By all accounts, the New Orleans Saints entered the 2019 NFL Draft from an advantageous position: The two-time defending NFC South Division champions, with relatively few (if any) absolutely pressing needs, having positioned themselves through free agency to be able to select the best available players.
That said, the Saints still appeared to help themselves via the draft, with quality overshadowing quantity (just five picks in the seven-round draft), and continued draft-day aggression allowing them to snap up players they view as bargains and believe will be contributors.
New Orleans welcomed Texas A&M center Erik McCoy (second round, No. 48 overall), Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (fourth round, No. 105), Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton (sixth round, No. 177), Notre Dame tight end Alize’ Mack (seventh round, No. 231) and Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss (seventh round, No. 244) to the franchise over the weekend.
The Saints traded up in the second (from No. 62 to 48) and fourth (from 116 to 105) rounds in order to select McCoy and Gardner-Johnson. And, along with Hampton, New Orleans believes it was able to draft players in a lower spot than where the Saints had them graded.
“I like that we got three guys that were graded in our top 70,” Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis said.
McCoy and Gardner-Johnson could be on the field early.
With center Max Unger’s retirement, McCoy will be in the mix as a possible replacement, along with free agent signee Nick Easton, Cameron Tom and Will Clapp. And even if he’s unable to secure the starting position early, McCoy will provide interior depth along the offensive line; odds are high that he’ll be included in some packages that require an extra lineman.
Gardner-Johnson will join a position group that thinned with the departure of Kurt Coleman, but is a valued position in that defensive coordinator Dennis Allen routinely employs three-safety packages. Gardner-Johnson was highly regarded in college for his ability to cover from the slot, which is the kind of versatility that would allow Allen to use him frequently behind Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell, or in conjunction with that duo.
Hampton, Mack and Elliss can provide quality depth but, more likely early, can influence their chances of making the roster on special teams.
“I like the opportunities that we had with Alizé Mack and Kaden Elliss,” Loomis said. “I think we got some players that can help our team.”
New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis addresses the media after the 2019 Saints Draft presented by Dixie Beer on April 27, 2019.
The quantity lessens that possibility, but the quality helps to balance the scale.
“I think there are a lot of variables,” Loomis said. “It starts with maybe philosophy. More swings, more hits. That’s one of the philosophies.
“The other one is quality over quantity, at times. There are a lot of variables with that, and I think it changes year to year. Obviously, the composition of your team makes a difference as well.
“If you are really strong at a position, sometimes you want to build that strength and sometimes you look at it like, well, can that guy even make our team given where our roster is? There are a lot of variables, and I think each case is kind of specific to itself.”
McCoy will join a position that, on paper, appears to be strong. But it’s a position that capably was handled by Unger for four seasons, the last of which resulted in a Pro Bowl selection. Unger was the anchor for one of the most productive offensive lines, and offensive units, in the NFL during his tenure.
McCoy offers flexibility in that he also can play guard, though he said the Saints informed him that he will begin at center.
“I would say I'm very flexible in that aspect,” he said. “I have a lot more experience at center, but I played guard pretty much every spring I was at Texas A&M. I have a couple of starts there and I played it in high school so I would say I’m pretty flexible for that.”
That kind of maneuverability also will benefit Gardner-Johnson.
“I’m versatile, I can move around and help other guys,” he said. “I’m not just a ‘hop when I see it’ kind of guy. I can cover – I can actually be in the box and just play and pick up the run with my team and just go in and compete.”
That attitude, in part, is what will help their draft class upgrade the roster.