Here is a review of the top draft picks made by the Saints franchise within three picks of the choices the Saints' currently own in the 2012 draft.  Even if they did not make a big impact wearing black and gold, these players made the best careers out of their starts with the often-lowly Saints franchise.
  • 89th Overall Pick  - New Orleans

A number of solid draft picks choices within three choices of the 89th pick in Saints history, including 16-season fullback Lorenzo Neal out of Fresno State, Stanford LB Jim Merlo (a starter for three seasons with eight INT's and 3 TD's) and Grambling State S Delles Howell (17 career INT's in six seasons).

But Morten Andersen, the greatest placekicker in the history of the league, and the 86th overall pick in 1982 out of Michigan State, is clearly the best in this range.  Andersen scored points in 174 straight games from 1983 to 1994 and had streaks of 25 and 20 straight field goals made.  He was a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro during his 13 seasons as a beloved Saint.  After leaving the Saints in 1995, Andersen at age 35 began the second half of his career, playing 186 more games through 2007. He connected on 79.7% of attempts on his career and amazingly 83.7% after the age of 40.  Andersen is the leading point scorer in the NFL history and a lock to be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

  • 122nd Overall Pick - New Orleans

Current Saint starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod (125th overall, 2007) has a Pro Bowl, a Super Bowl ring and three starting seasons under his belt.  After a pair of quiet years, no-name Bushrod emerged as a starter for the Saints at the start of their 2009 Super Bowl run, and has improved remarkably since.  Bushrod was an obscure pick from Towson State at 125 in the 2007 draft and nearly forgotten until Jammal Brown's training camp injuries forced him into the spotlight.

Four picks away, T Dave Lafary (118th overal pick in 1977) started at left tackle for the Saints through the mid-80s, never surrendering his job to presumed starter T Leon Gray, the bounty of the Archie Manning trade.

CB Terry Schmidt (121st overall in 1974) from Ball State played just two seasons for the Saints.  Waived in 1975, he was claimed by Chicago and went on to play nine seasons for the Bears, collecting 26 interceptions in 95 career starts.  The honors now go to Schmidt, who opted to retire one season before the 1985 Bears defense dominated the league, but Bushrod's future is bright.

  • 162nd Overall - New Orleans

Current Saint P Thomas Morstead was the 164th overall pick in 2009, and has been a top-notch punter and kickoff specialist ever since, breaking league marks for touchbacks this past season.  All-Pro LG Carl Nicks was the 164th pick of the Saints the year before.  And while those were inspired picks that powered the Saints' to new heights in their short Saint careers, three other historical picks stand out.

Duke CB Ernie Jackson (164th pick in 1972) played six seasons for the Saints, collecting 15 interceptions and 8 fumble recoveries.  After 1977, disgruntled Jackson requested a trade and was sent to the Falcons for S Ray Brown.  Jackson never started and was out of the league two years later, Brown had three solid seasons for the Saints.

WR Floyd Turner (159th overall pick, 1989) was a weapon for Bobby Hebert and Steve Walsh in 1991, leading the team with 927 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.  But Floyd was a quiet reserve after a 1992 broken leg, and after five seasons in New Orleans he signed in Indianapolis and then Baltimore, catching the last of his 281 passes in the 1998 season.

Wisconsin G Terry Stieve, the 160th pick overall in 1976, emerged as a starter as a rookie and started for most of his two seasons in New Orleans. The Saints traded Stieve and veteran starter DE Bob Pollard to the Cardinals for disgruntled G Conrad Dobler and WR Ike Harris in 1978.  Stieve started six more solid seasons for St. Louis, collecting 98 career starts total.  Stieve is currently the best Saint pick in the 159th-165th range, but Morstead or Nicks are sure to eventually claim the honors.

  • 179th Overall - New Orleans

"Mean" Gene Atkins was the Saints' 179th pick out of Florida A&M in 1987, and started 87 games for the Saints and 31 more for the Dolphins through 1996.  Atkins' great 1991 season helped lead to the Saints' first division title: three sacks, 5 interceptions and a league-high 198 return yards, four forced fumbles and two recoveries, plus 368 kick return yards.

But two seasons prior with this very same pick, the Saints picked LSU WR Eric Martin, who went on to own most team receiving records through 119 starts for the Saints.  Martin scored 48 touchdowns for the Saints and one more in a quiet retirement with the Chiefs in 1994.  Rivaled only by Joe Horn and Marques Colston as the greatest receivers in team history, Martin played in 143 straight games from 1985 to 1993.  He still owns the career receiving yardage record, though Colston is within reach.

  • 234th Overall - New Orleans

The greatest player taken near here was a ninth round pick and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie: punter Jason Hansen, the 237th overall pick in 1984.  After five seasons punting in the Dome, Hanson punted for four other teams across ten more quiet seasons, twice leading the league in punt yardage.  Hansen emerged from retirement in 1999 for the Redskins for the last of his 212 NFL games and 1,057 punts.  His 44,700 punt yards are 14th on the all-time list.  With the Browns, Hansen even tossed a touchdown pass in 1991 on a fake field goal.  

Also picked 237th overall: current Saint WR Adrian Arrington, who is expected to challenge for a starting job this training camp.  Picked deep in the seventh round in 2008, Arrington has spent four seasons buried on the depth chart or on the practice squad.

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