The draft is over, and the Saints have a new crop of players. Here is a recap and overview of the new prospects acquired over the last 3 days.
Round 1, Pick 20- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State, A-
The Saints fill their biggest need with a bang. They had to trade up unfortunately (hence the minus and straight A), but they were not going to get him unless they did. Having lost Lance Moore and return man Darren Sproles, the Saints were able to fill both needs with Cooks. With 4.33 speed, Cooks is one of the fastest players in the draft. He can take the top of the defense and immediately brings supreme athleticism to the receiving core. However, don’t mistake his 5’10” size and blazing speed as him being a one trick pony; he is a very polished short and intermediate route runner, not just a burner. He can score from anywhere and immediately makes the offense more dynamic again.
Round 2, Pick 58-Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska, A
The Saints hit another homerun, able to match their need with the best player available on the board. This pick made even more sense given what was happening in the division. Tampa added Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins; Carolina picked up Kelvin Benjamin; and Atlanta has Julio Jones and Roddy White. With the influx of big bodies, Mickey Loomis counters and gets the biggest corner in the draft. Jean-Baptiste is 6’3” with some long arms. He is going to be physical with opposing receivers a la Brandon Browner. He has a little bit of trouble playing off, but he is going to have Champ Bailey and Rob Ryan coach him up.
Round 4, Pick 126- Khairi Fortt, OLB, California, C+
Fortt is a productive player coming out of Cal. He is very athletic running a 4.7 40 yard dash and benching 225 30 times, the most at his position. What most likely drew Rob Ryan and the Saints towards him was his 6’2” height and extremely long arms. I knocked the grade down in part because of his injury issues; in addition, scouts say despite his athleticism, his reaction diagnosing plays is a step behind. Nonetheless, the pick bring depth where it was needed and he can definitely come in and contribute on special teams.
Round 5, Pick 167-Vinnie Sunseri, SS, Alabama, B-
This is a strong and underrated pick. Sunseri brings a nice set of intangibles; he was the leader of the Crimson Tide defense in his last season there, making timely plays again and again. Sunseri is a good tackler and isn’t afraid to lay the boom. He is not going to get much playing time on defense with Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Rafael Bush in front of him, but I fully expect him to an ace and eventual leader on special team a la Steve Gleason or Chris Reis. And this late in the draft, getting a glue guy like that is invaluable.
Round 5, Pick 169-Ronald Powell, OLB, Florida, C+
Another pick similar to Fortt–very athletic player that is inconsistent. He has the build the Saints are looking for at 6’3” and the measureables running a combine best 4.65 40 yard dash. The knock on Powell is intangibles. He wasn’t a hard worker and some feel he just played off of natural talent. I personally would have liked to grab a heady inside linebacker at this point to add depth to Lofton and Hawthorne, but I can’t complain about getting a 3-4 round talent late in the 5th round. His speed and power will be valuable on special teams.
Round 6, Pick 202-Tavon Rooks, OT, Kansas State, B-
Another late round lineman, a staple in New Orleans Saints drafts. Rooks is a hefty prospect at almost 300 pounds, but is surprisingly fluid and athletic, which can be hard to come by late. It would have been nice to grab an interior lineman here that could possibly compete with Tim Lelito, but the front office said none of the grades matched up with the picks. However, Rooks, if he makes the roster, is a Zach Strief clone with his size. He will be a good developmental project since Strief is getting up in age.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
The first two picks alone give the Saints an A. They filled their two biggest needs with some immense talent. Cooks and Jean-Baptiste are both impact players who should come in and start immediately. In addition, the Saints added some athleticism and depth to the OLB position which was a goal heading into the draft. It looks like the Saints trust their coaching and player development as they drafted two extremely athletic, high ceiling players in Fortt and Powell who haven’t reached their potential. The grade was knocked down a few pegs since they were not able to address center or an athletic inside linebacker. Overall, the Saints immediately got two starters (Cooks, Jean-Baptiste) and possibly some nice special teams players (Fortt, Sunseri, Powell), and they should be able to fill in the gaps with the undrafted free agency pool.