Saints solidify, LSU’s Burrow goes No. 1
Like sunshine after a devastating storm, the 2020 NFL Draft provided hope that a return to normalcy is on the horizon after COVID-19. Fans tuned in in record numbers as TV viewership peaked at a record 19.6 million, a 37 percent increase over last year’s audience, according to Nielsen Media Research, and they weren’t disappointed.
While there was an expectation that there would be some movement withing the top 10 picks, trades were almost nonexistent, but that didn’t mean there was a lack of drama or head-scratching selections that seemed to be picked above their pre-draft grades.
As expected the Cincinnati Bengals chose LSU’s National Champion and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow with the top overall pick. The Tiger had, arguably, the best season of any college quarterback in history, and was well deserving of being the No. 1 pick. Burrow’s hometown, Athens, Ohio, is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cincinnati. It will be intriguing to see if the kid from southeast Ohio can lift the team from southwest Ohio to heights it hasn’t seen in decades.
Same Old Saints
Despite the assumption that New Orleans might target a highly-prized skill position player, the Saints – like they have for much of head coach Sean Payton’s tenure – didn’t make a play for a marquis name or skill position in the draft, but took steps to solidify their position as one of the best teams in the NFL.
The team had five picks entering the Draft, made some deals to move up, and finished with four draft picks. If there is a theme among this year’s picks, it’s utility. Almost all are capable of playing multiple positions.
The Saints moved up in the first round to select Michigan center/guard Cesar Ruiz, whom many thought was the best interior offensive lineman available this year. While many were initially surprised with the selection – after all, the team moved up last year to select center Erik McCoy and right guard Larry Warford and left guard Andrus Peat are coming off of Pro Bowl seasons. Warford could become a salary cap casualty, however, selecting Ruiz perfectly falls in line with the Saints’ practice of having one of the best offensive lines in the league. Along with Will Clapp, whom the Saints picked in 2018, they have solid depth at the three interior line positions among these five players. Considering interior pressure is kryptonite to Drew Brees’ Superman abilities, having depth here will help the team’s championship aspirations.
After losing starting linebacker A.J. Klein to free agency this offseason, the Saints sent their 2020 and 2021 third-round selections to Cleveland to select Wisconsin Linebacker Zack Baun in the third round. He will fit in well among the rotation of Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, and Kiko Alonso. In addition to playing LB, expect to see Baun to line up as a defensive end.
They traded the remainder of their 2020 draft choices to add a second third round pick, which they used on Dayton tight end Adam Trautman, who has been described as an
oversized wide receiver who can stretch the middle of the field. With veterans Jared Cook and Josh Hill, Trautman’s addition may make this unit the most solid from top to bottom on the roster.
In a surprise move, the Saints jumped back into the Draft with a trade with the Houston Texans, to select 6-foot-5, 235-pound, Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens, who has drawn comparisons to backup quarterback Taysom Hill.
An even bigger surprise emerged after the Draft when word emerged the Saints would sign former Tampa Bay’s former No. 1 Draft pick quarterback Jameis Winston to a one-year deal. WOW! Like many Saints fans, I didn’t see this one coming. Hopefully, Winston, who threw for 30 TDs last season (30 picks, too) will come to the Saints locker room looking to prove and improve himself.
Shortly after the news of Winston’s signing, the Saints announced Hill signed a two-year extension.
The NFL Draft provides hope for all 32 NFL teams, but after being bounced from the playoffs in dramatic fashion for the past three seasons the Saints are trying to get all of the pieces in place for another Super Bowl championship before Brees’ career play clock hits double zero. With the addition of free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the Saints appear to have the weapons and defense to again be one of the best teams in the NFL. With the addition of these players, hopefully, 2020 is the season the Saints go marching in, again.