On the day before the NFL Draft, New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said the pruning process nearly is complete for the Saints, and that the team has a good idea of the players it would like to draft Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"We have a pretty good idea of who the first 12 or 15 guys that are going to come off the board," Loomis said Wednesday, in a news conference at the team's Airline Drive facility. "We have no idea what order, but we have a pretty good idea of the first half. And then, who knows?
"I enjoy the process from beginning to end. A large part of that has to do with the people that I work with. The people on our staff, I respect their opinions and we have a lot of people that are willing to give them.
"We used 29 of our 30 visits (to bring in players), then we had our local pro day, which we had between 40 and 50 guys that were present. And then we had our 60 interviews at the (NFL) Combine and we had interviews at the Senior Bowl and we had independent interviews at the Combine and the Senior Bowl. So we've had an opportunity to talk to, really, every draftable player that we have on our board.
"You start this process with 3,000 names and we're whittling that down to 120 to 130 on our draftable board, and then we're trying to whittle that down to the 20 or 30 that we'd really like to have for the Saints. It's a pretty extensive process."
That process has helped the Saints select the likes of safety Kenny Vaccaro (first round), offensive tackle Terron Armstead and defensive tackle John Jenkins (third round) and receiver Kenny Stills (fifth round) last year, as well as players like tight end Jimmy Graham (third round, 2010), guard Jahri Evans, tackle Zach Strief and receiver Marques Colston (fourth and seventh rounds, respectively, '06), and defensive end Cameron Jordan (first round, '11).
But it also has yielded a bountiful harvest among undrafted free agents.
Among the Saints' notable undrafted rookies are running back Pierre Thomas (2007), linebacker Junior Galette ('10), running backs Travaris Cadet ('12) and Khiry Robinson ('13) and offensive lineman Tim Lelito ('13).
"We pay a lot of attention to the undrafted free agent pool," Loomis said. "We talk about it every night after once the draft begins. We have a plan for it, we have a system that's worked for us."
Loomis added that this year's draft "feels" deeper, partly attributable to the number of juniors who declared for the draft.
"Other than that, I kind of look at as another year, same type of thing," he said. "There are different positions of strength but every year, there are positions that are stronger than others."
As for hand-tipping, Loomis said the Saints generally have been able to draft the best player available in their slot. The team has been effective in free agency, allowing it to upgrade and squashing the desire to pick a player to fill a need, rather than choose the player with its highest draft grade.