After the second and third days of the 2014 draft produced results that are still uncertain at best and disastrous at worst, the Saints approached this year’s selection process with an emphasis on productivity and stability.
And they got it.
All seven players taken Friday and Saturday played only at one school and all were multi-year starters.
“I feel like the class this year, right now, has the DNA we’re looking for,” Saints coach Sean Payton said after the team completed the draft process Saturday. “There’s a value to that that’s two-fold. A, they’re available and healthy, and B, they’re good players.”
There was another element at play, General Manager Mickey Loomis added.
At the end of last season, when the Saints finished a disappointing 7-9, Loomis acknowledged that character and leadership issues were a problem in the locker room and that the team would strive to change that picture in 2015.
The draft process was a part of that emphasis.
“Coming in to this draft we wanted to emphasis character, focus, toughness and accountability,” he said. “So this draft is a reflection of that.
“We wanted to refocus on it, particularly with the young players coming into the program.”
While Payton defended the character of all the players drafted in ’14, the fact remains that of those picked after wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the first round, two (Khairi Fortt and Sean Rooks) are no longer with the team, two others (Ronald Powell and Stanley Jean-Batiste) saw little if any playing time and a fifth (Vinnie Sunseri) was used almost exclusively on special teams before being placed on injured reserve after nine games.
None of the four players picked Saturday are expected to start as rookies. But they have résumés that indicate they can be productive sooner than later:
Fifth-round outside linebacker Davis Tull from Tennessee-Chattanooga: The three-time Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time FCS first-team All-America is coming off a senior season in which he had 10.5 sacks.
NFL.com said no one in the draft plays more intensely from snap to snap.
“I’ve always felt I need to play as hard as I can, and I always try to do that,” said Tull, who began his college career as a walk-on. “When you don’t have people believing in you, you always want to prove other people wrong.”
Tull’s pick does come with one caveat: He had shoulder surgery following his pro day and is not expected to be ready for full-scale drills at the rookie mini-camp in two weeks.
“He would have gone higher without the injured shoulder,” Payton said. “He’s going to rehab the injury, and he’s going to be fully prepared and healthy.”
Fifth-round defensive tackle Tyeler Davison from Fresno State: A three-year All-Mountain West pick (first team in 2012 and ’14), he made 40 career starts and had 8.5 sacks as a senior.
“You just work at it,” Davison, who redshirted as a true freshman in 2011, said of his ability to stay healthy. “Some people might say that you have to be lucky to stay healthy your whole career, but I feel like, if you really work at it, then you can stay healthy.”
Payton praised Davison’s productivity.
“We liked his size,” he said. “He had really good length, long arms, good makeup, good football character.”
Fifth-round cornerback Damian Swann from Georgia: The only player the Saints traded up to get, Swann was deemed worth a sixth-round pick in 2016 plus this year’s sixth rounder for the team to move up 13 spots.
“I’m just blessed,” said Swann, a three-year starter. “My opportunity is going to be my opportunity. I’m coming in, working hard regardless of whether I’m with the threes or the practice squad. I’m there to get better.”
Payton said the Saints had a high grade on Swann and felt he was well worth a future pick to get him.
“We have a good relationship (with the Georgia coaches) and have talked to a lot of people about him,” he said. “We really like his football instincts.”
Seventh-round running back Marcus Murphy from Missouri: Seen primarily as a kick returner, Murphy had seven career special teams touchdowns and was a three-year starter.
He’s been compared favorably to ex-Saint Darren Sproles,
“He (Sproles) did a lot of great things for the organization,” Murphy said. “I have some big shoes to fill.”
Peyton said he compared Murphy to Tyler Lockett of Kansas State, whom Seattle used four picks to move into the fourth round to pick.
“(Murphy) really stood out in our study,” Payton said. “And he has more versatility than Lockett.”
Loomis said he was hoping all of Saturday’s picks would have immediate impact, but wasn’t counting on it.
“We’re not against them playing right away’ he said. “But that doesn’t always mean they are going to start.”
Still, just about anything would be better than what happened a year ago.