Indianapolis – The honor, called the 2017 Best NFL Draft Award and presented by Inside The League and The Scouting Network, didn’t carry much suspense.
If the New Orleans Saints hadn’t been presented with it after a historic draft – the first time one team had the NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year since 1967, along with three other opening-game starters, a valuable rotation player and promising prospect – a recount would have been in order.
Instead, the Saints garnered 85 percent of the votes to run away with the award, which was accepted Wednesday night by Assistant General Manager/College Scouting Director Jeff Ireland.
Ireland, during his acceptance remarks, first acknowledged team owner Tom Benson, who remains in ICU at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, where he is receiving care for the flu.
“Speedy recovery to Mr. B.,” Ireland said.
He also pointed to the leadership provided by General Manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton, and accented the work done by the Saints’ scouting staff.
“Scouting is not an easy job,” Ireland said. “It’s not just watching a lot of football. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication. I know those are clichés, but every draft is different. Each has its own difficulties. To put it into perspective, there’s a lot of collaborative effort that goes into each and every draft.
“The hard work and dedication of our scouts – the long days and short nights, out on the road, risking their lives driving through the mountains and everything. So I really appreciate the scouts.”
The collective effort helped produce the Saints’ historic 2017 draft class.
Cornerback Marshon Lattmore (first round) was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and led the team with five interceptions; tackle Ryan Ramczyk (first round) was an opening-game starter who played every offensive snap, safety Marcus Williams (second round) was an opening-game starter who had four interceptions; running back Alvin Kamara (third round) was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year who scored a franchise rookie record 14 touchdowns; linebacker Alex Anzalone (third round) started the first four games before a shoulder injury ended his season; defensive end Trey Hendrickson (third round) had two sacks and forced a fumble; and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (sixth round) tied for the league lead in sacks during preseason.
“You’re just looking forward to putting the tab on the board in the right place, and knowing when you put them up there that you have a vision for the player, you’ve evaluated the person and you have a vision for how he’s going to be in the locker room,” Ireland said. “But not only in the locker room, but a vision for how he’s going to succeed and have success in our league.
“But it was pretty cool this year, to see that come to fruition – to see the person develop, to see the player develop in front of our eyes. That was a really cool event to watch and we had a great year. We’re proud of not only this year, but we’re proud of the last three drafts. I think we’ve put 16 starters on this team in the last three drafts, including those college free agents. And that’s just the hard work and dedication of not only our college scouts, but our pro scouts as well.”
It’s a draft ratio that the Saints, and Ireland, will take.
“The draft is a 50-50 proposition,” he said. “(Hall of Fame coach Bill) Parcells always told me, ‘Over your career, if you’re 50 percent, you’re going to the Hall of Fame.’ This year, we were just right more than we were wrong.
“We believe in our process, we believe in the protocols we’ve put in place, we believe in pretty much everything that we’re doing right now and that gives us a lot of confidence to ask for more. I’ve asked more from our coaches here at the Combine and I’ve asked more from our scouts and that gives them confidence that, ‘If Jeff is asking for it, then we’ve got to give it to him.’ ”