The New Orleans Saints didn’t have many picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, but it’s looking like they may have hit on most of them, at least judging their performances through six games. You can very easily make the case that a small part of the team’s 5-1 record so far has been because of the impressive play from their rookie class.
It all starts with their first round draft pick, safety Kenny Vaccaro (15th overall) from Texas. Vaccaro was considered by most to be the best safety in the draft class, and he’s been backing that up so far. He was supposed to come in and contribute to the depth of the backfield, with the intention of possibly letting him take over for FS Malcolm Jenkins should they team not re-sign him after this year. But due to a strong camp and a Roman Harper injury, Vaccaro has seen a steady stream of playing time, resulting in impressive numbers thus far. As of now, Vaccaro is second on the team in tackles with 33 (trailing only MLB Curtis Lofton), has a sack, an interception and three PBUs. Bottom line? Vaccaro is looking like the real deal.
The Saints had two 3rd round picks and used both of them to help shore up the offensive and defensive lines. LT Terron Armstead (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 75th overall) was arguably the most impressive physical specimen at the NFL Combine last February (running a 4.71 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5, 305-pounds!), and he had a pretty strong camp, beating out Jason Smith for the backup LT spot behind Charles Brown. Considering RT Zach Strief is a free agent after this year, expect Armstead to slide into a starting role next year, but he’ll continue providing valuable depth until then.
NT John Jenkins (Georgia, 82nd overall) was brought in to be the ever-important nose tackle in the newly installed 3-4 defense by Rob Ryan. Thrust into the lineup when Broderick Bunkley went down, Jenkins has been an absolute beast for the Saints and has played a huge role in the so-far-successful transition. His stats (10 tackles) won’t blow any one away, but his value spreads far beyond the stat sheet. Jenkins has a very bright future.
Receiver Kenny Stills (Oklahoma, 144th overall) has quietly had a very strong season. It’s hard for a rookie to step into an offense featuring the likes of Jimmy Graham, Drew Brees, Darren Sproles and Marques Colston and make an impact, but Stills has. He’s only hauled in 10 passes so far, but he’s made each of them count, averaging close to 20 yards a reception. He also came through in the clutch in the last second loss to the New England Patriots, making a ridiculous touchdown grab to give the Saints the lead with one minute to go. Stills could have a bright future in the slot with Brees.
Last but not least we have 6th round pick Rufus Johnson (Tarleton St., 183rd overall), a pass rushing outside linebacker. Johnson has been on the practice squad and is being brought along slowly. The Saints knew he was very raw coming from a small school but are intrigued by his skill set.
All in all, this class is looking good for the Saints, especially on defense. The way it looks, the Saints should have four of their five draft picks starting by next season, and it could be five depending on the progression of Johnson.