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pakowitz 04-28-2003 01:55 PM

Time will tell how N.O. did in draft

METAIRIE -- As usual, the jury will be out on the New Orleans Saints' 2003 draft for at least two years.
Good? Bad? Mediocre?

We won't know for sure until they put on the pads in training camp in late July. Even then, it may be another 1 1/2 years before we find out how much of an impact the seven picks have on the team.

But we know this: if the Class of 2003 has the kind of impact the last two classes have had, it should be a good one. And early indications are that the Saints -- under the direction of General Manager Mickey Loomis, coach Jim Haslett and director of player personnel Rick Mueller -- came up with another solid group this weekend.

"I know that people are going to give us an A, B or C," Haslett said shortly after the Saints finished up on Sunday. "But it doesn't make a difference because it's all based on time."

The time Haslett was talking about had nothing to do with how fast a player runs the 40-yard dash, which has been on his mind for the last few months.

"I don't know," he said when asked how he'd rate the draft. "I don't think you can do that for a couple of years. But I like the guys we got. We filled some needs and we got some good, quality depth. We have guys that can step in and hopefully compete right away."

The Saints were obviously pleased with the way the draft unfolded on Saturday. They boldly consummated a trade with the Arizona Cardinals in the first couple of hours that netted them the sixth overall pick and helped them move up 17 spots in the second round -- and also get a fourth-round choice.

So, like every other NFL team today, the Saints are happy with how everything shook out.

"We feel really good it," Mueller said. "I felt good about it (Saturday night). We were ecstatic when we were able to get up to the sixth spot and the key was swapping second-round picks. So we ended up getting a couple of guys we really wanted, but all of them came off our board high."

Defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, whom the Saints targeted when they knew defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson was going to be taken with the fourth overall pick, is already penciled in as a starter. And Mueller said tackle Jon Stinchcomb should battle for a starting spot right away.

Third-round selection Cie Grant, a linebacker with sprinter's speed, will likely learn the ropes at middle linebacker for at least a year, while fourth-round pick Montrae Holland -- who came with the choice they got from the Cardinals -- could be in the mix early.

It kind of reminds the Saints of the 2001 and '02 drafts.

In 2001, they drafted two players who are already starters -- Pro Bowl running back Deuce McAllister and strongside linebacker Sedrick Hodge -- and a third, defensive tackle Kenny Smith, may get a shot at a starting spot alongside Sullivan after the trade Sunday of veteran Norman Hand.

The Saints followed that draft up with one that produced starters in wide receiver Donté Stallworth, defensive end Charles Grant and guard LeCharles Bentley in the first two rounds. Two other selections in that draft, linebacker James Allen and safety Mel Mitchell, will have a chance to start this year.

So it's easy to see why the Saints are so happy with what they got.

"We got to the point where we're adding players to the mix," Mueller said. "We weren't picking for certain spots, and when you do that you're building for the future. But overall, we feel pretty good about it."

"Everyone did a good job in formulating our boards," Haslett said. "We got every single pick we wanted in the first three rounds."

Even Sullivan and Holland, who squared off against each other in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, tried to show how well the Saints fared in the two-day draft. Holland said Sullivan was the best tackle he's ever blocked, and Sullivan said Holland was the best guard he's ever faced.

"That's a pretty good combination to have," a smiling Haslett said.

Haslett said the Saints wanted to bolster the offensive and defensive lines going into the draft, and they certainly did that with two players on each side of the ball -- Sullivan and Williams on defense and Stinchcomb and Holland on offense.

"We wanted to address those areas because we've filled some needs on the perimeter the last couple of years," Haslett said.

"We got some players like (free safety) Tebucky Jones and (cornerback) Ashley Ambrose in free agency this year, so it was time to go back and build up the lines."

"We feel good, but I think every team right now feels pretty good," Loomis said. "You're adding new players and you're adding new talent. I think we got a pretty good value pick in each case."

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