The New Orleans Saints made a bold move Friday night, trading their third and fourth-round picks to the New England Patriots for the right to move back into the second round and grab another player to make an impact on defense.
But they didn’t surprise the man they traded up to the No. 61 pick to get.
Ohio State safety Vonn Bell has spent the past couple of months building a relationship with Saints coach Sean Payton. Bell knew New Orleans coveted his services.
New Orleans liked Bell so much that the Saints were willing to part with one of their six picks, leaving New Orleans with a fifth-rounder, No. 152, and a seventh-rounder, No. 237.
“We felt there was a drop-off at that position, and we also saw a value in the player and where we had him graded,” Payton said. “Taking your three into two costs a four. That’s pretty normal. … That part of it was easy.”
Bell and Payton built a rapport around a simple request. New Orleans coaches had dinner with Bell and some of his OSU’s teammates at pro day and worked him out privately, but Bell’s decision to forego some drills left the Saints with a hole in their evaluation.
Payton called Bell to ask for videos of the drills — the “L” drill, the pro shuttle, the 60-yard shuttle and his vertical leap — and he responded in a matter of days, texting all the videos to the coach.
“It was important to me,” Payton said.
“I said to him, when we drafted him, if you hadn’t gotten me those videos, you’d still be sitting at home eating nachos right now.”
New Orleans lost third safety Rafael Bush to Detroit in free agency, and after releasing former fifth-round pick Vinnie Sunseri a few days before the draft, New Orleans had only five safeties, including starters Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd.
“We felt like it became a need position, and if the grade matched the position, then so be it,” Payton said.
Bell’s grade made him a clear target for the Saints.
A 5-foot-11, 199-pound free safety, Bell played in the slot sometimes, and the Buckeyes often used him and teammate Tyvis Powell interchangeably, making him capable of backing up either Vaccaro or Byrd.
“I can do it all. I can cover in the middle of the field. I can cover in the slot. I can tackle in the open field, can take away the number two guy,” Bell said. “You’re going to get another general on the field.”
Bell will instantly compete for time in nickel and dime packages, and he could be groomed as a successor to Byrd.
He also has the ball skills the secondary has lacked the past two seasons. Bell picked off nine passes in three seasons, including six on the way to the national championship in 2014.
Bell also made 175 tackles, including 92 as a sophomore, and although some evaluators have said he needs to work on his tackling, he vehemently disagrees with that assessment.
“I don’t know why these people are saying that. I’m a phenomenal tackler,” Bell said. “I would never doubt myself. I’ll tackle in the open field, down the middle of the field. I don’t know why they keep on saying that. It really bothers me.
“It’s clear what I can do on film.”
By taking Bell and Ohio State Thomas wide receiver in the second round, New Orleans extended its commitment to bringing in players with winning backgrounds. Ten Buckeyes came off the board in the first three rounds.
“I know he is a workhorse, too,” Bell said. “We have the same mentality. We’ll make an immediate impact.”
Bell believes he can make that mark right away.
“You’re going to see a guy who plays with a lot of passion and a lot of energy,” Bell said. “That’s going to be a spark for the team.”