The draft, by nature, is a market full of unknown commodities.
You can work to eliminate some of the guesswork and come to what seems like a sensible conclusion. You can rule things out and side with other things you like. But you walk away with a stack of mystery boxes, and it will take a few years to sort through their contents.
The Saints took it to another level by dealing a pair of picks to reach up into Canada and pull down defensive lineman David Onyemata out of the University of Manitoba in the fourth round. It caught many off guard and scrambling to figure out the background story of this unknown commodity who came over from Nigeria in 2011 and started playing football as a way to burn time between classes.
There were many knee-jerk reactions that panned the pick, many of which were likely made without seeing a single frame of video showing Onyemata on a football field. But the pick illustrated a larger point: It’s too soon to know anything about any of the picks that were made — at least in the sense of how they will work out in the NFL.
It’s easier to see how known commodities will fit into the fabric of the team. You can look at Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas and envision a role for him. It’s not a stretch to see Ohio State safety Vonn Bell and conclude his addition might mean more three-safety sets. First-round pick Sheldon Rankins, the defensive tackle out of Louisville, will provide pass rush from the inside. And running back Daniel Lasco, the Saints’ final pick Saturday, will have a chance to make the team, probably as a special-teams contributor.
“I think we feel pretty good about it,” general manager Mickey 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. I think it went really well for us.”
All of those pieces listed above fit into a specific place. It’s easier to project their futures because they were selected higher in the draft and played at schools that were on television most Saturdays. As for Onyemata, most of us are just hearing that there’s a place called Manitoba somewhere in Canada.
But that doesn’t mean or guarantee anything. Anyone can come from anywhere and succeed or bust out after a couple of years. The Saints and their fans should know this better than anyone. One of the best picks in franchise history, wide receiver Marques Colston, came out of Hofstra and was largely unknown at the time.
The answers on which picks were good and which ones were bad will reveal themselves in the future. The time for assessing grades and coming to conclusions is not now. In some cases, it might not even be next season. But in time, once everything comes out in the wash and the players have time to develop, we’ll know what was smart and what wasn’t.
It doesn’t mean much of anything, but on paper, this draft looks good.
The Saints couldn’t get after quarterbacks last season, and the lack of sacks had a lot to do without creating interior pressure. There weren’t many times when a quarterback was left scrambling away from a defensive tackle and into the arms of defensive end Cameron Jordan. Getting sacks and creating those opportunities are supposed to be Rankins’ specialty.
Drew Brees only completed 48 percent of his passes inside of the 10-yard line last season, and New Orleans did not have an obvious option to replace Colston as a target over the middle. Thomas should help there.
Bell gives the Saints options, too. The team can now go back to running more three-safety sets, perhaps with him and Jairus Byrd serving deep. This would allow New Orleans to run more Cover 2 looks with Kenny Vaccaro roaming the box underneath. If Bell is as good as advertised, he could eventually become the starter in base packages.
As for Onyemata, perhaps he’s great. Perhaps he isn’t. He’ll have a chance to provide some inside rush in subpackages and maybe eventually develop into an end in the base package early on. Since he’s still a little raw, it will likely take a little longer for Onyemata’s abilities to come into focus.
The one glaring area where the Saints could have used some help and decided to pass on it is guard. The trades up to get Bell and Onyemata took that opportunity away. Some were added via free agency after the draft but, with five picks, the need to hit on those selections is greater.
“I am always aiming for 20 picks total, but obviously we didn’t have that. It was just the way that the draft fell, and the moves that we made,” Loomis said. “That is what we ended up with. I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the moves that we were able to make.”
The roster is still being built. Not drafting a guard could end up being a regret. It’s still too soon to know.
After waiting for months for the draft to get here, now it’s time to wait a little longer to see whether things work out.