April 28, 2012

With Suspensions Coming, Saints Miss Opportunities In 2012 Draft

With only five draft picks left in a decapitated draft class, the Saints bungled their changes to provide youthful contributors to a defense that will be gutted of its core.

The NFL is expected to announce suspension penalties this coming week.  As many as 26 current and former Saints players could be suspended.

Saints GM Mickey Loomis insisted that he'd not draft with the suspensions in mind. Was this wise?  It may have been nice to draft developmental prospects with the future in mind, but the bounty suspensions are an unprecedented and (hopefully) one-time occurrence.

It sounds admirable to be forward thinking in the draft, but the Saints spent only two draft picks on defense, both raw developmental players.  Small-school prospects DT Akiem Hicks and DB Corey White played zero games of major college football.

Small school doesn't begin to describe - Hicks played three seasons for the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, from a conference which had never sent a player to the NFL combine before.  Hicks may have been recruited to LSU out of a California community college, but he never played there after minor recruiting violations killed his eligibility.

White comes from Samford, a Baptist school with fewer than 3000 undergraduate students.  Hicks and White won't be developed by the Saints if they are cut to make room for players who must actually contribute to the 2012 defense.

Whether or not the Saints wanted to draft for long-term, they will have Hicks and White to work with in training camp in the near-term.  Especially in the case of Hicks, the Saints will want to carry their third round pick on their 53-man roster - even if he isn't ready to contribute in the absence of, say, Sedrick Ellis, who must be considered a player vulnerable to the bounty scandal's punishments.

In the case of Corey White, a collegiate cornerback, is it likely he'll be ready to contribute at his new pro position, safety, in the case of suspensions to Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins?  White doesn't have the quicks to play cornerback in Spagnuolo's man-coverage focus, and like Jenkins and Usama Young before him will take time to make the transition to safety.

While the Saints did rebuild their linebacker corps in free agency, they still haven't addressed the potential suspension absences at safety, defensive end, or cornerback yet.  Additional free agents will now be required to fill the roster when the suspensions land.

Give the Saints credit here: they did not take a quarterback, the ultimate luxury throwaway to challenge the Brees off the field and Chase Daniel on the field.  That bombshell could have been dropped in the third round when highly-regarded Kirk Cousins of Michigan State fell in their laps at the bottom of the third round.  A pro-ready quarterback, he would have been the broadside volley at Brees in a battle that nobody wants to see escalate.

The Saints did choose luxury with Wisconsin WR Nick Toon, the highest rated of the Saints' draft picks and like many of them not without injury woes.  But promising youngsters Joe Morgan and Adrian Arrington are tough competition behind an entrenched starting trio of Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore.  Toon has promising talent and refinement and certainly the NFL bloodline on top of that, but the Saints added an injury risk to a comfortable receiver depth chart.

Consider this foreboding string of defenders picked immediately after Toon: Georgia CB Brandon Boykin to the Eagles, LSU CB Ron Brooks to the Bills, Oklahoma LB Ronnell Lewis to the Lions, and Nebraska DT Jared Crick to the Texans.  Look for those NFL-ready defenders this fall when the Saints are ravaged by suspension.

Including Toon, the three offensive players taken have major injury history and dropped in the draft because of injury concerns.  The Saints injected size and youth to the offensive line with Andrew Tiller from Syracuse and Marcel Jones from Nebraska, but both players were at the bottom of the NFL Scouting Combine's numbers for bench press.  They fit the Saints' formula for massive, undeveloped linemen in the late rounds.  Both will need to rebuild and refine their bodies in a professional locker room.  If they follow pattern, neither will see the field soon.

With only five draft picks, the Saints were not in a position to make a major splash in the draft.  But opportunities were there to select defenders who can survive the attrition of the Saints' suspension-haunted season, and potentially contribute when the veterans are absent.  Those opportunities were missed.

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