Draft Grades: New Orleans Saints

What seems to be a disappointing draft class to most might be a little better than most think. Taking an AAC defensive lineman on day one upset a lot of fans and taking Ian Book in the fourth also seemed to raise concerns. Let’s put these picks under the magnifying glass and analyze these picks on a deeper level.

DE Payton Turner

Round 1: Pick 28

Houston Cougars

2020 Second Team All-AAC

6’6″ 270 lbs

2020 Stats: 5 Games Played/25 TOTAL/17 SOLO/5 Sacks/10.5 TFL

When you look at a team like the Saints, they love prototypical size and even bigger at their positions. Marcus Davenport, Cameron Jordan, and Payton Turner are all over 6’4″ and over 265 lbs. All are versatile and can rush from multiple alignments so when you look at the remaining edge rushers, Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham were the only other defensive ends that fit that prototype and even then Payton Turner is the most alike how the Saints like their defensive ends. Turner has a super high ceiling and incredible physical traits that enticed the Saints into turning in the card. Heck, he has the longest measured wingspan of a defensive lineman since 1999. He only missed five games out of forty in his career, 3 of which were due to COVID-19 and the other two due to a foot injury in the 2018 season. He even played through three broken fingers in 2019 so this storyline that he “struggles with injury” is nonsense. The thought that Turner is here to replace Marcus Davenport is false. The Saints picked up Davenport’s fifth year option and he is in their future plans. Cameron Jordan is under contract through the 2023 season and after that he will be entering his 14th season and likely mulling retirement. Payton Turner is here to develop and give the Saints flexibility. Maybe to the untrained eye this was a bad pick but this was a total Saints pick that fit exactly the type of player they wanted at a position they value higher than most teams. Maybe it was a bit of a reach but Turner said he was told he was going in the 20-40 range and the Saints didn’t want to take a chance on a different team snagging him.

Grade: B+

LB Pete Werner

Round 2: Pick 60

Ohio State Buckeyes

2020 Second Team All-Big Ten

6’3″ 242 lbs

2020 Stats: 8 Games Played/54 TOTAL/28 SOLO/1 Sack/2 FF/2.5 TFL

Here is yet another Saints prototype. Kaden Elliss, Demario Davis, and Zack Baun are all over 6’2″ 235 lbs. In Mickey’s press conference after day two of the draft he said he envisions Werner starting in the WILL spot with MIKE capabilities down the line. The Saints drafting an ultra athletic linebacker to play WILL makes a ton of sense for their defense. Demario Davis played his best football last year when he was able to slide over into the MIKE spot while Kwon Alexander played the WILL. Demario plays his best football when he doesn’t have to worry about coverage responsibilities and can play downhill. Pete Werner is a high IQ football player who can cover in both man and zone, he can rush the passer, and is a reliable tackler. Consistency is the name of the game for Pete and he showed that each Saturday in college. Dennis Allen will get the most out of Werner and the whole linebacker core gets better because of it.

Grade: B+

CB Paulson Adebo

Round 3: Pick 74

Stanford Cardinals

2019 First Team All-PAC 12

6’1″ 192 lbs

2019 Stats: 9 Games Played/33 TOTAL/23 SOLO/4 Interceptions/10 passes defended

Adebo is a coverman with exceptional ball skills and great size for the position. He has smooth hips and is a high IQ player with zone, press man, and off man capabilities. Adebo is a developmental cornerback with a high ceiling. After opting out in 2020, Paulson got bigger, faster, and stronger and is ready to be polished into a high quality starter. Before the 2020 season, Adebo was considered a first round pick and still has the upside of one. The Saints clearly traded up because they need a cornerback and because they thought Adebo was sliding, so the combination of need and value warranted the heavy compensation Denver got. Great pick for the Saints and a great fit for Adebo.

Grade: A-

QB Ian Book

Round 4: Pick 133

2020 Third Team All-ACC

6’0″ 206 lbs

2020 Stats: 12 Games Played/353 Attempts/228 completions/64.6% Completion/2,830 Yards/24 Touchdowns/3 Interceptions/113.4 RTG/84.0 QBR/75 Yard Long

Lots of people have something to say about this and most are negative. I too was dismayed at the pick when it was announced. Let’s take a step back and look at the reasoning behind a pick like this. For starters, we need to go way back and look at who mentored future HOF coach Sean Payton. A man by the name of Bill Parcells helped to shape Sean Payton into the coach he is today. Parcells had a rigorous list of things he looks for in a franchise quarterback. The seven requirements are that they must be a 3 year starter, must be a senior in college, must graduate from college, must start 30 games, must win 23 games, must have a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio, and must have a 60% career completion percentage. The only two quarterbacks in this draft to cover those marks were Ian Book and Sam Ehlinger. Ian Book played in big games, lead a succesful college team for 3 years, and is the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history. So if a QB needy team is going to roll the dice on a quarterback in the fourth round, Ian Book is a good bet especially for Sean Payton. Payton found Tony Romo, he picked Drew Brees over Matt Leinart and Vince Young against popular opinion, and he was gearing up to pick Patrick Mahomes at 11 before the Chiefs traded up to 10. I trust Sean Payton’s ability to find quarterbacks and Ian Book could be the next.

Grade: B

OT Landon Young

Round 6: Pick 206

Second Team All-SEC

6’7″ 322 lbs

The Saints traded a sixth and the first pick in the seventh round to move up and tag Landon Young. For starters, he is a behemoth of a man and can play both tackle and both guard spots. Getting an All-SEC player and versatile offensive lineman in the sixth is great value. The Saints are big on sixth lineman with guys like Jermon Bushrod, James Hurst, and Will Clapp making big impacts in jumbo packages, injury situations, and on short run downs. Great value here for New Orleans.

Grade: B

WR Kawaan Baker

Round 7: Pick 255

Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference

6’1″ 215 lbs

2020 Stats: 10 Games Played/51 Receptions/659 Yards/8 Touchdowns/12.9 Yard Average

The Saints are the last team out of 32 since 2019 to draft a wide receiver. They have good success with drafting receivers as evident with guys like Marques Colston, Michael Thomas, and Tre’Quan Smith. Kawaan is a good RAC receiver who runs in the 4.4s and plays with good strong hands. He can come in and play along Michael Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, and Deonte Harris. Good value pick for the Saints and I expect them to get the most out of him as they usually do with their wide receivers.

Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B

This is a high upside class that could prove a lot of people wrong but could also be a major mistake. I think they filled a ton of needs, took chances, and prepared for their future with this draft. Maybe there were a few reaches but people say that every year and then they are deemed a steal when these players find success.