Its sad, really. Some of the most-beloved players in LSU history are headed into the NFL Draft this week, and it’s been a real struggle for me to come up with much enthusiasm to discuss that.
Sure, I’ll watch the Draft. The Saints fan in me is certainly interested. Maybe it’s just the way that league has done everything it can to kill any sort of real, organic enthusiasm for anything related to the sport. Maybe it’s the stale, sterilized, weirdly reverential way that the sport is covered. Maybe it’s the wanton stupidity of the game’s strategic thought processes in the last century.
Maybe it’s a lot of things, but the result is the same. I just don’t care about the NFL Draft the way I used to. And it used to be one of my favorite offseason events every year.
But I do still have an opinion or two...
- It’s never a good thing to need a quarterback in the draft. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have an Andrew Luck fall into your lap, chances are you’re drafting somebody that’s either deficient in some area of the game, or just not ready to lead what’s probably not a very good team. And needs have a way of making NFL teams very foolishly avoid the smart thing in the draft — which is to use it to improve your roster first, and fill needs second.
- And you’re really SOL in this draft if you need a quarterback, because there ain’t a sure thing out there, and some of the guys at the top may not even be a good thing. On the upside, cheaper rookie deals means that missing on a franchise QB pick will only set a team back a few years, as opposed to nearly a decade back in the days of massive $50 million contracts.
- That said, DeShaun Watson is clearly the top guy here. His arm is strong enough — he needs to learn to use his feet better to get more behind his throws, and he’s the one guy in this whole crop who has at least shown that he can make big throws at big moments. Line up Mitch Trubisky with Christian Ponder, Blake Bortles and Blaine Gabbert and try to tell them apart. Dare you. DeShone Kizer went 4-8 last season. Patrick Mahomes at least checks all the physical boxes. He’s just going to have to learn how to operate within the confines of an offense as opposed to just doing whatever the hell works for him on every play.
- That said, if all things are equal for you when considering an imperfect draft choice, always remember that if you’re going to take a chance, take it on the player with the most talent.
- Hottest draft take: the Cleveland Browns will absolutely regret taking Myles Garrett with the first overall pick.
- Garrett is a pure speed rusher who cannot handle mean, nasty power blocking one on one. Professional offensive linemen will dominate him.
- Derek Barnett may not have Garrett’s raw potential to become a 12-15 sack guy, but he’ll step in almost immediately as an 8-10 sack guy. That is exactly what the New Orleans Saints need and I very much hope that he lasts to the 11th pick.
- There’s been a lot of discussion about the Saints and how badly they need defense, and they do. But focusing on that, exclusively, in the draft will only lead to more of what we’ve seen from this front office in recent drafts: failure.
- The draft is for improving your roster with the best players first, and filling your needs second. If those two coincide, perfect — and they often do, given that most NFL teams are always in need of talent along the lines or playmakers on the edge, either on offense or defense (or, of course, a quarterback). As such, focus on taking the best player you can — and if you’re a middle-of-the-pack team like the Saints, that means a player that helps you now (i.e., NOT a quarterback, as we’ll go into further). Don’t reach for a need.
- Besides, the Saints just left a pretty big hole in their receiving corps with the Brandin Cooks trade. Even with Mike Thomas, this is a team that NEEDS to surround Drew Brees with help, especially as he gets older. That doesn’t mean one of their first round picks has to be an offensive weapon, but they’ll want to look for one somewhere in those first three rounds. Receiver, tight end, running back — somebody that will help this team continue to score a lot of touchdowns.
- If you follow me on twitter, I’ve talked about this extensively, but for example: say Barnett isn’t around at 11, and there’s a major run on defensive front seven guys — picking a second-tier player at one of those positions, just because it’s a need, is incredibly stupid. Players like Jordan Willis of Kansas State, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley or Auburn’s Carl Lawson could all possibly be had later in the draft. Don’t be afraid to pounce if a top-10 offensive talent like Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey happen to fall into your lap.
- Don’t be afraid to trade down, either. You’ll never regret having extra draft picks.
- On the note of offense — a player like Ole Miss’s Evan Engram would look VERY good in black and gold. True, he’s not a traditional tight end, but he could easily be a Marques Colston-like chess piece. Too fast for linebackers and safeties in the slot, too big for cornerbacks out wide. No need to even waste time with him on the line.
- On the idea of drafting a quarterback...the idea of a world without Drew Brees is something fans and pundits have a really weird obsession with, given the aforementioned difficulty in finding quarterbacks and the level Brees continues to play at. It brings me to something longtime Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore used to say, when asked about giving Peyton Manning’s backup practice reps:
As we watched, we were surprised to see Manning taking virtually all the reps in the session. Jon [Gruden] asked Tom [Moore, the Colts offensive coordinator,] why he wasn’t giving some snaps to Peyton’s backups…He looked at us both in the eye, paused for a moment, then said in that gravelly voice of his, “Fellas, if ‘18’ goes down, we’re fucked. And we don’t practice fucked.”
The day that Drew Brees is no longer the quarterback here will be the day the Saints are stuck overpaying for the likes of Mike Glennon. The Saints need to avoid that for as long as No. 9 wants to be here. Pay him until the day his arm falls off, and worry about the disaster once it actually happens. Brees is still one of the five best quarterbacks in the game — and still a significant cut above that next group of five, too. You will not be able to replace him. Jump off that bridge when you come to it.
- Other SEC talents that I’d bet on succeeding at the pro level: Quincy Wilson and Jarrad Davis of Florida, and Dalvin Tomlinson, Ryan Anderson and Ardarius Stewart of Alabama. I’ve always been high on Anderson. Maybe Bama’s most versatile defender — rushed the passer well, set the edge against the run and made plays in coverage.
- Jonathan Allen is easily the best defensive lineman in this draft. Yeah, he’s not going to have a long career with those shoulders, but you’ll get five very strong years before he falls apart. Worth it.
- The other Bama studs considered high-end talents: Reuben Foster, Tim Williams and Marlon Humphreys — those three, I’d stay away from. Foster is a talented player, but shoulder issues, concussion issues and the off-field stuff (that we know of) are red flags (pun intended).
- Speaking of players to shy away from, there’s going to be a lot of talk about the under-utilization of Malachi Dupre over the next three days, and sure, he should have probably should have caught more passes. But here’s a cold, hard piece of truth — three different wide receiver coaches, including one who developed a pair of pro bowlers, couldn’t teach him how to get off of press coverage. Tape doesn’t lie, and Dupre’s will hurt him as much as any offensive scheme ever did.
- Among the other Tigers slated to go high, Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith will all step in and have big-time impacts right away. But don’t be surprised if Tre’davious White and Ethan Pocic have the longest pro careers. Both are steady, consistent guys that have always had an incredibly professional approach. And that ability to treat playing football like any other job and come in to work day after day after day is what carries you over the years in the NFL, as much as talent.