Saints traded up for a difference-makerby J.W. Miller on 04/27/18
Bravo to the Saints for identifying the man they wanted in the 2018 NFL Draft and then leaping over all prevailing opinions and perceived obstacles to get him. After the Saints traded up from No. 27 to the No. 14 slot held by Green Bay, it clearly revealed one thing: GM Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton had identified a difference-maker, a player whose presence might push them over the top. But who would it be?
To anyone familiar with the Saints’ needs, it was obvious. The position was pass rusher and one prospect was still available and within reach. I immediately turned to the Lovely Miss Jean and said “Marcus Davenport!” But the intrepid band of experts on ESPN was so enmeshed in a quarterback-centric narrative that they immediately suspected the Saints had traded up to select Louisville QB Lamar Jackson. Mel Kiper Jr., Kirk Herbstreit and Louis Riddick all justified their collective opinion for a variety of reasons, all logical. Payton once commented on Jackson’s unique gifts as a combination passer-runner. Another noted that it was time the Saints thought about the successor to Drew Brees, who will reach the lofty age of 40 during the 2018 playoffs. Still another gushed about the historic opportunity the NFL had of drafting five quarterbacks in the first round since 1983.
And all were wrong when the Saints selected Davenport. The UT San Antonio product was the highest rated pure edge rusher in the draft and ranked just behind North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb - who went to Denver at No. 5 - in overall ability as a pass rusher and run stopper. And, with All Pro Cameron Jordan coming off his best year at the other end of the defensive line, the Saints now have what could become their best pass-rush tandem since Pat Swilling and Rickey Jackson of the Dome Patrol Era.
Just as important to NFL personnel geeks, the selection is consistent with an old NFL scouting axiom that “blue players make blue plays.” Blue meaning the color-code for the very best players. Successful teams consist primarily of “red” players who are solid starters, a few “yellow” players or starters who teams would like to replace with an upgrade. But teams try to add more “blue” players, the ones who make the plays that win games. Obviously, the Saints believe Davenport is a “blue” player and paid the price to snag him.
It wasn’t the first time Loomis and Payton have traded up for a player they believe can make a huge difference to their offensive or defensive schemes. The most notable recent successes were WR Brandin Cooks, whom they acquired by trading up from No. 27 to No. 20 in 2014, and RB Alvin Kamara last year, whom they acquired at No. 67 in the third round by giving San Francisco their 2018 second-round pick.
The Kamara deal is illustrative in considering whether trading away a first-rounder or other future higher round is an obstacle, either actual or perceptual. Unless you’re in an NBA front office, giving up a future first-round pick may be considered too much of a price. But consider that some thought the same thing last year when the Saints gave up a future No. 2 for a No. 3 today. That argument balloon began leaking air after Kamara’s offensive rookie of year season, but it popped when the final 2018 draft order revealed that the traded second-round pick was No. 59, only eight slots ahead of last year's third rounder. That is no difference at all.
Just for fun, let’s look at would have happened if the Saints had not made the trade and waited it out patiently. When the No. 27 slot was on the clock - Seattle had obtained the pick from Green Bay - these players were still on the board: defensive lineman Taven Bryan of Florida; tight ends Dallas Goedert of South Dakota and Mike Gesicki of Penn State; cornerback Mike Hughes of UCF and, oh yes, QB Lamar Jackson, who was selected by Baltimore as the No. 32 and last pick in the first round.
The Saints would have selected a good player but not equal to the talent they received. As it turned out, Mel Kiper and crew got their fifth quarterback in the first round, and the Saints got their difference-maker.