If you went into the Saints draft this season expecting fireworks, you were disappointed by their first three picks.
If you thought we’d be in store for more of Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis’ trademark wheeling and dealing once the picks started flying, you were mistaken.
With their first three choices of this Extreme Hoarding Edition of the Saints draft, New Orleans showed it piled up those nine picks in seven rounds for a reason. And through the first three rounds they didn’t part with a one of their NFL-leading five selections in the first 78.
The Saints clearly favored substance over style, solid state components over the big, splashy, baggage-toting controversial pick. Not to say the Saints wouldn’t have drafted someone like Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory or Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham if they had been available when they made their second-round pick Friday at No. 44 overall. But when the time came, New Orleans followed up its acquisition of an offensive tackle with a second straight quarterback-hunting linebacker. On the wow meter, it was the equivalent of drafting an accountant and two karaoke-singing insurance claims adjusters.
Then came the Saints’ fourth pick: They selected Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson in the fourth round.
The watch for signs of the Saints beginning to look in earnest for Drew Brees’ understudy/successor began a couple of years ago. Perhaps now we have our answer.
Brees gamely said at training camp last summer that he hoped to play another 10 years. He may have the want, to borrow a line from a famous local college coach, but does anyone have the body to play this meat-grinder game until their mid-40s?
No. Not really they don’t. Brees is now 36 and while he certainly has some productive years left, there is a very real chance his skills have peaked. And if he hasn’t reached the peak, the summit is within sight.
Now understand that Brees’ B-plus game is still better than the A-game of the vast majority of NFL quarterbacks. But three, four, five years down the road, the Saints will need their next.
You can certainly make the argument that Grayson isn’t that man. Yes, stunningly, he is the highest-picked quarterback the Saints have drafted since taking Archie Manning in the second round in 1971. But it isn’t as if New Orleans cashed in those two first-round picks (and probably more) to trade up into Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota territory.
Still, it’s a fascinating pick. By selecting Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat, Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony and Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha (oh, what the late, great Buddy Diliberto would have wrought with that name), the Saints gave an indication they were drafting for the now, or at most the near future. By selecting Grayson, it’s the first hint that the Saints are at least thinking long term. A glimpse into the post-Brees Dynasty dynasty.
I wrote before the draft that with so many picks and so many needs there was little chance the Saints would be able to satisfy all their critics and constituencies with this year’s class. Grayson fits into that supposition. He’s deadly accurate but doesn’t possess a big-time arm, the kind that Brees flexes with those long fly patterns Sunday after Sunday.
Of course, Joe Montana didn’t have a cannon, either.
As for Kikaha, he led the FBS (formerly NCAA Division I-A for those who only pay attention to college football at draft time) with 19 sacks. Nineteen. If he could manage half that number within the next couple of seasons, his would be a pick well spent.
With their fifth selection, the Saints went for Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams. Payton has trumpeted wanting to go for character players, and a recent DUI is a red flag. But you can dissect most draft selections and come up with something unsavory.
On the face of it, Williams’ DUI isn’t much of a risk and, from Payton’s and Loomis’ perspective, that risk was clearly trumped by his second round-worthy talent, versatile enough to play corner or safety.
Grayson, on the other hand, is a quarterback. One day we’ll find out if he is THE quarterback.