Will Saints Surprising Draft Add Needed Talent?

Despite salary cap troubles, New Orleans vying to remain a playoff team


Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.


Having just shed more than $100 million in salary commitments to get under the NFL’s $188.4 million salary cap for the 2021 season, the New Orleans Saints entered the 2021 NFL Draft with needs at cornerback, linebacker and quarterback.

In the days leading up to the draft, the Saints were rumored to have tried to move up into the Top 10 — presumedly to land a QB or CB. However, the team wasn’t willing to mortgage a haul of future high-round picks — the most frugal way to build a quality roster — to move up this year.

Gone are familiar names who helped the Saints win, including QB Drew Brees, WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Jared Cook, LB Kwon Alexander, CB Janoris Jenkins, DT Sheldon Rankins, DE Trey Hendrickson and P Thomas Morstead.

With so much talent removed — and experts predicting the team to win nine to 10 games this season — the Saints were expected to select players who would make an immediate impact in keeping them a playoff-caliber team.

While they drafted players at each of the positions of need, the order in which they did so and the players they selected raised some eyebrows. Many experts have said the Saints reached with some picks — leading to average-to-below-average draft grades. While they may not have selected household names, the Saints may have below-radar prospects who will help the team continue to win for years to come. That doesn’t mean the Superdome’s lights won’t shine a little bit brighter on them in this season of transition.

Saints 2021 Draft Picks
New Orleans held on to its 28th pick and selected Payton Turner (DE, Houston), a player who had some injury issues and was slated as a second- or third-round pick. With overwhelming size, length, and agility, he saw his draft stock soar following the Senior Bowl. He joins fellow first-round DEs Cameron Jordan (2011) and Marcus Davenport (2018) on the team’s defensive line. Many experts think Turner’s selection came too early. He will see playing time this year but may need time to develop and may not have the impact expected of a first-round draft choice.

In the Second Round, they added Pete Werner (LB, Ohio State), a 6-foot, 2-inch, 242-pound, three-year starter, two-time all-Big Ten Conference honoree, and a 2020 Butkus Award semifinalist. Expect him to play alongside Demario Davis and Zack Baun in three-linebacker sets and with Davis in the Saints’ 4-2-5 defense.

New Orleans sent Denver the 98th and 105th overall choices in the third round to move up and select Paulson Adebo (CB, Stanford) with the 76th overall pick. Adebo opted out of the 2020 season but was graded a potential first-round pick. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 192-pound DB ran an unofficial 4.42-second 40-yard dash at Stanford pro day and started 21 of the 22 games he played for the Cardinal. Although his draft stock was hurt by sitting out, expect him to contribute immediately — possibly as a starter. He may be one of the steals of the draft.

Next to Turner, the Saints selection of Ian Book (QB, Notre Dame) in the fourth round was a head-scratcher, but head coach Sean Payton likes his pedigree. The winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history (30-5), Book played in 45 games and completed 728 of 1,141 attempts for 8,948 yds., 72 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, while carrying 361 times for 1,517 yards and 17 touchdowns. He led the Irish to the College Football Playoffs twice in three years; however, most draft experts say he will need to further develop his skills to be a starter in the NFL. The Saints like the 6-foot, 210-pound passer’s energy, athleticism and play-making ability.

The offensive line has been one of the main keys to the Saints’ success in the Payton era, and they added a monster in 6-foot, 7-inch, 321-pound Landon Young (OT, Kentucky) in the sixth round. A two-time All-SEC selection, Young can play four of the five positions on the O-line, giving the Saints additional versatility and depth up front that they like. New Orleans traded two picks to the Colts, No. 218 and No. 229, to move up to get him. He is expected to split time with All-Pro Ryan Ramczyk and Pro Bowler Terron Armstead on the edge. It would be nice to have a player his size guarding the edge for years to come.

The Saints added Kawaan Baker (WR, South Alabama) in the seventh round with the 255th overall pick. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 210-pound pass catcher is a sure-handed target who runs a blistering 4.45-second 40-yard dash and has a 39.5-inch vertical jump. With Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith seemingly set at WR1 and 2, look for Baker to split time with Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris in 3-plus WR sets.