Obviously they’re not, as Sean Payton put it, “ready to be sent to Canton just yet,” but neither can the Saints’ 12 rookies be blamed for the team’s 1-3 start, other than the fact that there are so many of them.
In fact, after all of the personnel snafus of the past few years (Stanley Jean-Batiste anyone?), the early observation is that this group of players is making solid contributions this season and has the potential to be the foundation for the rebuilding of the franchise.
“We have a good core of young guys,” rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony said. “It’s just the beginning, and it’s early for us.
“We’re still trying to figure this thing out. Hopefully, in the time to come, we will figure it out and we can be something special.”
The common thread among this year’s draft class was maturity, productivity and stability in college.
All nine picks began and finished at the same school. Two — Andrus Peat and P.J. Williams, who is on injured reserve — were early entries, but four were four-year lettermen, and three were fifth-year seniors.
Three of the four undrafted free agents who made the team also spent four years at the same college. The fourth, Delvin Breaux, who is technically not a rookie but had never been to an NFL camp before the season, certainly had enough life experiences to atone for his never getting to play at LSU.
And while recruiting stars and alma maters aren’t always predictors of professional success (Ronald Powell, Florida), the level of competition a player has faced matters, too. Eleven of the 12 played at FBS schools.
Of course, you don’t draft someone just because of where he went to school and how long he stayed there. Making the right talent evaluations is the bottom line.
After the trade of Akiem Hicks last week, the Saints have only six players they drafted between 2007 and 2014. Small wonder former director of college scouting Rick Reiprish was fired earlier this year.
New assistant general manager Jeff Ireland, who oversaw the 2015 draft, certainly made more than his share of mistakes in his former job as GM of the Miami Dolphins. And Joe Philbin, the coach he hired, paid for it with his job Monday.
But on 5800 Airline Drive, so far, so good.
Here’s our early report card on the Saints’ rookie class of 2015:
Andrus Peat, OT: The team’s first first-round pick has made a great deal of progress since training camp. He certainly did no harm spelling Terron Armstead in the Cowboys game and likely will continue as the third tight end in jumbo packages even after the acquisition of Michael Hoomanawanui. Grade: B.
Stephone Anthony, LB: The first-rounder acquired in the Jimmy Graham trade has been a starter since Day 1 of training camp and has played 252 of the 255 defensive snaps. Anthony has shown his nose for the ball with 25 solo tackles. Points off for the excessive hit in the Carolina game that cost him in the wallet. Grade: B+.
Hau’oli Kikaha, LB: The nation’s sack leader last season at Washington already is a disrupter with a forced fumble and three sacks in his first four games. If there’s better candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year out there, we’d like to see him. Grade: A.
Garrett Grayson, QB: Inactive for three games and the backup to Luke McCown in the game Drew Brees missed. Grade: I.
Tyeler Davison, DL: He’s gone from primarily special teams to being part of the rotation with the departure of Hicks. Had his first sack in the Cowboys game. Grade: B.
Damian Swann, CB: Thrown into the breach early on because of Keenan Lewis’ injury, the fifth-rounder from Georgia has done well enough to contribute in nickel and dime packages. Grade: C+.
Marcus Murphy, RS: The seventh-rounder from Missouri ranks fifth in the league in punt returns and ninth in kickoff returns. The punt return for a touchdown against the Panthers was a momentum-changer. Grade B.
Travaris Barnes, DE: A Clemson teammate of Anthony’s, Barnes made the team as an undrafted free agent. Barnes has played some on defense. Grade: C.
Kaleb Eulls, DL: The undrafted free agent from Mississippi State has been inactive for all four games. But at least that pays better than the practice squad. Grade: I.
Bobby Richardson, DL: Undrafted out of Indiana, because at 6-foot-3, 286 pounds he was considered a “tweener,” Richardson has impressed since OTAs with work ethic and run-stuffing ability. His first start against the Cowboys resulted in seven tackles. Grade: A.
Obum Gwacham, DE: The sixth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, who was signed after the final cuts, has played in only one game. Grade: I.
Delvin Breaux, CB: As said before, technically not a rookie. But the 25-year-old from McDonogh 35 has proved to be a hometown bargain with four starts and leads the team in passes defended. Now if he can only stop drawing penalties. Grade: B–.
Remember that these grades are only through four games and perhaps a little generous. But also, the learning curve is now slowing down.
“Each week’s a growth process,” Anthony said. “You try to find something to get a little bit better at.”
Will the 2015 draft class match the one of 2006 that produced Jahri Evans, Zach Strief and Marcus Colston along with Reggie Bush, Roman Harper and Rod Ninkovich?
Probably not. But it’s already miles ahead of anything that’s come since then.