The focus of the 2014 NFL Draft for the New Orleans Saints was always going to be on defense. It was inevitable after losing longtime stalwarts like Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer during this past offseason. But they also needed an explosive offensive weapon to help replace Darren Sproles, who had 220 rushing yards to go along with 71 receptions and 604 receiving yards. Did the Saints fill these holes in the draft? Here’s a breakdown.
The Saints took Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State) with their first round pick, and it was a terrific pick. Cooks was a good value at no. 20 and he’s exactly the kind of player HC Sean Payton is looking for in a slot receiver. He may be diminutive at just under 5-foot 10, but he more than makes up for it with world class speed (4.33 40-yard dash) and agility (6.76 3-cone drill and 3.81 20-yard shuttle). He can play deep but also is a threat underneath.
Cooks should easily fulfill Sproles’ role in the offense and should make an interesting pairing with Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills. As creative as Payton is, it’s scary to think of the multitude of ways he’s going to be using Cooks.
In the second round New Orleans began focusing on defense, and that focus continued until the teams last pick in the sixth round. At no. 58 overall, New Orleans added Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB, Nebraska), which was superb pick in my opinion. Jean-Baptiste absolutely fills the trendy model of big and lengthy cornerbacks who play with physicality, a trend brought to us courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks.
At 6-foot 3, 220-pounds, Jean-Baptiste has the physicality to play press-man coverage, and he uses his long 32-inch arms well when locking down a receiver. Consider the fact that he also boasts nearly a 42-inch vertical leap and used to be a receiver, throwing a jump ball in his vicinity might not be the best option for an opposing offense. He’s very raw still and doesn’t have elite recovery speed, so there will be a learning curve, but when the game slows down for him he should have a bright future.
Khairi Fortt (LB, Cal) in the fourth was the biggest head scratcher amongst the Saints draft selections. The value wasn’t great, as many thought he’d go in the late rounds (if even drafted at all), and I didn’t think ILB was a big need either. Fortt is strong against the run but is an inconsistent tackler and needs better diagnostic skills if he wants to play in Rob Ryans’ multidimensional scheme.
The two fifth round picks, Vinnie Sunseri (S, Alabama) and Ronald Powell (OLB, Florida) were solid picks. Sunseri is a coaches son and a Nick Saban disciple, so even if he’s somewhat limited athletically, he makes up for it with his on-field awareness. He could eventually play the third safety role that’s common in Ryan’s scheme.
Powell is a good value with high upside in the fifth. He’s a former number one player coming out of high school but was held back by constant injuries. An impressive athlete, he’s got decent length and pass rushing prowess to play off the edge.
The Saints last pick, Tavon Rooks (OT, Kansas State) is a developmental guy who doesn’t have great size or strength, but shows good footwork and athleticism. Despite being a long shot to make the team, a low-risk, high-upside pick in the late sixth is hard to argue against.
Overall a solid class by the Saints. Cooks should be a playmaker right out of the gate, Jean-Baptiste has the potential to develop into a topnotch corner and Sunseri and Powell will provide depth right away. Were the holes filled? Hard to say now, but it looks promising.