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John DeShazier: Sean Payton says Saints 'conviction' on players helped make 2017 draft a success

Saints Road to the Draft is presented by Dixie Light

Indianapolis – To say the New Orleans Saints were equal parts good and lucky in the NFL Draft last year wouldn't properly give weight to luck.

That's not to say that the Saints weren't plenty good.

They knew precisely the players they wanted, and had them ranked accordingly. But drafting them in the positions they drafted them required a spate of good fortune, Coach Sean Payton recounted Friday at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

"There were a few things that took place," he said. "Players fell to us in some regards. (Cornerback Marshon) Lattimore getting to 11; we trusted our board and our grades. (Offensive tackle Ryan) Ramczyk being available at 32.

"Pick 2,10 (10th pick of second round), in our minds, we were thinking (running back) Alvin Kamara. That's the one player that we had targeted. But (safety) Marcus Williams, who had a 1,27 grade, all of a sudden was available. So, trusting the board and making that selection.

"And I remember when we made it, the feeling was, all right, we're taking the higher-graded player and yet, that disappointment even afterward thinking, well, Kamara is probably going to get drafted after that pick at some point during the second round. Fortunately for us, he didn't. We traded back into the third round and we were able to secure him as a running back.

"(Linebacker) Alex Anzalone, (defensive lineman) Trey Hendrickson and (defensive end) Al-Quadin Muhammad later. So part of it is how the board unfolds. I think most importantly, to credit our scouts and everyone involved in the process, is the conviction on certain players. I think that had a lot to do with it."

The Saints will be looking to make similar hits in this year's draft, though with not as many high picks. New Orleans has eight picks overall, but just two in the first three rounds, after making six picks in the first three rounds last year. The Saints have single picks in the first, third, fourth and seventh rounds, and two picks in each of the fifth and sixth rounds.

Several positions appear to have depth, Payton said.

"I think it's a good corner draft, I think it's a good running back draft, I think it's a good quarterback draft, just from the numbers and the players that initially we're looking at," he said. "That does clear up, though, a little bit more after this Combine, when all the tape study is done and the workouts are in.

"The scouts and the scouting department here are ahead of the coaching staff and very quickly, we'll watch enough tape to where we'll find some consensus. And you don't always find consensus. Then you want to sort through why one person feels strongly about, or maybe someone doesn't, a certain player. And that's the work ahead."

There's other work on Payton's plate, too. He now is a member of the Competition Committee and arrived in Indianapolis earlier than usual – on Monday, rather than Tuesday or Wednesday – in order to take in a few sessions with the committee.

"It's really the beginning of the process in regards to reviewing last year and looking for rule changes and safety emphasis, points of emphasis for the next season," Payton said. "It was good. It was informative. It was great to be a part of it. We'll go again before the owners meetings and then really begin to narrow down the specifics with each rule or point of emphasis that we're going to talk to the ownership group and the teams about."

One of the areas of consideration will be the controversial catch rule, determining what is and is not a reception.

"That's our job, hopefully, to narrow down exactly the specifics and then, most importantly, teach it and word it where the fan, the coach, the owner, the announcer – everyone that knows our game – can kind of anticipate, based on the new rule or the way it's being taught, whether it could be a complete or incomplete pass," Payton said. "We're not there yet, but that's what these meetings coming up are for."

Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis likes the idea of having Payton on the committee.

"I'm in favor of it for a couple of reasons," Loomis said. "One is that it does give us some influence on an important committee. But secondly, Sean is really intelligent, he has been a head coach for a long time now and he has pretty strong viewpoints on a number of things. And he gets to air those viewpoints and be listened to. I think it's good for our league, No. 1, but it's also good for the Saints in that we get to have some influence."

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