By: William Heiges II
As the 2017 NFL season was coming to an end and we were preparing for the Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, there was the annual NFL Honors ceremony. Since its debut in 2012, this event allows us to recognize the NFL’s best players, performances, and plays from the current season. At this particular event, the New Orleans Saints had two players, cornerback Marcus Lattimore and running back Alvin Kamara, both take home the NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. An achievement in itself since the only other time in league history that this occurred was way back in 1967 when both running back Mel Farr and cornerback Lem Barney won these two awards as members of the Detroit Lions. Both Lattimore and Kamara were part of an impressive draft haul that propelled the Saints to elite status and just within one unfortunate play away from the NFC Championship game. Going into the 2018–19 NFL Season, the Saints are viewed as legit conference contenders with their current roster so the question that all of their fans have is how they would approach the draft.
Going into the draft, the Saints held the 27thoverall pick in the first round, which means that unless someone of note would fall far enough, they were most likely not going to get an immediate impact player. Many analysts felt the Saints would either draft a tight end for quarterback Drew Brees to work with while others felt they would add depth to another position to develop as a potential starter. There were even those that felt that the Saints would add a quarterback at this spot to sit behind Brees and for grooming and as his eventual replacement as he approaches the twilight of his illustrious career. In the end, the Saints shocked almost every single viewer, fan, and even other teams as they traded up 13 spots with the Green Bay Packers and drafted defensive end Marcus Davenport out of UTSA (the University of Texas at San Antonio). For the trade to happen, the Saints gave up their fifth-round pick from this year and their first-round pick from the upcoming draft. While Davenport is a very talented individual with a high upside, was he worth the move and can he give enough production to account for the contributions of what would have been two first round picks instead of one? The answer is part of the logic and reasoning behind this decision from the leaders of this organization.
At UTSA Davenport was a force off the edge but going into the draft he was mostly viewed as a very raw prospect that still needed to improve on some techniques that are necessary to be successful or even useful at his position in the NFL. Another criticism that many teams had coming into the draft was the level of competition that Davenport was playing against and if his dominant performances at times may have been misleading. What helped his stock was his performance at the Senior Bowl despite the slow start he had in the early part of the week. During one of the following practices, he was able to create havoc, and no one could block him which showed many teams that he has a high ceiling if developed properly. At the combine, he showed that he not only has outstanding size and measurable but also ran an elite 4.58-second 40-yard dash to improve his draft stock further.
Now back to the Saints decision to trade up and draft this raw prospect with immense upside; was it worth it? In already looking at the team’s roster it would appear so. Defensive end Cameron Jordan had an All-Pro season last year after posting 13 sacks, but the Saints could still use another top-end pass rusher with uncertainty on the other side. As we saw during the 2016–17 season, a team with an elite defense that is spearheaded by a formidable pass rush can carry a team through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl with what the Broncos had in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. In last year’s draft, the team took three defensive players with their first four picks and the selection of Davenport is a step in the right direction. Even though he may need time to adjust as a 3–4 outside linebacker to a 4–3 defensive end, he will have a solid mentor in Cameron Jordan and possesses the size, strength, length to go with his athleticism to make this transition go a lot smoother. The expectations may be lofty due to the draft capital given up in acquiring him, but based on he has shown us and with how well the Saints have turned their team around through quality draft picks it would seem that this decision will be getting more praise that head scratches sooner than we think. Davenport is in a good situation on a quality team, which is why I think he will do just fine and give the Saints a decent return on their investment.