There’s always pressure.
It doesn’t really make a difference to Sean Payton that the New Orleans Saints are coming off a 7-9 season and are the midst of reworking their roster. He approaches the draft the same way he always has.
Added urgency? Maybe to observers, but that feeling isn’t shared inside the Saints’ building. There’s always urgency and pressure and a desire to hit on every pick. It was the same in 2006 as it is in 2015.
“I think every year you feel the urgency to have a good draft, and you recognize the importance of it,” Payton said Wednesday before teeing off at the Zurich Classic Pro-Am. “Certainly when you have more selections, you have a chance to impact your team.”
But to observers, that urgency is heightened. New Orleans isn’t simply entering the draft and looking to add a few faces. This team has pushed a good portion of its chips to the middle of the table by trading away tight end Jimmy Graham, wide receiver Kenny Stills and guard Ben Grubbs in various deals that brought back draft picks.
The Saints enter the draft with nine selections, including five within the first three rounds. There’s an opportunity to transform the roster, and both Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis have said there will be a heavy emphasis on improving a defense that too often disappointed last season.
The process of locating those players is already well down the line. The Saints have finished setting their draft board. The team is now going back through each positional group and trying to project how each player will fit within the system. Some of those projections can cause adjustments to be made.
Payton and the Saints staff ran through various scenarios that could occur, which in some cases likely involve the Saints packaging assets to move around the board. Those meetings have been taking place daily and wrapping up around 10:30 each night.
“So we’ll kind of do that up until the middle of next week, but it is an important draft and obviously significant in that there’s just a lot of flexibility with the amount of selections,” Payton said.
One thing Payton said was somewhat revealing about how the team sets its board is that the team does not discriminate or separate players at various positions based on size or type. One position where this could come into play is at wide receiver.
Bigger receivers, or ones who are projected to play outside, are ranked within the same position group alongside smaller players who are projected to maybe play the slot or flanker. For instance, someone like Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston would be ranked within the same group if they were entering the draft today.
“We try to grade the player, we try to envision the position he plays,” Payton said. “You would see various heights and weights and that would carry over to other position groups. There’s certain prototypes you look for, yet you pay close attention to production.”
Another thing the Saints are trying to navigate is how to look at players with character concerns. Pass rusher Randy Gregory, cornerback Marcus Peters and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham are among the most talented players at their positions this year, but all three are expected to drop because of various character issues.
The Saints have hosted both Gregory and Peters for official pre-draft visits, and Payton explained Wednesday that some of those issues are difficult to sort through.
“I think that you really got to make sure that there’s division of this character,” Payton said. “There’s like 50 shades of it. You gotta look and pay close attention to how you see the player. Every little bit of information you’re factoring in. Of course production and how they play on film, it starts there, but it’s important.”
There are also 50 shades to this draft. Now the Saints need to find the nine right ones to pull out of it.