Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have always been aggressive in the draft.
Under their leadership, when the Saints see a player they like within reach, New Orleans rarely has been shy about giving up picks to get their man.
Loomis and Payton stuck to their philosophy over three days of a 2016 NFL draft defined by teams like Cleveland, Tennessee and Baltimore repeatedly trading down and piling up picks. With the rest of the NFL around them moving down, New Orleans traded up twice to get Ohio State safety Vonn Bell and Manitoba defensive tackle David Onyemata, leaping over other teams that coveted the pair in the process.
“It was just the way that the draft fell, and the moves that we made,” Loomis said. “I am excited about it, I am excited about the moves that we were able to make.”
New Orleans isn’t always set on moving up the board. When the Saints jumped on the clock for the No. 12 pick that ended up becoming prize defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans waited for most of its time allotment in order to see if there was a potential chance to move back.
“We were looking for some opportunities sometimes to maybe move back and pick up a pick or two, but it didn’t manifest itself,” Loomis said. “As I mentioned before pre-draft, I tend to favor moving up and going after somebody.”
Going after a player the Saints like ensured they landed some of the top players on their board in each round.
For example, New Orleans felt there was a drop-off at the safety position after Bell, and so the Saints made a deal with frequent trade partner New England to go up and get him. The same went for Onyemata, a sleeper prospect brimming with potential who the Saints identified early in the process.
“It’s good work by our scouting department to look outside the box a little bit,” Loomis said. “I wouldn’t say he was a secret, though. I think he was a guy that people knew about and that a lot of teams liked. It just becomes a manner of managing the draft so that you can get him at a spot that you feel good about.”
New Orleans ended up putting together a five-man class that addressed most of the needs left over from a free-agency period that addressed holes at tight end, linebacker and defensive tackle.
Rankins and Onyemata are expected to provide interior pressure in the pass rush, a spot the Saints defense was lacking last season. Second-round wide receiver Michael Thomas nicely fills the spot left open by the departure of Marques Colston, and Bell neatly filled the third safety role New Orleans lost when Rafael Bush left in free agency.
“I think we feel pretty good about it,” Loomis said. “I wouldn’t say that it fell as we expected, because you never really know what to expect, but at each point there were some players that we felt real good about. It wasn’t a case where, all of a sudden, you end up with nobody that you have targeted or really liked.”
The only spot the Saints couldn’t fill was at guard.
“The interior line position, we went in hoping that we would be able to get one in this draft,” Loomis said. “It just didn’t turn out that way.”
New Orleans could still add a veteran guard, and the Saints brought in four interior linemen as undrafted free agents immediately after the draft ended.
For the most part, the Saints feel good about the way the offseason has gone. In addition to the five-man draft class they put together, New Orleans is also expecting contributions from a pair of 2015 picks, P.J. Williams and Davis Tull, who were forced to miss their entire rookie seasons due to injury. Both Williams, a cornerback, and Tull, an edge rusher, play positions routinely ticketed as potential needs for the Saints, and although their presence didn’t preclude a selection at those positions, it does offer a young, promising player to add to the mix.
“I wouldn’t say that we did everything that we wanted to do (in the offseason, and yet I think that the majority of the things that we had on our action list early on, we got accomplished,” Loomis said. “We still have more work to do, though.”