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Sean Payton reviews the New Orleans Saints 2014 NFL Draft

Posted May 10, 2014

Quotes from Sean Payton's draft review on Saturday, May 10, 2014

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Post-Draft Media Availability
Saturday, May 10, 2014
 
Opening Statement: “Let me just kind of hit on these last four picks and give you an idea of where we see these players playing positionaly. I think that will help and then we can open it up to questions.  First off, Khairi Fortt we just drafted from Cal.  We see him as an inside linebacker candidate.  We felt like he was a good player; not (just) on a good defense but you see his speed, (and) athleticism. We also feel like he would be someone that should be able to play special teams.  He is the player that transferred from Penn State to Cal, so we see him playing an inside linebacker at that weakside position, the Will.  Vinnie Sunseri is a safety from Alabama who is coming off an ACL surgery.  That procedure went real well.  He will be able to participate in the drills we have during the OTAs and minicamp and certainly without the contact.  That shouldn’t be a problem.  He is a player that should also excel on special teams and he did at Alabama.  Ronald Powell is the outside linebacker, Sam linebacker, we drafted from (the University of) Florida.  We see him as a Sam playing outside.  And then lastly, Tavon Rooks, the tackle from Kansas State, we see him as an offensive tackle.”
 
How do you juggle guys that are coming off of injuries?
“Typically we have a meeting during the process and we go through every player that has an injury grade.  We did that two weeks ago.  Specifically, for instance, Khairi (Fortt), that took place two years ago really from his transfer season to when he got to Cal.  He had a knee procedure done.  He has a clean bill of health.  (Vinnie) Sunseri was more recent, that procedure, and he even had a pro day where it was limited and yet it was far ahead of schedule.  With when that injury occurred we felt pretty good about the medical grade on him.  Ronald Powell, again he has played a year and a half since his injury and the last player, Tavon Rooks was pretty clean medically.  All of those things are taken into account and are a part of the process.  We felt pretty good about where these guys are at and yet recognize the rehab they have gone through.  All but Vinnie have played a full season at least, if not two.”
 
Were any of these defensive players drafted primarily because of how good they are on special teams?
“I would say it factored in certainly with, for instance, Vinnie Sunseri it factored in.  Because initially what is he competing for? A roster spot and a chance to get to the 53, be a fourth safety, play special teams, and be a core special teams player, in Khairi’s (Fortt) case, the same way.  We felt like added depth inside.  It was something we wanted to do.  And anytime you bring in a young linebacker you hope and count on those guys to be able to run and be a four core teams player.  It factors into it.”
 
What did you like about Ronald Powell and Tavon Rooks?
“(Tavon) Rooks played right tackle at Kansas State the last two years.  (Ronald) Powell was a guy who plays that outside linebacker position.  He is pretty strong.  He has heavy hands.  We felt like he is a guy that has some versatility.  We felt like his measurables were good.  He plays outside linebacker.  I would definitely see him playing that for us, that Sam position, not so much in a stack or off the ball but more on the line of scrimmage.  And then with Rooks, you see him at right tackle exclusively.  I would say he is a player that is right at 300 pounds and you see his athleticism.  He will have to continue to work and keep his weight and even add weight, but he played just under 300 lbs.  He has real good feet and athleticism.”
 
Can you discuss any centers that you looked at and what factored into the decision to not draft a center?
“It wasn’t a deep draft at that position and certainly we had a few players on the board.  We had a handful of centers on the board and just never, really never matched.  There was never really a time where we sat with one of these selections and discussed that position although we certainly would have and maybe would have liked to.  We are finishing up in this seventh round and we will continue to look in the post draft process for guys that we feel like fit that role as someone that can come in.  But an interior lineman was something that we had discussed that just never came to where all of a sudden we were comparing a center versus another player.  It just seemed to be a round or two off.”
 
Is there anything you can say about any discussions with Jonathan Goodwin?
“No, we are talking about the draft.”
 
Is it possible that some of these players injuries caused their draft stock to slide?
“Occasionally, there were a couple of players taken with the idea you might red shirt them, for instance the cornerback at Oklahoma.  He was on our board, I’m sure on everyone’s board and he was a player that was graded by us second/third round grades.  But the idea that if you draft him he is going to be a player that won’t be able to play this season with his injury happening post season at the Senior Bowl.  There was an offensive tackle as well I think from Clemson.  Teams have done that before, we actually would have done the same if, again, the players name appeared when we were selecting in the right round.  Each one is different though and the injury history and the process medically, in the very original intention of the combine back when it first started was to combine medical information, so that is the number one goal of that event.  We meet on it and then re-meet after their re-checks with our doctors.  We go through all the medical grades so I think absolutely it does impact certain players.  Each team maybe looks at things differently and I think a lot of times teams look at it with the same eyes.  Occasionally a player is taken where you might have had a medical grade on him and that is not different than the character the same way.  And we color code those.”
 
How do you feel you guys have addressed some of the things you were looking for in the offseason?
“I think we’ve made some real good progress.  We are excited.  I think, I’ve said this before, I think this next two or three hours are important considering last year five or six players made our roster last year at this time.  With only seven rounds there are some good football players that go undrafted and the trick is to look for some traits maybe that stand out and also to look maybe at where they have a chance to earn a roster spot.  There are some positions on our team, no different than anyone else, might may be more difficult. But that being said, this next period of time is pretty important.”
 
Ronald Powell was the number one player coming out of high school, do you feel like the injury has set him back or do you feel like he has a ceiling he can reach?
“Oh I think the good news for him he has recovered and played on his injury and he was a very highly recruited player.  We think there’s certainly upside when you watch him.  He loves playing and he has great football instincts, great character.  We are excited about him.  He is young still.  He is a fourth year junior with the one year red shirted.  He did some really good things on tape.”
 
Can you talk about how much of a motivation that is for him?
“Sure, I think for a lot of these players, typically when you start the process it is not unusual for a player to be expected to be selected maybe two rounds prior to when they get selected.  Every once and a while it happens the other way, but when you get into today’s selections there are a number of players maybe that felt like they were going to go earlier and they are excited to prove to other teams that they should have gone earlier.  That is not unusual.”
 
Did you find that Ronald Powell’s experience made him more humble?
“He is hungry.  He is one of those guys where it is all business.  It is very important to him and you get that sense specifically with that player.  Look, for every one of these guys it is important but every once and a while you come across someone that just stands out when you talk with the coaches and the area scouts and the position coaches or you go to the workout or you meet the player.  You get the sense that it is very important to him.  Now it is getting him in here, getting up to speed.  There are a couple of players that are on quarter system with their schools that will prevent them being at some of the OTAs and part of the mini camp.  That is just an NFL and NCAA rule.  For instance, Brandin Cooks is on a quarter system so he will be in not the early part of this week, but he will come in with the rookies for rookie camp but then he has to go back.  We will get him back in June.  There is one other player, I think Khairi (Fortt) is able to come in on Thursday and then stay.  I think the rest of those players are on what would be a normal semester schedule.”
 
How important was trying to improve on special teams, and was that part of the deal with some of these draft picks?
“I thought we covered real well. We were one of the better teams with both our kick and punt coverage. I would say, the kickoff itself and the kick return game itself has change dramatically with where the ball is being kicked from, so you see a greater number of touchbacks. The punt return game is something we want to work to improve and that is kind of a point of emphasis this offseason. I think finding young players, when you draft them it is important to have a vision as to what is your vision for the player and it doesn’t always come out that way. But I think it is important to have a vision for how you see the player fitting with your team. Obviously they are going to have to compete for these roles that we envision for them. Nonetheless though you have to kind of see where they all would play, how you see them playing and how you see them making the team if they do the necessary things and they in fact make a spot and earn it.”
 
You have talked about how important the next three hours are, and you don’t have a seventh round pick, so is this like a recruiting period for you?
“Yes, you can call and speak with a player. You can’t begin to discuss and specific contracts until after the draft ends. I think even more so than the calls it is the organization or the priority as to in this order because the thing that is a little unusual in the room post draft is that there is a lot of phone calls, there is a lot of people talking and there might be three people working on offensive linemen and the second call might get a commitment so the communication is important. In a perfect world you would like to go right down your list but every once in a while your third or fourth call is answered with a yes and you aren’t sure you want to take the yes until you find out what one, two or three (will do). That kind of thing. I think the organization of that process you can get a jump start on, they are working on it right now. The scouts and the coaches with the magnets and we are trying to prioritize in this order with each position. There are certain magnets that are blank that we need to fill underneath certain positions, some more than others.”
 
Is there selling involved?
“Yes, the one thing that we do sell that is easy for us to sell is the amount of free agents that have made our rosters in the last eight seasons going in to this ninth year. We really encourage them to research that and look closely at our history. I think that is easy for us to do. It’s harder for the player to get that right away but the agent is educated on that ahead of time, and he is able to know that this is a club that truly gives a chance to or maybe there have just been more examples of if you will. That is one, and I think educating the player is two, just looking at the depth chart and I think that is the second thing that is important.”
 
How much of this draft played out like you thought it would? Were there more surprises than usual?
“I think (it was) pretty typical. Picking where we picked from there is just so many different scenarios but I think (it was) fairly typical. There are always a few selections that are made that maybe you wouldn’t have expected. I think the quarterbacks maybe slid a lot more than any of us expected. We talked about the running backs the other day, I don’t know if that was a surprise though. I think it was fairly similar to the drafts that we’ve seen in the past. There are always a few things that come up where a grade is different, where you have a player graded in the late rounds and maybe he gets taken in the second round. That kind of thing is pretty normal.”
 
How big of a surprise is it that we have heard of every school your players came from this year?
“Well you need go back and track Tavon’s (Rooks) junior colleges, maybe we have you there. He has been to three.”
 
What did you like about Tavon Rooks?
“His athleticism. Again, I don’t want to use the word undersized but he is 299 or 300 pounds and when you watch him he is very athletic, so he can move his feet. I think there growth potential when you look at him, growth potential with regards to the weight room. I liked the way he moved around.”
 
Is he someone that could play guard for you too?
“I don’t know that. I don’t know that. Good question, we would have to see.”
 
Do you feel like you maximized what you could get out of this draft, especially at the top, in terms of having an immediate impact?
“Well, we will see, I think so. I always say this, this is the time where everyone has gotten their guy. We are excited, certainly, about the receiver Brandin (Cooks), with us being able to get him. He was a guy that we felt would really, really help us. I am excited to have a chance to work with him, I know our staff is. I think that there is a vision for each one of these players, maybe some more rapidly than others. Time will tell and I think we always spend 90% of the time talking about 10% of the draft, or the what is first round, and yet the real good drafts are the ones that include players throughout the rounds. This next step where they come in, and you meet them, and rookie camp is always exciting because you get to see how they interact with each other and the other guys that we sign tonight. The schedule is different in that they are actually able to come in tomorrow night and be here for physicals Monday and kind of join the team to some degree in the weight room and football school, kind of phase two of the program. We have to be smart about that. But then Friday, Saturday and Sunday next weekend we will have our rookie camp. That rookie camp will consist of these drafted players, the players that we sign tonight and then we always will sign a group of three-day tryout players that can come in, Khiry (Robinson) being one of them a year ago. He wasn’t on this list, he wasn’t on what is going to be tomorrow’s list after the phone calls tonight, he was on the next list. We always try to preach to those guys that the business of acquiring the player is one thing but once they get here we really try to go by what we see and that will be the message here in just under an hour.”
 
How many guys can you sign?
“I think our number is in the low twenties, it might be even a little less than that. Typically there is always maybe one spot that you hold because there is something that comes up with a player and so you don’t try to just sign them just to sign them. There are sometimes where you are not able to. I know typically when you get to next weekend and if you are interested in signing one of the three-day workout players than that means someone is not going to be on the team, so you are juggling that. We will get to our limit. Like I said, I think tonight will be important. I don’t know if it’s tonight, but pretty soon will be important.”
 
Did being a coach’s son impact your decision to choose Vinnie Sunseri?
“I would say this, when I say his workout you know he had the ACL injury. When you watch the six games he played this year he is making all the calls. He is very, very sharp. I would say he is very well respected by that team, a great program. He is very productive in those games where you see him play some high safety, some low safety. He is very productive in the kicking game. I think what helped us is just having a chance to see his workout, which was somewhat limited being that he was coming off of surgery, but it was way further along than we expected. He was doing bags, ropes, in and out of catching the football, moving, planting. So you really got a chance to see a body type. Every once in a while when you really don’t get a chance to see a player workout and he is injured, it is hard to try to picture how he is going to be, you go by the film. In his case though, in a quick amount of time, the rehab and the injury and then watching him move around was real impressive. He has great ball skills, he has great football IQ. He ought to be a guy that competes to be a four-core special teams player and I think everyone in the room felt that way. His father coached in Carolina before, he was coaching back at Alabama and now at Florida State. Each one of these guys, they are always interesting when you make the call and he was excited just as we were.”
 
Did you consider a quarterback today?
“Yeah, there were a couple of them. There were a couple of them that we had talked about. You saw two or three of them go, you saw (Aaron) Murray go, you saw (A.J.) McCarron and (Zach) Mettenberger. I wouldn’t say there was a run on quarterbacks but those three players were guys we looked closely at and began to see a value once it got into the later rounds that our grades were maybe a little bit better than where they were selected. They were in the discussion and talked about.”
 
Do you anticipate bringing in a fourth quarterback?
“I think typically we have. Typically we have and we will see just how it all plays out but I would imagine we will sign a quarterback tonight. I would imagine we have a chance to do that. We will know more once we get on the phone and talk to these guys. I know there are a couple of guys we are waiting to see, I don’t know they may have been drafted by now.”

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