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John DeShazier: Saints rookies contributed in big way in 2015

Stephone Anthony started every game at middle linebacker

The 2006 draft class for the New Orleans Saints remains, perhaps, the gold standard in franchise history, though the '81 class indeed could ride shotgun rather than occupy the backseat.

In 1981, the draft haul included running back George Rogers, linebacker Rickey Jackson, defensive end Frank Warren, tight end Hoby Brenner, running back Hokie Gajan and defensive tackle Jim Wilks, several of whom were on the roster when the Saints made the first playoff appearance in franchise history, in 1988.

But the '06 class produced five players who were instrumental in the Saints' victory in Super Bowl XLIV – running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper, guard Senio Kelemete, tackle Zach Strief and receiver Michael Thomas. Three of them (Evans, Strief and Colston) just completed their 10th season with the franchise, are shoo-ins for the Saints Hall of Fame upon their eligibility and two (Evans and Colston) will be no-brainers for inclusion into the Saints Ring of Honor.

In the future, we'll know exactly where the '15 draft class ranks and measures. But after the rookie season, we can assess the performance of the Saints' newest freshman class.

Andrus Peat, OT, first round (No. 13 overall):Peat was drafted to play right tackle, learned to play every offensive line position except center during training camp, and got his most extensive game play at left tackle (two starts) and left guard (four starts) due to Terron Armstead's injuries and his emergence over Senio Kelemete at left guard (though Lelito reclaimed the starting position later in the season). Peat showed promise while adapting to guard, after having played tackle his entire career. But the big man (listed at 6 feet 7, 316 pounds) with the nimble feet was drafted to play right tackle and the Saints believe he'll form a good bookend with Armstead. He exhibited nice versatility; that'll help him in the future.

Stephone Anthony, LB, first round (No. 31):Anthony started every game at middle linebacker as a rookie and often was assigned the headset, having the calls sent in to him and relaying the defense to his teammates. He admitted there were some mental busts, expected of a rookie, and some glitches that smoothed as the season progressed. Still, he led the Saints with 112 tackles and also added an interception, a sack, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery (returned for a touchdown) and five passes defensed. Oh – he also scored on a defensive two-point conversion, the first of its kind in NFL history. He looks like a keeper, should anchor the middle of the defense for years.

Hau'oli Kikaha, LB, second round (No. 44):Kikaha started strong but his production tailed off as the season progressed. He was slowed by an ankle injury – in the last seven games he had no sacks – but finished with four sacks and four forced fumbles, along with 52 tackles. He's a promising pass rusher; he and Anthony are good fits for the defense heading into the future.

Garrett Grayson, QB, third round (No. 75): Not much to say here. Grayson was drafted as the potential quarterback of the future, and the future isn't now. Drew Brees led the league in passing yards and threw 32 touchdowns, with just 11 interceptions. Hopefully, Grayson is soaking up all the knowledge he can from Brees during his apprenticeship. His "game" time, for now, is restricted to preseason.

P.J. Williams, CB, third round (No. 78):Williams spent the season on injured reserve, but he'll get a chance. Secondary play was not a strength of New Orleans' in the 2015 season, so he can provide some valuable depth as a second-year man at CB.

Davis Tull, LB, fifth round (No. 148):Tull was on injured reserve for all but one game, and he never completely recovered from a torn labrum he suffered during the offseason. He showed flashes of potential during a brief preseason appearance, but the Saints chose to err on the side of caution with him this year. He was an elite pass rusher in college, and that quality can transfer.

Tyeler Davison, DL, fifth round (No. 154):The numbers (1.5 sacks, 18 tackles) don't properly state a case for Davison's impact, but the former Fresno State standout was exactly what the Saints wanted in a defensive tackle as a backup, and then as a starter when John Jenkins was hurt. He appears to be more than a rotation guy, capable of gumming up the middle and collapsing the pocket. Very, very solid rookie year.

Damian Swann, CB, fifth round (No. 167):Swann was a major find in the fifth round; he started two games and showed himself capable of playing the nickel, and playing it well. Simply, he can cover. However, he only played in seven games due to repeat concussions (three in all), and that's major concern going forward. He had 24 tackles and five passes defensed, and the Saints will take a cautious approach with him.

Willie Snead, RB/RS, seventh round (No. 230):His impact was as a returner, including a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown against Carolina. Murphy literally ran his way onto the roster – as a receiver out of the backfield in training camp, no one could cover him. Likely, that's where his impact will remain and he's elusive and fast enough to make a mark.

Bobby Richardson, DL, undrafted: Richardson was in the cluster of young defensive linemen that made the Saints comfortable with the thought of trading Akiem Hicks to New England. He started 11 games, including 10 of the last 11, and had 40 tackles and half a sack. He turned out to be a bonus pick for New Orleans, raising the overall grade and quality of the rookie class.

Willie Snead, WR, undrafted in '14:I know, I know, he's not a true rookie. But Snead didn't play in 2014 after being cut by the Browns and Panthers and picked up by the Saints, and he turned out to be more than almost any right-minded person could have expected. He finished third in receptions (69) and second in receiving yards (984), and added three touchdowns, and leapfrogged receiver after receiver to become a starter. Another bonus pick.

Delvin Breaux, CB, undrafted , signed from CFL: THE bonus pick. I'm a little biased here, but Breaux was just as good a player as he was a story (broken neck in high school, played in the Arena League, Gridiron Developmental Football League and CFL before being signed by the Saints). Another guy who isn't a true rookie, but I add him with the class as a first-year NFL player. Breaux was the Saints' best cornerback this season, showing himself capable of man-to-man coverage against just about anyone, and arguably was their best defensive player. He had some rough patches early with penalties, but he carried a pretty heavy responsibility in the secondary and became as reliable on defense as any Saint. He has all the tools and intangibles to be a cornerstone player.

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