Jeff Ireland

New Orleans assistant general manager Jeff Ireland accepts Inside the League's award for the team with the best 2017 draft. (Joel A. Erickson/The Advocate)

INDIANAPOLIS — The day after the 2017 NFL draft ended, Jeff Ireland had a feeling he couldn't shake. 

A feeling he'd only had once before, back when he was the vice president of college and pro scouting for Dallas and the Cowboys landed DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Chris Canty, Marion Barber and Jay Ratliff in 2005. 

The feeling was right. New Orleans had landed five day-one starters and swept the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards with Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore, respectively.

On Wednesday night, New Orleans was awarded best draft of 2017 by the voting of the NFL's scouting community as compiled by Inside the League, an industry publication that merges the scouting and agent communities.

Ireland was available to accept the award in-person. 

"I always feel good after a draft, but I had a feeling, I told Mickey (Loomis) this, I'd only had that feeling one time," Ireland said. "It was that kind of feeling."

Ireland thanked Loomis, Saints coach Sean Payton, the rest of the coaching staff and the scouting staff.

"Every draft is different, each has its own difficulties," Ireland said. "There’s a lot of collaborative effort that goes into each and every draft, and the hard work and dedication of our scouts, the long days, the short nights out on the road, risking their lives driving through the mountains and everything."

All of that effort has really paid off for the Saints over the past three years, with a rising wave of immediate impact that hit its crescendo last season. 

Kamara emerged as the league's most exciting dual threat, and Lattimore looks primed to finally end the Saints' decades-long search for a foundational cornerback, but New Orleans did historically well even outside of the Pro Bowlers.

Rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk started all 16 games, played every snap and emerged as one of the NFL's best young linemen. Free safety Marcus Williams made 71 tackles and four interceptions — the most for any Saints safety since Darren Sharper in 2009 — while fulfilling the role Jairus Byrd never could for New Orleans.

Third-round pick Alex Anzalone was a starter at weak-side linebacker before a season-ending shoulder injury, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson was key part of the defensive line rotation who flashed ability against both the run and the pass. 

"Pretty cool this year to see that come to fruition, to see the person develop, to see the player develop in front of our eyes, that was pretty cool to watch," Ireland said. "We’re proud of not only this year, but we’re proud of the last three drafts."

Shortly after the Saints brought in their incredible haul, a combination of scouting and luck that saw players like Lattimore and Ramczyk drop far lower than New Orleans had graded them, Ireland and the scouting staff started working on the 2018 draft, the reason the Saints are in Indianapolis this week. 

As great as the Saints' 2017 class was, Ireland knows that he and the rest of the front office have to focus on the future. 

"No one cares anymore," Ireland said. "We’ll accept the kudos now, but really, we’re on to next year.

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.