The New Orleans Saints trust their eyes.
Of course, they do that every year when it comes to the NFL Draft. But this year, the inability to host draft prospects or give them physicals, beyond the contact had and medical information viewed at the Senior Bowl in January or NFL Combine in February – has put each NFL team at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to allaying as many concerns as possible.
"You can't fill in the gaps," Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis said Wednesday, during his predraft news conference. "If you can't get the information, you can't fill in the gaps.
"So you're basically trusting what you see – what our scouts and what our coaches see when they evaluate the tape. There's been a lot of decisions – a lot of good decisions – made based upon that over the years. I trust the ability of our people to evaluate."
New Orleans enters the draft, which will be held Thursday through Saturday, with picks in the first (No. 24 overall), third (No. 88), fourth (130), fifth (169) and sixth (203) rounds.
"Our scouts do a great job of getting the evaluations, getting the information to us," Loomis said. "Obviously, we're missing a piece of that this year. Every team is missing a piece of that this year; that comes from the pro days and the physicals that haven't been completed. We're all missing the same amount of information, but we also have a lot of information.
"It affects you to some degree. It just depends upon your level of concern about that particular item. It's hard to give a general answer for that because it's a lot more prospect specific. It has to do with the particular prospect, where you might be drafting him, what you've got invested. There's a lot of variables and it's hard to answer that question without talking about somebody specifically."
Other than tying up a few loose ends, Loomis said the Saints are as well prepared as they can be under the circumstances.
The league will conduct its first totally virtual draft as a precaution for the COVID-19 pandemic. Loomis, Assistant GM/College Scouting Director Jeff Ireland, and Coach Sean Payton are among Saints personnel whose homes are equipped to conduct draft business.
"We're using the technology and we're communicating, we each have a setup in our own homes and we're ready to go for this draft," Loomis said.
"I think the one challenge is you don't have as much give-and-take with your entire staff, all of your scouts and coaches. There's a lot of conversations that go on, a lot of nuance when you're talking about a particular prospect and the vision that you have for him on your team. I think we miss some of that."
Loomis said the Saints have a communication system with the league, as well as a backup.
"The backup is a conference call, effectively," he said. "There's a system to set up and you basically send in your pick when you're on the clock. We have a screen that's showing who's on the clock, the clock itself winding down, and then when a pick is made, that pick shows up on the screen and at the same time the clock resets to the team that's now on the clock.
"In a lot of ways, it's similar to what we do when we were calling our guy at the draft in New York and having him fill out a card and send in the card. Instead of that being a manual process with an individual, we're doing it over the internet. It was relatively simple.
"The things that you worry about is, do you have a glitch with the internet, or do you have a power outage, or do you have something that happens that upsets technology. For example, I know that we're expecting a storm here tomorrow in New Orleans. So, does that include a power outage and how do we handle a power outage. We've got backup systems in order to do that."
New Orleans enters the draft after having filled several needs in free agency. Quarterback Drew Brees agreed to terms on a two-year deal, safety Malcolm Jenkins and receiver Emmanuel Sanders joined the franchise from Philadelphia and San Francisco, left guard Andrus Peat and defensive tackle David Onyemata re-signed, and the Saints brought back key special team contributors in defensive back Justin Hardee Sr. and running back Dwayne Washington.
"That's always the goal, to fill as many of our needs and musts as we can in free agency so that we can pretty much have free reign during the draft and not be tied to a particular position," Loomis said. "I wouldn't say that we accomplished everything that we wanted to accomplish in free agency, but I feel pretty good about where we're at as a roster. I think that we'll approach this just like we've approached prior years."
That means, if the right quarterback is in the Saints' specific cloud of desired players when New Orleans is on the clock, he possibly would be the choice.
"We talked pretty extensively about what are the group of players that might be available at 24, what are the group of players that might be right in front of us five or six picks, and what potentially is available at the top of the next round," Loomis said. "We spend a lot of time discussing that, discussing, 'Is there a particular player that we might want to explore trading up for?' That's the bulk of this week, actually.
"I think that any time you have a chance to get a quality quarterback prospect, regardless of your quarterback situation, you'd like to take advantage of that. For us, it hasn't come. There hasn't been the match where we're picking with a prospect that we really like. Our approach is exactly the same this year: If there's someone there that we really like and have a vision for at the time we're picking, then we're not afraid to pull that trigger."
During the news conference, Loomis also responded to an ESPN report that said Payton told players that the Saints wouldn't be having an offseason program. The report said players were informed there would be no virtual workouts, online meetings or workouts at the facility, and were told to take care of themselves and their families, and to be prepared to report to training camp in the best shape of their lives.
"I don't know what Sean said exactly, but we're going to have communication with our players at this time," Loomis said. "We're going to have some things that we talk to them about.
"I think his reference is more about, look, pay attention to your family, pay attention to keeping yourself and your family safe, abide by the orders of each of the states that you're in. We'll handle the rest of it, get yourself in shape and then when we're able to get together, we'll move on and we'll have a great training camp and a great season. I think his message is more about guys paying attention to their families and themselves and we're not going to have any physical activity that we do virtually."
Loomis said a decision on training camp would be forthcoming.
"We don't know what the future holds," he said. "We're going to plan as if we're going to have our normal training camp, but we don't know that. Those decisions will be made above my pay grade."