The perfect blend of affability and caginess, a smiling Mickey Loomis met with the media Wednesday morning and said … nothing.
That’s not a knock on the New Orleans Saints general manager. Like the reporters massed at the Saints’ Metairie headquarters, Loomis was held hostage by the circumstances of that most unusual of question-and-answer sessions: the pre-draft news conference.
After a frenzied offseason of cutting loose the prominent (Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, Curtis Lofton) and the promising (Kenny Stills) while making some key acquisitions (Brandon Browner, Max Unger, C.J. Spiller), the Saints stand on the brink of the NFL draft clutching two first-round selections, five draft picks in the first three rounds and nine overall for the seven-round draft.
But what the Saints will do with those picks to transform last year’s 7-9 team into a playoff contender once more, no one can truly say. The Saints could play kingmaker — no team owns more selections in the first round, the first 50 or even the first 100 picks — or crown themselves with a youth movement of fresh talent.
Even Loomis is left to make educated guesses as to whether New Orleans will actually find nine players out there worth selecting or whether the club will be open to dealing some of them back out with even more trades.
“We want to hit on all nine picks eventually,” said Loomis, an open-ended statement if there ever was one. “I think it’s unrealistic to expect nine players to come in and start right away their first year; it’s probably unrealistic to expect four or five as well.”
One thing he did make clear: As long as there is time left on the draft clock between now and the final pick Saturday afternoon, there is time for the Saints to craft a deal.
“Obviously, we will make some calls and see what teams are interested in doing in terms of moving up and moving back, that sort of thing,” Loomis said. “We still have a lot to do.”
The Saints haven’t conducted a by-the-book draft (one pick in each of the seven rounds) since 2005, the year before coach Sean Payton arrived, so it was no surprise that this year of all years they wouldn’t start now.
If there was a theme to what Loomis could say Wednesday, it was this: flexibility.
With needs on both offensive and defensive lines, at linebacker and perhaps even at backup quarterback (Drew Brees is 36), the Saints could stand pat and fill two pressing needs with two coveted players in the first round. Or they could package one of those picks and trade up to be in position for a really stellar selection. Pass rushers like Southern California’s Leonard Williams (a disciple of new LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron) or Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. leap to mind.
My guess is the Saints have done enough dealing for the first round and will pick an outside linebacker/pass rusher like Kentucky’s Bud Dupree or Nebraska’s Randy Gregory.
Two players who definitely figured to be available in the neighborhood of the Saints’ first-round picks — LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins and Missouri defensive end Shane Ray — now find themselves in some unwelcomed entanglements with the draft looming.
Ray, a projected mid-first-round pick, was pulled over early Monday morning for speeding and was cited for possession of marijuana. That’s foolish.
Collins, also expected to go in the top half of the first round, returned Wednesday to Baton Rouge from the site of the NFL draft in Chicago to answer questions from police investigating Friday’s shooting death of Brittney Mills in the doorway of her Mid City apartment. It is believed Collins and Mills once had a relationship, but the extent of it is unclear.
It must be emphasized that Baton Rouge police have not implicated Collins as a suspect, just saying he is one of “numerous” people they want to speak to regarding the unsolved case. But the stigma of even having his name associated with the investigation could be damaging to his draft stock, following as it does so closely behind the recent Aaron Hernandez murder conviction.
In NFL “war rooms” across the nation, it’s at least a disturbing development, one that will make teams tread carefully.
It was wise of Collins to talk to police first. Whether the Saints or anyone will draft Collins in the first round now, or weigh the value of his talent against the potential risks and choose him in a later round, no one can say.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.