Success on the field has almost always been synonymous with making the right picks in the war room during the NFL Draft. This is especially true for the New Orleans Saints, who have enjoyed the franchise’s most prosperous five-year period with 53 regular season and playoff wins, courtesy of astute drafting during this time.
Since Executive VP/General Manager Mickey Loomis, Head Coach Sean Payton and Director of College Scouting Rick Reiprish first worked together in 2006, the Saints have mined a total of 21 players from the past five drafts that are on the current Saints 21-man roster. Out of this group, nine members are currently in the starting lineup, while several others play key roles on offense, defense and special teams. Three from this group have been selected to Pro Bowls.
While 2006’s turnaround from 3-13 to a 10-6, highlighted by the club’s first NFC South Division title and trip to the NFC Championship was boosted by the production and veteran leadership from the unrestricted free agent signings of QB Drew Brees and LB Scott Fujita, a lot of muscle came from the weekend of April 29-30. Five rookies who started at least one contest and two veterans who were full-time starters were acquired in trades for picks. Almost immediately after the draft started, the Saints pulled the trigger on RB Reggie Bush with the second selection. Bush has provided New Orleans with versatility at the running back position that the franchise never had before, posting 4,982 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns. Holding the second pick in the second round as well, Loomis traded back nine spots with Cleveland and picked up C Jeff Faine in the process. While Faine would be a productive starter in the middle for two seasons, S Roman Harper was chosen at 43 and has started all 67 games he’s been active for at strong safety and has been selected to the last two Pro Bowls. Holding the 99th pick overall, Loomis flipped the fourth rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles and received DT Hollis Thomas to move back nine slots where G Jahri Evans was selected. While Thomas effectively manned the nose tackle position for two seasons, Evans immediately moved into the starting lineup at right guard and has not missed a game, while being selected to the last two Pro Bowls. New Orleans would later strike it rich in the final round. After picking T Zach Strief with the 210nd pick, who has provided outstanding depth on the offensive line and started five games, New Orleans struck it rich with their final choice, picking WR Marques Colston with the 252nd overall selection, a compensatory pick. The 6-4, 225 pound wideout from Hofstra almost immediately became Brees’ favorite target and is ranked third in club record books in most receiving catgories with 369 receptions for 5,097 yards and 40 touchdowns.
While the Saints would not return to the postseason until the 2009 campaign, the depth possible to mount a Super Bowl run was accumulated from 2007-09.
Starting off with the 27th pick overall in 2007, New Orleans turned in their first card in for Tennessee wideout Robert Meachem, who’s evolved into a big-play receiver, averaging 16.3 yards per catch and making 17 touchdown grabs. In the third and seventh rounds, the Saints would improve their defensive depth and special teams coverage units by picking DB Usama Young and LB Marvin Mitchell. No Saint has had more special teams stops than Young’s 57 since 2007, while he has also started six games at cornerback and safety. Mitchell is right behind Young with 55 special teams tackles over this period. In the fourth round, the Saints picked up Towson T Jermon Bushrod. Following a two-year apprenticeship, Bushrod has manned the left side since 2009.
Three starters came out of the 2008 draft. Originally holding the tenth pick, New Orleans traded up to seven with New England and chose DT Sedrick Ellis, who has helped solidify the middle of the defensive line with 165 tackles and 12 sacks, including a career-best six takedowns in 2010. With their second round pick the club nabbed CB Tracy Porter, who has immediately grabbed one of the club’s two starting cornerback positions and recorded two of the most significant interceptions in franchise history in the 2009 postseason. With a fifth round pick, New Orleans picked Carl Nicks, who has combined with Evans to form one of the top guard tandems in the NFL and is coming off of his first Pro Bowl selection. With a seventh round pick, the Saints picked Michigan WR Adrian Arrington, who is expected to compete for a spot in the wideout rotation in 2011. New Orleans’ 2008 fourth round pick also served as a valuable chip as the club traded the 113th selection along with what would turn out to be a third rounder in 2009 to acquire LB Jonathan Vilma, who has become the club’s defensive leader and a 2009 fourth round choice.
Following a 2008 training camp trade for TE Jeremy Shockey in exchange for second and fifth round picks, the Saints would only pick four times in 2009, but they would make the most of them, with three of the choices on the current roster. With nine starters on offense and defense from these drafts, the Saints would finish 13-3 and run through the postseason for their first Super Bowl title. In the first round, the Saints picked Ohio State defensive back Malcolm Jenkins with the 14th selection. Jenkins provided valuable depth at cornerback as a rookie during New Orleans’ championship season, appearing in 14 games with six starts. In 2010, he moved to free safety and was a second-team All-Pro selection, leading the Black and Gold defense with four takeaways. With the fourth rounder acquired from the Jets in the Vilma trade, the Saints picked a fellow linebacker of Haitian heritage in Wake Forest product Stanley Arnoux, who recorded nine special teams stops in 2010 after missing his rookie season with an Achilles injury. With only a seventh round pick remaining on the second day of the draft, Loomis moved that choice and a fifth rounder in 2010 to Philadelphia for the Eagles’ 2009 fifth rounder, with which they selected SMU punter Thomas Morstead, who has proven to be an asset both punting and on kickoffs with his strong leg.
In 2010, the Saints further supplemented their roster with five of the six picks on the roster today, as the club qualified for the postseason back-to-back for the first time since the 1991-92 campaigns. With the 32nd pick in the draft, New Orleans chose CB Patrick Robinson. In addition to appearing in 11 games with four starts as he learned the cornerback position at the NFL level, Robinson’s selection also allowed the Saints to move Jenkins to safety , where he enjoyed a breakout season. The Saints hit paydirt in the third round when they picked TE Jimmy Graham, who made a successful transition from the hardwood to the gridiron, recording 31 catches for 356 yards with five touchdowns, establishing himself with a solid red zone target. New Orleans also looked to the future, got younger and improved their depth along the offensive line with T Charles Brown (second round) and C Matt Tennant (fifth round), both of who are expected to challenge for more playing time in 2011.