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Saints fill Primary Needs

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; The more I thnk about it and read about our picks, the more I like our draft. I'm still a little pissy we didn't get a CB, but I like the rest of it. This guy gives a good breakdown ...

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Old 04-26-2004, 07:13 AM   #1
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Saints fill Primary Needs

The more I thnk about it and read about our picks, the more I like our draft. I'm still a little pissy we didn't get a CB, but I like the rest of it. This guy gives a good breakdown of each of the guys, and he's certainly no sunshine pounding homer.

DRAFTING CLASS: Saints Fill Primary Need
By TCU Dan - SaintsReport Staff Writer - 9:02 pm CST

In one of the most unconventional drafts in recent history, the New Orleans Saints’ approach proved most perplexing. With primary needs at cornerback, linebacker, and defensive tackle, the Saints only chose to address one of these positions on the first day. Instead they spent their first pick on a position considered one of the team’s only surpluses, passed on a premier linebacker via trade, and twice passed on a chance to grab falling stars at the cornerback position. Oh yea, and they traded away their last first-day pick to relinquish a fifth round pick and grab a second rounder next year.
Yet through all of their puzzling decisions, at the end of the day the Saints not only grabbed impact players at value positions, but addressed the character concerns that have plagued this team for the past three years.

#18: Will Smith, DE, Ohio State: Resulting from an uncharacteristic passing on defensive linemen early, the Saints were left with no valuable players at need positions. But rather than trade down and grab a need player later in the first round, the Saints chose to grab an impact player in defensive end Will Smith. While the Saints were already deep at DE with high picks Darren Howard and Charles Grant slated as starters, as well as very solid backups in Willie Whitehead and Melvin Williams, the deciding factor in selecting Smith was his admirable character.
The Breakdown: The best pass rusher in the draft, Will Smith showcased both excellent college production (10.5 sacks in 2003) and great workout numbers (4.58 40 yard dash). Despite being slightly undersized (266 pounds), Smith is very strong and maximizes the size that he possesses. And while he excels at rushing the passer, Smith is no slouch against the run. He shows good leverage at the point of attack and is instinctive in his run/pass recognition. Smith is athletic in the open field and fluid in pursuit, showing little wasted motion when changing directions. Smith plays much bigger than he actually is, using his strength and technique to disengage blocks. He is a force against the pass and shows the ability to set up the offensive tackle and use one of his many moves (great spin, rip, and club moves) to slip past them. Smith’s many strengths include his burst, agility, closing speed, polished technique, pursuit, and upper body strenght. But by far his biggest attribute is his character.
Risk: It is hard to find any downside to the selection of Will Smith with the 18th pick. The Saints would have preferred DJ Williams or Jon Vilma, but Smith’s pure value makes up for missing out on an impact linebacker. This selection will also undoubtedly effect the Darren Howard negotiations.
Reward: Not enough can be said about the upside of the selection of Will Smith. His value at the 18th pick cannot be measured in words. The coaching staff will find a way to get Smith on the field and he will surely have an impact, instantly improving the New Orleans sack production. He is a high character guy and fits the Saints’ new criteria for locker-room leadership.
#50: Devery Henderson, WR, Louisiana State: Despite being in position to pick linebacker Dontarrious Thomas or one of many quality cornerbacks at the 48th pick, the Saints opted to trade out of the pick with the knowledge that Minnesota, too, had targeted Thomas. The motivation behind what seemed to be a questionable decision lay partially in the Saints’ quest to relinquish the fifth round pick lost in the Jason Craft trade, but mostly in the opportunity to land a premier athlete and talented receiver in Devery Henderson. Henderson, who will come in with a chip on his shoulder, will bring speed (holds the second fastest 60-meter dash time in LSU history) and quality depth to a receiving corps littered in 2003 by injury and uncertainty. His stellar Senior Bowl performance single-handedly dropped premier cornerback Derrick Strait’s stock to the third round.
The Breakdown: While relatively new to the receiver position, Henderson will benefit coming from an LSU program with a good track record at converting runningbacks into quality wide receivers (Josh Reed). He will provide an instant project for new receiver coach Jimmy Robinson to invest in personally. Despite being arguably the fastest receiver of his class, Henderson is still raw in his route running and pass catching. While he is very natural in the deep game, Henderson has a tendency to break stride and double catch on the shorter quicker routes, hindering his ability to produce after the catch. He will need repetitions to gain zone instincts and more of a feel for the game. It is his inexperience in this aspect that will likely prevent him from supplanting Jerome Pathon as the slot (#3) receiver. Henderson will, however, provide a dangerous deep threat and situational receiver, as well as quality depth and an insurance policy for the oft-injured Stallworth.
Risk: At this point, Henderson is mostly a situational receiver. His instincts as a receiver are raw, which causes him to be more deliberate in and out of his routes, as well as in his pass catching in the short/intermediate game. Luckily he is coachable and should quickly improve in these areas.
Reward: Henderson’s quality presence will make the WR position one of the most competitive in training camp. His potential ceiling is one of the highest in the draft and his coachability will allow him to maximize it. Another great value pick and high-character player acquired by the Saints.
#60: Courtney Watson, LB, Notre Dame: The Saints, again, passed on an assortment of premier cornerbacks for a player who was a slight reach in Watson. And while Courtney Watson may be a reach as a pure draft prospect, his character and work ethic present qualities that could make him a steal as a NFL player in the long run.
The Breakdown: Courtney Watson is an example of a prospect who was underrated due to Notre Dame’s struggles. Considered by some to be a poor man’s Jonathon Vilma, Watson is a player who possesses a good all-around game while not particularly excelling in any one area. As a prospect, he brings a combination of college production (led ND in tackles, including 14 against USC in 2003) and good workout numbers (4.54 40 yard dash). Watson is an experienced and polished inside linebacker, starting for Notre Dame since his sophomore year. He is underrated in coverage and with coaching could become a true three-down linebacker. Watson has great ball skills (four interceptions as a junior), and if he refines his technique in zone and man coverage, he can become a playmaker in the NFL. Against the run he is active and instinctive, showing good use of his hands to disengage at the point of attack and avoid cut blocks. And while he shows good technique in taking on blocks, he is more finesse than one would like at the MIKE position. Watson knows how to keep his feet and stay low, and he rarely over-pursues, showing good angles and adjusting on the fly. He will immediately challenge for a significant role at both the MIKE and WILL positions.
Risk: Watson is a reach as a pure prospect. While his experience is in the middle, the Saints are projecting him primarily at the WILL where his talents may be misused. His potential ceiling is not high, and while Watson is polished, he is not ready to assume a starting role and will, at most, push Cie Grant and Derrick Rodgers for playing time.
Reward: Watson is another extremely high character guy, a quality which the Saints obviously prioritized as a key need. He is a solid prospect who’s game is somewhat reminiscent of Edgerton Hartwell. Watson knows how to maximize a good d-line and with the direction the Saints seem to be going, Watson could become a very productive player for years to come.
#139: Rodney Leisle, DT, UCLA: Rodney Leisle presented great value in the fifth round. Upon acquiring this pick from the Redskins, the Saints had originally targeted FB Mike Karney. But with Leisle on the board, he was too much to pass up. Leisle, originally projected as a sure-fire first-day prospect, fell as a result of a perplexing draft at DT and concerns surrounding his durability.
The Breakdown: Leisle, considered by most to be a “football junkie,� is a versatile player with a great understanding of the game. He is very polished from a technique standpoint and has the size to play in either a 1-gap or 2-gap scheme. This versatility makes him an asset in the Saints scheme, where Leisle could fill both the one and three technique positions in the tackle rotation, as he has the ability to penetrate and hold up against double-teams. Leisle is not a “project� player, as he is very technically sound and knows how to get low and use good leverage at the point of a attack. He has a strong, powerful lower body and makes great use of his hands, but his arms are short and he needs to bulk up a little more. While he does not bring much as a pass-rusher, Leisle is relentless and has a nice assortment of moves. He is fast off the ball and is good but not dominant at the point of attack. Leisle is not a great athlete, but he is a high-motor, high-character guy who could prove to be a steal in the fifth round.
Risk: Leisle stock dropped because of durability concerns. His potential ceiling is low and he does not bring much presence as a pass rusher. He has neither standout athleticism or dominant size.
Reward: Leisle will instantly challenge for a spot in the Saints’ rotation at DT. He has a big body with room to grow and is not a project player, which is a rarity in the fifth round. He is versatile and will be a solid player on running downs. His style of play is reminiscent of another current Saints player, Brian Young. Rodney Leisle is a high-character guy who hangs his hat on toughness, preparation, and hard work.
#156: Mike Karney, FB, Arizona State: Karney is a player I liked from the beginning. He was an underrated prospect and in my opinion, the best fullback in the draft. He played at Arizona State where he was underused but shined at the East/West Shrine game. The Saints targeted Karney once they had acquired the Redskins’ fifth round pick, and after drafting Leisle were immediately on the phone looking for a way to trade up for him.
The Breakdown: Karney showcased his ability at the East/West Shrine game, possessing the best hands of any back or tight end on hand. A very thick, strong player, Karney makes up for what he lacks in straight-line speed with above-average agility and decent burst. As a receiver, he maximizes his run-after-the-catch ability by catching the ball away from his body and on the run. He is tough to tackle in the open field and knows how to maintain momentum and balance. As a lead-blocker, Karney is dominant in isolation plays (reminiscent of Terrell Smith). He proved to be a well-kept secret and will be an instant contributor on the New Orleans offense.
Risk: Very little-to-no risk to speak of. The Saints had to give up a sixth and seventh round pick for this acquisition.
Reward: Karney presented great value in the fifth round and fills a void left behind by departed blocking specialist Terrell Smith. He will instantly challenge veteran Sam Gash for the starting fullback position. He is exactly what the Saints, as well as Saints fans, were yearning for at the fullback position: a player adept both at blocking and receiving.
#240: Cody Bockwoldt, LB, BYU: Bockwoldt presents as good of value as one can expect to find late in the seventh round. He was acquired via a compensatory draft pick awarded to the Saints earlier in the off season.
The Breakdown: Bockwoldt is an intriguing prospect with good straight-line speed and some untapped potential as a pass rusher. While he was a productive playmaking linebacker at BYU, Bockwoldt tends to not play up to his stopwatch time (4.55) and shows some stiffness in his lateral movement. He lacks strength and despite good intelligence, tends to misdiagnose plays and get out of position. Just as Bockwoldt has trouble translating his workout speed onto the field, it is likely he will have trouble translating college production into NFL production.
Risk: Not much risk to speak of with any seventh round pick. Bockwoldt is, at least, bound for the practice squad and, at most, a special teams contributor. I personally was higher on USF product Maurice Jones as a LB.
Reward: Rating draft prospects is an inexact science and with a player like Bockwoldt, you never know what you may be getting.
The Saints addressed a serious need in the character department while grabbing some intriguing, impact players at positions of value. They avoided any serious reaches and made the most of what they were given on many first-day situations. However, I seriously question their decision to trade out of the third round, their last first-day pick, with some premier prospects available, most notably USC cornerback Will Poole. This decision was likely based on the emphasis placed on character from the onset of the draft as well as the Saints confidence that no available cornerback could immediately challenge any of the current corners on the roster. The Saints took the New England Patriots’ approach for draft-day success, opting to trade down on the first day and wait for players to fall to them. Despite a good draft, the Saints will still have to consider improvement via free agency for the remainder of the off season.
The fact that the Saints passed on cornerbacks such as Derrick Strait, Will Poole, and Joey Thomas increases the possibility that they are looking to negotiate a veteran trade. While most fans want to immediately speculate on the situations in Oakland with Charles Woodson and New England with Ty Law, my gut feeling is that the key player, if any, would be Mike McKenzie of Green Bay. Adding another wrinkle to the speculation is Green Bay’s glaring need at defensive end and the fact that they did not address it on draft day. Green Bay would like to make KBG a situational, third-down pass rusher to keep him fresh. Following the selection of Will Smith, the Saints currently have a surplus at the DE position and could face a tough road with franchised player Darren Howard. McKenzie has expressed his disgust with the Packers publicly and influenced Green Bay to draft two corners on the first day (Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas). McKenzie would do exactly what the Saints’ brass said no cornerback available in the second and third rounds would do: challenge the top of our CB depth chart. However, the Saints are comfortable enough to enter the 2004 season with the corners already on the roster, just as they are comfortable enough to enter the season with a surplus at the defensive end position.
Speaking of the DE position, do not think that the drafting of Will Smith in the first round had anything to do with the Darren Howard negotiations, just as the drafting of Deuce McAllister three years ago had nothing to do with Ricky Williams. However, expect the Will Smith pick to ultimately affect the fate of Darren Howard, just as the Deuce McAllister pick ultimately affected the fate of Ricky Williams. Howard is not likely to be as flexible in contract negotiations right after the Saints select a premier player at his position. The Saints would like to keep the issue quiet. Darren Howard is a classy player and will likely not show any public disgust. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Howard in a different uniform next season. But I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him in black and gold.
The first round of the 2004 draft was one of the most hectic and unpredictable in recent memory. Aside from the 10 trades that took place round one, the top 20 picks proved to be very uncharacteristic and ultimately landed the Saints with DE Will Smith. While the run on receivers was to be expected, the lack of an early run on defensive linemen was a huge surprise. Some of the most valuable picks of the draft will prove to be among the defensive linemen taken. Any other year, players like Will Smith, Tommie Harris, and Vince Wilfork would be a premium on draft day. I guess it goes back to the theory of cycling and recycling in the NFL.
I really like the Devery Henderson pick in the second round. Despite having a chance at Dontarrious Thomas, the Saints followed their prevailing strategy of drafting the best player available, so long as he filled at least a minor need. Henderson may be a year away from pushing for a starting job, but what he will bring to the offense and the return game will give the Saints extra depth and something to think about when it comes time for the roster to take its final shape. Do not speculate that picking Henderson will spell the end of Pathon, Stallworth, or any other Saints’ receiver. At least not this year. The Saints’ lack of depth at receiver was exposed last season and they want to garner as many good receivers as they can possibly can. The odd man out in this equation could ultimately be Talman Gardner. Unless he shows some serious development during the off-season, chances are he’ll be hitting the waiver wire sooner than expected.
Even though I said that I consider the Courtney Watson pick a slight reach from a draft-perspective, I really like him as a football player in the NFL. Watson may not possess the pure potential and upside of a Dontarrious Thomas or Daryl Smith, but he is a football player who is very coachable. Watson is a guy who feeds off of the players around him, and the other players also feed off of him. The key to cohesiveness--and ultimately unitary success--in the NFL is mutual on-field relationships like this. At Notre Dame, Watson didn’t have much to feed or feed off of. With the talent the Saints have been acquiring along the d-line, I look for Watson to have a bright future in black and gold.

In closing, I find it interesting that the Saints set out to address the CB and LB positions early. Yet only one of which was addressed in the draft and not with a sure-fire impact player. What this means is that the Saints have remaining needs to fill, even after the closing of the draft. Whether the Saints have enough confidence to fill these from within has yet to be seen, but with free agent Ian Gold still on the market and players like Woodson, Law, and McKenzie on the trading block, it will be interesting to see if the Saints’ brass continues to remain reactive rather than proactive for the remainder of the off-season. It is possible to find success in either method, I just hope that the Saints identify which approach is the best for their ball club.
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Old 04-26-2004, 08:51 AM   #2
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Saints fill Primary Needs

Good Stuff Danno. I read where the Saints actually looked into trading up to get Vilma but there weren\'t any takers. I think they might have drafted one of those CB\'s too, except they have plans to deal with that through FA. As always I could be wrong. I\'ve also read that they\'re prepared to go into the season with what they have at CB...thing is an improved pass rush makes those corners we have look a little better.
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