Orlando – One of the New Orleans Saints’ best tool usages during the draft is the past.
It has helped them construct three straight draft classes that include: offensive lineman Andrus Peat, cornerback P.J. Williams and defensive tackle Tyeler Davison (2015); defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, receiver Michael Thomas, safety Vonn Bell and defensive tackle David Onyemata (’16); and cornerback Marshon Lattimore, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams, running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive end Trey Hendrickson (’17).
All 13 either are full-time starters, or have started games.
“I would say history has to be an ally during the draft because when you talk about these players, one of the questions inevitably that gets asked is, ‘Who does he remind you of?’ ” Payton said Tuesday morning, from the NFL’s Annual Meeting. “You might have someone that says, ‘Boy, he looks a lot like…’ and this was a player five years ago, and then we would put up measurables.
“And so we’re constantly doing this, ‘Who’s he like?’ Usually, that’s body, style or shape. But also, those personality traits that we put high grades on and high marks on, those are critical. And so, the history of our failures, we’ll put those in a group on paper, and try to find, ‘Hey, what are common traits of this group?’ Overall, is it intelligence? Inability to learn? What is it that kept these guys from being successful, compared to this group? There’s a lot of time spent on that.”
Too, Payton reiterated that the Saints “type” players as they seek the right fit.
“I think that’s important,” he said. “(Assistant general manager/college scouting director) Jeff (Ireland) and I were exposed to that in Dallas, with Bill (Parcells). But the premium on makeup and learning, the premium on grit and guys that love playing, some of our best drafts, you can just check the boxes on five, six players.
“When you’re talking about (Reggie) Bush and (Roman) Harper and Jahri Evans and (Rob) Ninkovich, (Zach) Strief and (Marques) Colston (in 2006), they all had great makeup, they learned. And so, that puts more pressure on the scout.
“I don’t want to hear the scout tell me, ‘Well, I think he can learn with reps.’ I need to be more specific than that. So we need to really hone in on what kind of person this guy is, how’s he driven, how’s he motivated. And I think in our league, as competitive as our league is, this is a guy – to have the success, especially as a young player – there’s got to be a mental maturity to yourself to do that. I think it’s hard to do when you don’t have that.”
Payton said he believes this year has a solid quarterback class, including Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, whom some have projected as a receiver. Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in ’16 at quarterback.
Jackson completed 57 percent of his passes for 9,043 yards and 69 touchdowns, with 27 interceptions, and ran for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons for the Cardinals. He didn’t catch a pass.
“I like him,” Payton said. “You watch him play, he’s athletic, he’s got a magic smile to him, he’s a fantastic leader. One of the things that I think we as coaches, and we all understand this, there’s not going to be another (Saints quarterback) Drew Brees clone that we draft. We’ll spend a lot of time looking.
“I think the trick for a team that takes a quarterback at any point, to become or compete to become a starter, one of our jobs is to look closely at what are the things that player does best. With Lamar, you feel it in the room and you can tell he can lead.
“If he’s your quarterback, you start looking closely at the things he did well at Louisville and you build that way. We never want to just take any of these players – (backup quarterbacks) Taysom Hill, (Tom) Savage on our roster – and enter the game and view them just like Drew entered the game. They’re different athletes, all of them. But particularly with regard to (Jackson), he’s a special guy. You just have to be around him, interview him and you can see real quickly why he was that successful.”