Indianapolis – It goes beyond the group of receivers, several of whom have been vocal in the belief that they eventually will comprise one of the NFL's great classes at their position.
The New Orleans Saints see and acknowledge the depth of that group at the NFL Combine. But the Saints also see more, and given the team's recent successes in the NFL Draft, New Orleans fully trusts its vision.
"After doing the front-board meeting, certainly it's a deep draft at receiver," Saints Coach Sean Payton said Thursday. "We think at defensive back as well, and defensive line. Any time I say that, there's certainly a lot of talent at the other positions. But if you said what stood out in our meetings in the last month, it would have been those positions."
"I've gotten a sense of it," Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis said about the receiver class. "It's pretty strong. I think there's a number of positions that appear to be pretty strong in the early stages here, and that's certainly one of them.
"I think we're impressed with the offensive line group. There's players every year at every position and I think when you look at it, it's like, 'OK, how deep does it go?' Are you getting into the middle rounds where you can feel really good about getting a guy that can be a significant contributor, not just early but down the road? My sense of it is, so far, it's pretty deep."
New Orleans has quality late- and middle-round talent in the last two drafts, in offensive lineman Will Clapp (seventh round in 2018) and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (fourth round in '19). And it mined middle-round gold in '17 (running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive lineman Trey Hendrickson in the third round) and '16 (defensive tackle David Onyemata in the fourth).
The Saints will enter this year's draft with five picks: a first-rounder (No. 24 overall), and picks in rounds 3-6.
"And there's nothing to say that five can't be six as you get closer, relative to where you're picking and whether you want to make any trades," Payton said. "But last year, we were all real pleased with what we were able to do with some of the ammo we had a year ago (five picks), and really bring in a number of players that helped us. And a couple of undrafted players – (All-Pro) Deonte (Harris) as a returner and then (defensive tackle) Shy Tuttle, who played a lot for us on the defensive line. We felt like we had a real good draft without maybe the full allotment of picks. This year, I think we'll have plenty of those opportunities again."
Loomis said that, of course, the Saints would like to have more picks. But that hasn't prevented New Orleans from coming away with quality.
"I'd like to have more picks, and yet, I feel real comfortable with what we did with them," he said. "(Trading this year's second-round pick to Miami on draft day last year) allowed us to get (center) Erik McCoy, and some of the trades that we've done in the past have been good for us.
"I feel like our group has done a good job of identifying guys that we really want and then doing what it takes to get them with the assets that we have. These (draft picks) are all assets, and we're trying to take advantage of them and sometimes that's bundling picks and moving to target a particular player, and sometimes it's, hey, let's accumulate. We haven't done a lot of accumulating in recent years, but we've had some good drafts here in the last three or four years and I feel really strongly our approach has been right."
COMBINE CHANGES: There have been several changes to this year's Combine, including adding and subtracting several drills for players, including drills similar to those conducted at players' pro days on campus. Also, player interviews mostly occur in the mid-morning to early afternoon, while drills are being televised during prime time.
"The schedule is good. It's a nocturnal Combine," Payton said, with a smile. "It's a little different. We basically are interviewing players in the a.m. and we're working players out in the p.m., rather than the 20-some other years in the past. I'm sure there are some things we're going to have to tweak after this year and we'll get figured out."
Said Loomis: "We are adjusting to it. I can't tell you that I love this schedule or I don't love it yet, because we're not through it. But so far, we've been able to get our work done. The most important thing here is the medical – our doctors and the medical people are getting that done. That seems to be working fairly smoothly. We've been getting our interviews done during the mornings, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. as opposed to being there all night. But we're getting good interviews, guys are fresher. So I kind of feel like the interviews are a little more enthusiastic. The rest of it, we'll see how it goes. But I don't have any criticism of the schedule at this point. We'll have some things that maybe we can do better."