Saints 2016 Draft Analysis

Despite having just five picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints pulled off possibly one of the best draft classes in years. Three of the five picks were used to sure up the leagues worst defense in terms of yards per game. Still, unlike Ditka I’d rather have more picks rather than one great one.  Listed below includes an analysis on each player selected and why they were a good for this football team.

Sheldon Rankins, Defensive End, Louisville Round 1, 12th pick
Rankins is the dominate “3-technique” that all 4-3 defenses rely on. The acquisition of Rankins will help out both the pass defense and rush defense that were among the leagues worse a year ago. Last season at Louisville, the 6’2″ 205 lb. tackle racked up 8 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Rankins stood out at the Senior Bowl where he made headlines all week due to his abilities in the one on one sessions. The former All-ACC performer will be a great fit on this Saints’ defensive line that desperately needed help.  He should help the Saints win more games in 2016.

Michael Thomas, Wide Reciever, Ohio State Round 2, 47th pick
Prior to the draft, Thomas was considered one of the top possession WRs in the country. He has great size and will instantly become one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets. Since he’s an All-Time great for the Saints, Thomas should come out firing.  At 6’4″ and 215 lbs, look for Thomas to become an instant jump ball threat in the Red Zone. This selection makes an already potent offense even better.

Vonn Bell, Safety, Ohio State Round 2, 61st pick
Perhaps the biggest move of the draft for the Saints was to trade two of their picks for Bell. New Orleans desperately need picks to immediately help out their defense, and they found them both in the first two days of the draft. Bell is a versatile safety who is an average downhill tackler and a great cover player. Last season at OSU, Bell helped lead his team to a national championship and earned 1st Team All-American honors from the Associated Press. Concerns over his ability to “fill the alley” and play downhill led to Bell’s falling out of the first two rounds. Despite those concerns, the Saints will expect Bell to improve and compete for a starting job during this season.

David Onyemata, Defensive Tackle, Mantioba Round 4, 120th pick
The biggest reach for the Saints during this draft was the selection of Onyemata. Onyemata never stepped onto a football field until he arrived at college in Winnipeg, Canada. Despite the inexperience and level of competition, he has proven to possess elite raw power and strength that opponents dread. If Onyemata is open to coaching, he has the upside to become a steal as the 120th overall pick.

Daniel Lascro, Running Back, California Round 7, 237th pick

If not for an injury plagued senior season at California, Lascro would most likely have been picked on day 2 of the draft. Instead he slid to the final round where he was scooped up by the Saints. He wowed scouts at the NFL combine with a 41.5 inch vertical which was the best of any player present. Lascro, however, will have to claw his way to a roster spot with a very crowed New Orleans backfield. If he wants to make the team, he will have do it by becoming a special teams threat in the preseason.

The Demise of Dikta: Trading for Ricky Williams

New Orleans Saints head coach Mike Ditka came to the 1999 NFL Owners Meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz. declaring he would trade all of his draft picks for the opportunity to select Heisman Trophy winner Texas running back Ricky Williams.  By the way, something he says he would still do.

A proclamation of this nature didn’t give the Saints much leverage in conducting trade talks with other teams, but a deal was finally consummated that rocked the NFL Draft. The Saints traded away eight draft picks, including two first-round selections, to the Washington Redskins for the fifth-overall pick.  I’m glad we had plenty of draft picks this year to restock the team.

It was the biggest trade to acquire one player since the Dallas Cowboys traded running back Herschel Walker and four draft choices to the Minnesota Vikings for five players and eight draft picks in 1989. The package included three first-round choices, three second-round picks and one third-round selection, all of which solidified the roster for the Cowboys dominance in the 90s.

Ditka was getting frustrated with the entire rebuilding process, as the Saints suffered through back-to-back disappointing 6-10 seasons. Which is not much better than we see this year going after last year’s 7-9 campaign.  He envisioned Williams becoming the centerpiece for his rushing attack, and felt a trade of this nature would be the final piece in the puzzle to getting the Saints back to respectability.

What was not to like about Williams, as he was the NCAA career rushing leader and the first Heisman Trophy winner to call Austin home since Earl Campbell in 1977. However, NFL franchises questioned his passion to play professional football and ranked Edgerrin James ahead of him as the top collegiate running back heading into the draft.

Ditka’s natural tendency was to give the proverbial “finger” if another front office questioned his evaluation of a player. He felt so confident about this trade that Ditka showed up to a team’s function in a dreadlock wig, which was identical to Williams’ hairstyle at the time.

It’s hard to judge Williams as a certifiable draft bust, but it’s correct to state that he didn’t exceed expectations during his time in New Orleans.  It’s not like he’s one of the best ever. Some in the local media thought Williams had a quirky personality, as he often conducted interviews with his helmet and visor on. It later came out that Williams battled a social anxiety disorder all throughout his professional career.

He was far more famous for his pot-smoking exploits than his actions on the football field, but Williams did rush for over 3,000 yards in his three seasons with the Saints. Despite all of the impressive offensive numbers, many fans felt Williams was a sheer disappointment for the amount of picks given up to acquire him. You cannot disagree with this argument, as injuries to his ankles and elbow limited Williams time on the field. He rushed for only 884 yards and scored four touchdowns in his rookie campaign.

Ultimately, the failure of the Williams trade defined Ditka’s tenure in New Orleans. Saints team owner Tom Benson couldn’t continue going down this path with the franchise and relieved him of his duties following 3-13 season. The immediate turnaround shown by the Saints was largely due to Benson finally handing the reins of running the franchise over to a football personnel guy, as Randy Mueller did an excellent job of rebuilding the roster through the draft and key free agent acquisitions.

You can’t argue with success, the Saints were 42-38 under Mueller, while the team was 15-33 in the three seasons under the helm of Mike Ditka. The highlight of Mueller’s brief tenure as Saints GM was the team’s first-ever playoff win over the St. Louis Rams 31-28 in 2000. His final act was trading Williams to the Miami Dolphins for two first-round draft picks following the conclusion of the 2001 season.