2023 NFL Draft: Behind the scenes at Rounds 4-7 of the Saints draft at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center
Behind-the-scenes photos from the Ochsner Sports Performance Center inside the New Orleans Saints' draft room ahead of their fourth through seventh round selections in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The New Orleans Saints have historically found success in the later rounds of the NFL Draft: Saints legends Thomas Morstead (fifth round) Fred McAfee (sixth round), Zach Strief (seventh round) and Marques Colston (seventh round) were all selected in the back end of the draft.
Will any of the picks from 2023 be added to that list? This year, New Orleans drafted four players across the final four rounds — offensive lineman Nick Saldiveri, quarterback Jake Haener, safety Jordan Howden and wide receiver A.T. Perry.
Nick Saldiveri, guard, Old Dominion University
The Saints started their day before the draft even resumed, trading up to the top pick of the fourth round (No. 103) in exchange for a fourth (No. 115) and fifth-round pick ((No. 165).
The Saints were active on the trade block Saturday, making three trades.
With pick 103, New Orleans selected Saldiveri from Old Dominion.
"When there's guys on the board that you like, you go try to get them," Saints Coach Dennis Allen said. "(Saldiveri) was the lineman that we really liked that we wanted to go get."
The 6-foot-6, 318-pound Saldiveri was elected Second-Team All-Sun Belt in 2022 after starting 11 games on the offensive line — 10 at right tackle and one at right guard — and not allowing a sack. Saldiveri has the ability to play anywhere on the line despite most of his time in college being spent at the right tackle position.
"I'm an offensive lineman at the end of the day," Saldiveri said. "I'm not in one box, I don't play tackle, guard, center, I play it all, and I take pride in that."
Only a select number of linemen can play multiple positions effectively. Saldiveri said athletic ability plays a role, but the mental side of it is also essential.
"Playing one position is hard enough in football mentally," Saldiveri said. "If you don't have to think about what you're doing because you know the plays like the back of your hand, it allows you to play fast.
"You have to approach everything as a center. You have to approach everything knowing everybody's job at all times because you never know what's gonna happen."
Jim Nagy, executive director of the Reese's Senior Bowl, said he believes Saldiveri actually fits best at center, but he can play anywhere on the line. Nagy said Saldiveri played mostly on the interior during the Senior Bowl.
While he could've been overwhelmed coming from a Group of Five school, Nagy said the moment never seemed too big for the former Monarch.
"He battled all week," Nagy said. "Moving inside to guard is a little bit of a different world in there… and he didn't flinch."
Saldiveri talked with the Saints at the Senior Bowl, meeting with them multiple times. He said he thought the Saints liked his football IQ. In meetings, New Orleans went through film and had Saldiveri recite his job and the hypothetical assignments he would have on a given play.
Saldiveri's agent sent him seven hats of teams where he could go, and New Orleans was one of them.
"I had a feeling," Saldiveri said. "I was obviously super jacked up to get the call, and I'm super fired up to get out there."
The Old Dominion product said he's always been optimistic about his NFL dreams, despite the Monarchs being his only collegiate offer when he committed as a junior.
"I always saw it as 'if you're good, they'll find you,'" Saldiveri said.
New Orleans puts an emphasis on building a good locker room culture. Saldiveri said he feels like he can be a culture changer: He improves an already good culture or builds a better one.
"I'm just gonna do everything I can to help the team win, and that's infectious," Saldiveri said. "People who will lay it all out on the line and not care about who gets the credit… I'm all about that… Anything it takes to help this team is what I want to do."
Jake Haener, quarterback, Fresno State
New Orleans wasn't done trading, as it sent a seventh-round pick and a 2024 fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for pick No. 127. After moving up, the Saints added to their quarterback room, selecting Haener.
The 5-11 Haener was named First Team All-Mountain West in 2022 — he tossed 20 touchdowns to just three interceptions last season in 10 games played with a 72.0 completion percentage. For his career, Haener completed 68.2% of his passes for more than 9,000 yards and 68 touchdowns.
The quarterback began his collegiate career with the Washington Huskies in 2018 before transferring to Fresno State.
"I've had to prove people wrong my entire career, and I've had to outwork everybody," Haener said. "There's still a lot in the tank, and I couldn't be more excited to get to New Orleans."
One of the draws to the quarterback is his efficiency. Haener said it's important for him to have a strong pre-snap IQ, knowing where his outlets are when things break down.
"That all comes from preparation," Haener said. "The first things I do when I get to camp, obviously dive into the playbook and do everything I can to know where to go with the football and eliminate so much thinking."
Haener joins another former Bulldog in the Saints' QB room — starting quarterback Derek Carr was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Fresno State. Playing at Fresno State allowed Haener to develop a relationship with Carr, saying the quarterback has been a sounding board.
Shortly after getting the call from New Orleans, Haener had a conversation with Carr, and he said he's excited to get to learn from him.
"It's so surreal, I can't even put it into words right now," Haener said. "How many times does an opportunity like this happen, and you get to learn from an all-time great at the same school you played at playing in the same NFL team? I'm just really speechless."
Haener also grew up idolizing another Saints quarterback: He wears No. 9 because of Drew Brees. He said he knew he was never going to be a tall quarterback — his mom is 5-4 and his dad is 5-10 — and he wanted to find someone to emulate. That was Brees.
"The Saints were my childhood team growing up because I loved watching Nine play," Haener said. "It's just so unbelievable that I literally would wear Drew Brees jerseys and wear Saints beanies, and having the opportunity to go play in New Orleans is really going to be a dream come true."
Haener had the chance to meet Brees while he was training for the draft in January. Brees visited Haener and a group of draft hopefuls to watch film, talk and teach.
The quarterback enters a room with established veterans in Carr and Jameis Winston. Allen said that while it wasn't necessarily a position of need, they liked Haener enough to pull the trigger.
"It's the most important position on the field," Allen said. "If you got a guy there that you feel good about, I think you want to try to get that guy in your building."
Allen called Haener's decision-making and processing outstanding, saying the Saints felt like he's the type of player they could bring in behind Carr and Winston.
The Fresno State product said he talked with Saints coaches at the Senior Bowl and felt like New Orleans was interested. He said he wanted to go to a place where he could learn. He thought the Saints and the Detroit Lions were the top two options.
"(New Orleans) was really my primary choice," Haener said. "Knowing that you're going to a place that wants you and believes in you, at the end of the day that's really all I could ask for."
Haener said he feels like he has a bit of a head start after spending time with the Saints staff at the Senior Bowl and visiting New Orleans. He was able to dive into the playbook a bit and learn some of the basics of what the Saints are trying to do.
"It's going to be great going into rookie minicamp having the verbiage down a bit and continuing to learn and master that offense," Haener said.
Jordan Howden, defensive back, Minnesota
New Orleans then shifted gears back to the defense, selecting Howden from Minnesota with the 146th pick in the fifth round. Howden earned Academic All-Big Ten honors four years in a row with the Golden Gophers. He was also invited to the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl.
Howden tallied four career interceptions, 20 pass breakups and 240 tackles over 49 career starts. He has speed to burn, running a 4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Howden said he doesn't have a vision for where he'll play at the next level, but he is willing to play anywhere.
"I'm available anywhere on the field, that's just how it's always been growing up," Howden said. "I'm a team player."
The San Diego native played everywhere for the Gophers, including on special teams. Howden said he credits his special teams coach at Minnesota, Rob Wenger, for why he takes his special teams roles so seriously.
"Special teams is always part of the deal as you get going a little bit later in the draft," Allen said. "I think (Howden) had over 500 special teams snaps, so that was a part of the evaluation."
Howden comes from a family of athletes: His father, Ramsese Howden, played at Grambling State, while his cousin, Saladin Martin, played at San Diego University and spent time in the NFL with the New York Giants, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers.
Howden joins a safety room that includes established veterans Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye. The rookie said you can learn from everybody, and he can watch Mathieu and Maye's routines on and off the field to help him make his own routine.
A.T. Perry, wide receiver, Wake Forest
New Orleans made one last move to end the day, trading all the way up from No. 257 to No. 195 to select Perry from Wake Forest. The Saints sent tight end Adam Trautman and pick 257 to the Denver Broncos in the deal.
"We like Traut, he's been a good player for us, but we felt good at that position, and we wanted to go out and get the receiver," Allen said.
Perry put up impressive numbers for the Demon Deacons, clearing a 1,000 yards and scoring double-digit touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. He was named All-ACC First team in 2021 and 2022 and made the Biletnikoff Award watch list in 2022. For his career, Perry scored a Wake Forest record 28 receiving touchdowns, good for seventh in ACC history, and racked up 2,662 receiving yards, ranking third in school history.
The rookie is a physical specimen, standing at 6-3 and 198 pounds with 33 1/4 inch arms. He ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein projected Perry to be a third-round draft pick, and New Orleans scooped him up in the sixth.
"I was expecting to go higher… but hey, I'm here now," Perry said. "I'm a play-maker, I'm a baller, I love football, I'm passionate about it, I'm passionate about my position… I just want to come and make a difference and set the tone and be there for the team."
Allen said Perry is a big, physical receiver with good transitional route-running and an ability to high point the football.
Perry will join a young receiving corps that features Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed as well as veteran Michael Thomas.
Despite feeling good about the position, Allen said they were paying attention to Perry. When he kept falling, Allen said the team decided to move up and get him.
Overall, Allen said the organization feels good about what it accomplished over the last three days.
"We felt like we had a lot of quality players that fit what we're looking for, and they filled some of the needs we had on the team."