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pakowitz 05-02-2003 01:39 PM

While New Orleans' draft wasn't flashy, it was effective

This is an online-only bonus report
Posted on May 2, 2003

METAIRIE - No, it wasn't as flashy as selecting a wide receiver from Tennessee in the first round like they did last year.

In fact, this NFL draft was a bummer for many New Orleans Saints' fans.

Weeks of speculating on which two prospects the Saints would nab from a group that consisted of Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson, Miami defensive tackle William Joseph, USC safety Troy Polamalu and Notre Dame center Jeff Faine all went out the window early on Saturday.

Instead of doubling their pleasure in the middle of the first round for the second straight season, the Saints elected to trade them to move up to No. 6, while elevating their second-round spot and acquiring a fourth-rounder.

If New Orleans was able to get Kansas State cornerbacker Terence Newman like it tried, it might have resulted in more cheers. Instead, more looks of confusion came out of going with Georgia defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan (6-3, 313, 4.9-40).

First of all, analyzing any team's draft takes at least a season of observation. In today's free agent world, though, it also requires lumping it with free-agent acquisitions and judging the offseason as a whole.

So let's review how the Saints have tried to cure their ills since January.

The defense, particularly up the middle, was slow and horribly ineffective, so they traded for New England safety Tebucky Jones, signed middle linebacker Orlando Ruff from San Diego and drafted Sullivan on Saturday.

Keep in mind that the scheme will be altered some this season by putting one of the tackles over the center as a true noseguard. Sullivan was drafted to be that guy, plus he's definitely a quicker tackle than any of the 330-plus pound Lunch Bunch of Grady Jackson, the recently-traded Norman Hand or Martin Chase.

With that in mind, the Saints actually needed Sullivan more than Newman. By the way, some considered Sullivan a reach at No. 6. My mock draft had Minnesota picking him at No. 7.

Another factor high on the minds of the Saints' braintrust is that six of the club's 16 opponents this season have mobile quarterbacks, especially the two against Atlanta's Michael Vick.

With Jones and Mel Mitchell moving in at safety, second-year James Allen getting a chance at linebacker and now Sullivan replacing Hand, the defense's speed has been dramatically upgraded.

The next identified area of need was on the offensive line, so they picked Georgia tackle Jon Stinchcomb and Florida State guard Montrae Holland. Jerry Fontenot isn't a lock to return at center and Victor Riley is an unproven commodity at tackle.

If neither situation worked out, the Saints would then be one injury away from big trouble up front.

Nevertheless, a fan poll would have suggested that linebacker was the Saints' biggest need area. The problem was that only one linebacker was taken in the first round, and Oregon State's Nick Barnett was a reach by Green Bay.

The Saints claimed they liked Ohio State linebacker Cie Grant (6-0, 240, 4.48-40) all along and picked him in the third round. Grant, however, is an outside guy, so that seemingly did little to solve the team's difficulties against the run.

Furthermore, sometimes you can only overhaul one area at a time. New Orleans will go with a linebacking corps of Sedrick Hodge, Allen and Ruff with Darrin Smith as a top reserve for now.

If no improvement is made, perhaps it'll attack that area next season when the linebacker crop couldn't possibly be worse than it was this year.

As for the late wide receiver selections of Kareem Kelly and Talman Gardner on Sunday, that twosome should help in a spot where the Saints need a few more options. Picking them late on Sunday is where guaranteed reserves are supposed to be taken.

Overall, Stinchcomb is the key to this draft. If he delivers valuable minutes this season and eventually becomes a full-time starter, the trade that allowed them to move up in the second round to get him will look even more genius in the long run than it already does.

It's also exciting to see the Saints doing the wheeling and dealing for a change. Getting those extra late picks that they lost in previous trades illustrates that they have a master plan.

Now it's up to this season to begin determining if it was a good one.

SaintStoneyMount 05-02-2003 03:23 PM

While New Orleans' draft wasn't flashy, it was effective
Let\'s just wait and see.

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