||04-27-2005 10:33 AM
Mike D on the draft
SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ latest draft class earns B-minus
By Mike Detillier
The best way to describe the NFL draft is to repeat what former Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers General Manager Bobby Beathard told me years ago, "The draft is no more than an educated guess on a player, but more importantly, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s every individual teamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s educated guess on needs for today and tomorrow."
While free agency helps teams address immediate needs, the NFL draft is more about value and laying the foundation for the future.
For weeks I have felt as though the Saints would draft an offensive tackle in the first round, but I was wrong on what side of the line they would go. Personally, I felt as though due to the advancing age of starter Wayne Gandy and the high cost of a starting left tackle, the Saints would go after Florida StateÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s Alex Barron or WashingtonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s Khalif Barnes in the opening round.
But the SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ thought process centered around the draftÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s top right tackle in OklahomaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s Jammal Brown and on Saturday, they left no guess work on making sure they got the top run blocker at the tackle position.
One Big 12 coach told me over the weekend that the Sooners ran almost 70 percent of their running plays to the right side, mostly because Brown was the teamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s best run blocker and that he would be a perfect fit for the Saints, especially if their intention was to control the clock in the running game.
It has been obvious almost from the end of last season that Saints coach Jim Haslett was not happy with his running game or his offensive line last season.
The retooling of the line became priority No. 1 in free agency, with the addition of guard Jermaine Mayberry and this past Saturday the final piece was put in place with the addition of Brown.
The tandem of Mayberry and Brown on the right side will be the starting unit on opening day against the Carolina Panthers, unless there is an injury to one of them, and I see this as the start of an offense built around a strong running game and a controlled passing attack, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers of last season.
I certainly canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t argue with the selection of Brown in the opening round.
While the Saints certainly could have used a top-flight outside linebacker like GeorgiaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s Thomas Davis, the Saints also know that in this league, if you canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t control the clock and score points, you arenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t going to win any more games than you have the past three or four seasons.
But the point should be made that if the team wanted a true "impact" performer, Davis would have been the pick. Brown will be a good NFL starter, but watch if Davis doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t develop into a Pro Bowler in the next two seasons.
Worst of all, the Saints will have to play against Davis twice a year for the next few seasons.
No matter what is being said about future contracts and stability, Haslett and GM Mickey Loomis know that their immediate futures are being laid at the doorstep of their offense and the running game next season.
In the second round, the Saints selected Nebraska free safety Josh Bullocks, who was regarded as one of the top ballhawks.
Over the past two seasons, he has intercepted 12 passes and will be a good addition to the SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ secondary, probably more in nickel and dime pass coverage sets this season.
The immediate problem with Bullocks will be getting him on the field if starters Dwight Smith and Jay Bellamy stay healthy.
The team spent a ton of money in the offseason to address the free-safety position by acquiring Smith from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and giving Bellamy a new deal.
Unless the Saints start to employ the BucsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ Cover-2 defense more or injuries take their toll, Bullocks will probably be a backup for the next two seasons.
Haslett stated Saturday he had little to no depth at free safety and that, along with BullocksÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ high rating, had him on the Saints radar.
Again, like the selection of Brown, the Saints went back to an area that they had addressed in free agency for insurance and for future need.
While there is no doubt that Brown will be an immediate starter at offensive tackle, Bullocks will have a much tougher time cracking the Saints starting lineup this season.
Also, donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t forget the SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ real second-round pick in this yearÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s draft was used last October to acquire veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie. McKenzie took a little while to familiarize himself with the SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ defensive scheme and they had some adjustments to make for him also. But he is a quality starter and an immediate impact performer for this defense. You can basically say two out of the SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ first three selections in this draft will be starting on opening day when Brown and McKenzie take the field.
I really like the selection of Connecticut middle linebacker Alfred Fincher in the third round.
Fincher is the type of player this team has needed to add to the linebacking corps for quite some time.
The first-team All Big-East player is a smart guy, who plays with a red-hot motor and he rarely takes a false step to the football.
While he is taking a big step up in football competition, he has excellent football instincts and a burning drive to be the very best he can be.
The Saints plan on working him at weakside linebacker early on and donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t be surprised to see him really give second-year starter Colby Bockwoldt quite a battle for the starting spot.
This guy is a good football player and the Saints just may be able to get quick dividends from their third round investment.
The second day of the draft is all about trying to get value and also about taking chances and the Saints had their share of both worlds come Sunday.
With TulaneÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s Roydell Williams still on the board in the fourth round, many felt as though the Saints would turn in his direction. But they rolled the dice on an injury-prone wide receiver from California in Chase Lyman.
The 6-foot-4, 217-pound wide receiver is a big, sure-handed target, who has played well when he has been on the field. But he has undergone six surgical procedures since enrolling at Cal.
Last August, I rated Lyman as one of my top 10 "watch for" players to develop as seniors in 2005.
In the first four outings of last season Lyman had the look of a "breakout" performer after catching 14 passes for 414 yards and 5 scores, but again a serious injury wiped out the remainder of his senior season.
Lyman has done a nice job rehabbing the surgically repaired knee, he actually worked out for scouts in early April and ran 40-yard times of 4.48 and 4.49 seconds. But I have to question how he will hold up in the NFL as an inside route runner if he couldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t stay healthy in college.
At least three clubs I spoke to late Sunday told me they had taken him off of their boards due to his long injury record.
With Lyman the question mark is not about talent, but about staying healthy and he just has not been able to shake the injury-bug that has bitten him throughout his college career.
In the past 20 years, I have done private scouting I have been burned many times by players with long injury problems that they seem to never be able to shake off once they hit the rougher and much tougher NFL.
Taking Lyman in the fourth round was quite a gamble.
The selections I like the best in the later rounds are those of former Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson and Wisconsin defensive tackle Jason Jefferson.
Yes, there is a great risk on selecting McPherson, who has had some very notable off the field problems. But in Round 5, you will rarely find someone with his immense physical gifts still left on the board.
McPherson is a work in progress, but he has the arm strength, mobility and play-making skills to develop into a starting quarterback in the NFL, if he really works at his craft and the Saints build a strong reinforcement team around him.
The former Arena League star will have no better opportunity than the one presented to him in New Orleans.
There is no pressure to beat out starter Aaron Brooks this season and with Todd Bouman and Kliff Kingsbury on the roster, he is a sure bet to make the 53-man roster, unless he gets into more trouble.
McPherson isnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t ready for prime time yet, but if he has learned his off the field lessons properly and really applies his talent, the Saints just may have landed their future starting quarterback.
If there is a sleeper in this draft group other than McPherson, the player to watch is Wisconsin defensive tackle Jason Jefferson.
Like Lyman, Jefferson was on my "top ten" breakout player list in August and while he didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t have a breakout senior season, he did his job very well by clogging up the inside running lanes for the Badgers and displaying a powerful presence in the middle.
Like Bockwoldt last season, Jefferson could well emerge as quite a late round selection.
Just remember, the draft is not all about immediate needs, but it is also a look into the future of a club.
The good clubs win when they develop the second, third- and fourth-year players on their squad. And for the Saints, this will have to be a key for them, if they hope to emerge as playoff contenders this season. While Brown and Fincher look like the best bets to emerge as rookies, you also have to consider they already have a proven starter out of this draft in Mike McKenzie.
I give the Saints a B-minus grade on this draft and hope the coaching staff can develop some promising talent in the next few seasons.
As for getting immediate help, it does happen, but just remember the draft is quite a roll of the dice. In this past seasonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s Super Bowl when the New England Patriots played the Philadelphia Eagles, two teams who have drafted well the past four seasons, it was an undrafted rookie from Brusly, Louisiana, cornerback Randall Gay, who was the only starter. Sometimes, that is what the draft is all about. Heart and desire is a quality that is hard to measure.
The good football teams seem to have a knack for putting the right player in the right scheme and finding players that take their profession serious, even after they get paid money unattainable by the average football fan.
NFL analyst Mike Detillier is based in Raceland