Sean Payton may be a football coach rather than a fisherman, but he will forever tell the story of the one that got away. Payton went on a wild scouting trip ahead of the 2017 NFL draft and found guys like Alvin Kamara who would fuel future success for the New Orleans Saints. But Payton never got his chance to grab the best of the bunch from the whirlwind scouting mission: Patrick Mahomes.
No Patrick Mahomes, but success for Sean Payton
The New Orleans Saints had been spinning their wheels with three straight 7-9 finishes, and it was a pivotal moment for Sean Payton. The Saints had gone 48-16 with a Super Bowl championship in the preceding four years, so there was now a sense of urgency.
Although the scouting department was doing its usual work, head coach Sean Payton was hitting the road, too. In one stretch of in-and-out visits to observe workouts, Payton traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to see Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore; Knoxville, Tennessee, to evaluate Vols running back Alvin Kamara; and Lubbock, Texas, to watch Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“I call it the magic week,” Payton said late last year.
New Orleans possessed the No. 11 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, and Payton said the organization projected Mahomes or Lattimore for that slot. Once the Cincinnati Bengals took wide receiver John Ross two spots ahead of New Orleans, Payton could let out a sigh of relief.
“When (No.) 9 was selected, we knew we were getting one of the two. … And then Andy (Reid) decided for us,” Payton told Nola.com.
Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs traded up with the Buffalo Bills and drafted Mahomes, who’s become the NFL’s new face. The Saints happily grabbed Lattimore, who has 10 career interceptions and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in three of his first four years. He was the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017.
The Saints also held the last pick of the first round after a trade that sent Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin was first-team All-Pro in 2019 and has made 63 starts in four seasons.
The rest of the New Orleans Saints’ 2017 NFL draft was a success
Sean Payton and New Orleans Saints may not have landed Patrick Mahomes, but don’t forget they still had Drew Brees at quarterback. So other priorities still needed to be addressed in the 2017 NFL draft – and they were.
In the second round, they selected Marcus Williams, who has been a four-year starter at safety. With their next pick, they took Alvin Kamara, who has averaged 835 yards on the ground and 81.5 receptions a year. At 1,541 yards of total offense and 14.5 touchdowns per season, Kamara is 4-for-4 in Pro Bowl selections.
The Saints rounded out their draft with linebacker Alex Anzalone, and defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad. Hendrickson recently completed his first year as a full-time starter with 13.5 sacks.
Sean Payton tried to sneak away after scouting Patrick Mahomes
NFL fans sometimes forget that the Kansas City Chiefs took criticism for selecting Patrick Mahomes in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft. It got worse when Andy Reid played Alex Smith at quarterback over Mahomes for the entire 2017 season.
Needless to say, opinions changed quickly in 2018. However, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton never needed convincing after having flown to Lubbock, Texas, for a visit before that draft.
“We came away from there just blown away. Impressed. I know I had made the comment that that’s the best college quarterback I’ve ever evaluated.”Sean Payton
The Saints had to figure that rival teams were on to Mahomes by then, but Payton still didn’t want to call any attention to the fact that the Saints entourage had seen Mahomes. Of course, that was going to be difficult to do since they arrived in Lubbock on the team jet.
“And so then you’re just trying to stealth out of the airport with no one seeing you, not stopping at a coffee shop, not getting any picture taken,” Payton told NFL Network. “You’re just onto the next school, like we didn’t even go there.”
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.