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John DeShazier: Saints should feel good about five-man draft class

Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins headlines the group

Sheldon Rankins pretty much settled into the position that the New Orleans Saints thought he'd occupy in the 2016 NFL Draft.

"This was the first time, although there were a few tweaks, this kind of went like we thought and it worked out well," Coach Sean Payton said after the first round was completed.

The other four players New Orleans selected in its five-member class?

Either they graded higher for the Saints than where the team was able to make the pick (Michael Thomas), or higher than where the Saints would have been picking if they'd remained where they were and hadn't traded up (Vonn Bell, David Onyemata), or were a solid value pick considering the round and pool of players they were measured against (Daniel Lasco).

In other words, the Saints feel pretty good about the two defensive linemen (Rankins and Onyemata, their first- and fourth-round picks), receiver (Thomas, a second-rounder), safety (Bell, the other second-rounder) and running back (Lasco, a seventh-rounder) that they were able to select over the course of the three-day event.

True, no NFL team feels like a loser after the draft. It is the beginning of the hope-springs-eternal phase of the offseason, where positivity rules with little or no opposition.

But of the deficiencies that the Saints wanted to address, only offensive guard remained following the draft; the five picks are fits for what the Saints want to accomplish moving forward.

"Well, I am always aiming for 20 picks total but obviously we didn't have that," General Manager Mickey Loomis said Saturday evening. "It was just the way that the draft fell, and the moves that we made. That is what we ended up with.

"I am excited about it. I am excited about the moves that we were able to make. There were opportunities, we were looking for some opportunities sometimes to maybe move back and pick up a pick or two, but it didn't manifest itself. As I mentioned before pre-draft, I tend to favor moving up and going after somebody, but I am not opposed to moving back and picking up picks."

Moving back did not materialize for Loomis and New Orleans. But the Saints twice moved up in order to make a selection.

First, there was a trade with New England (the Saints' third- and fourth-round picks this year) in order to acquire the second of New England's two second-round picks, No. 61 overall. That selection was spent on Bell, from Ohio State.

"We felt there was a drop-off at that position and we also kind of saw value in the player and where we had him graded," Payton said. "It wasn't that difficult (to make the decision to trade up to draft him)."

For Onyemata, the price to move back into the fourth round and pick him No. 120 overall, was the Saints' fifth-round picks this year and next. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive end/tackle from Canada (the University of Manitoba) has limited football experience, having played just five years. But his potential is vast.

"We were really intrigued with his talent," Loomis said. "We recognized that he wasn't playing in an SEC (Southeastern Conference) school obviously, so there are some questions about the level of competition. (But) man, we like the traits and the talent.

"We liked the guy, the makeup of the player and we went aggressively to go get him. We had some information and I am pretty confident that he wouldn't have been available to us if we would have stayed right where we were at (in the fifth round, No. 152 overall).

"We're excited to have him and I would say that we see some versatility in this player. We're expecting some early contribution. This isn't a guy that is just going to sit and not be productive for us. I think we expect some early contributions from him."

An early contribution, obviously, also is expected from Rankins.

The defensive tackle (6 feet 1, 299 pounds) from Louisville was considered one of the top players at his position after posting 53 tackles and six sacks as a senior; he had 31.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in his career.

"I see him as an inside player in the base and certainly one of our inside sub rushers," Payton said. "It is a pretty clear vision and you have to be in rotation and it allows us to address the need of a pressure player. It doesn't have to be just an outside guy, but I see him playing in that spot."

"He, (Nick) Fairley, (John) Jenkins, Tyeler (Davison) – those are all noses or three techniques. I see (Rankins) playing more as the three with Nick (Fairley), and I think the sub rush will sort itself out."

Thomas, the No. 47 overall pick, also fit a need for the Saints, who currently have very little NFL experience at the position behind the top three of Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman. And Cooks is the senior member of that group, entering his third season.

"He's big, competitive, I love his hands in traffic and I think he has a very unique skill set," Payton said. "He has real strong hands and has some good runs after the catch. You watch him work out and you watch him compete and you see game film after game film and at times it's hard based on what they (Ohio State) do offensively, but I love his size and his competitive nature, and his makeup is outstanding.

"You have to really dig on tape (to see all of Thomas' attributes, given his being in a run-heavy offense). Really spend time on finding his touches and attempts. He was someone that when the process was over with we had at the receiver position real high on that list. We love his skill set."

Also, there are attributes credited to Lasco that the Saints find appealing.

"You get to the seventh round and you're looking at the highest graded guy on our board at that time," Loomis said. "There were a lot of things about him that we liked.

"We see him initially as a third-down back. You're a seventh-round pick, you're going to be a four-core special teams player. We like his makeup, like it a lot. We think he's going to be a real strong guy for our special teams, and then we'll see how he develops as a running back."

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