The irony of the New Orleans Saints breathing down the neck of the Green Bay Packers for a first-round bye in the upcoming NFL playoffs is undeniable. The Packers are somehow leading the field despite a 2015 draft class that has been a complete washout. The Saints are charging hard now because of an amazing 2017 draft class that came together in what coach Sean Payton calls a “magic week.”
The 2015 Green Bay Packers draft was a disaster
The Green Bay Packers’ picks in that draft, conducted three months after a devastating loss to the Seattle Seahawks in an overtime playoff game, barely made it to the football equivalent of puberty. Coming off a 12-4 season with not much more to overhaul than a secondary that lost cornerbacks Davon House and Tramon Williams to free agency, the Packers bombed out with their eight picks.
None of them made it as far as the 2019 season with the Packers, a performance that monumentally underperformed what the New Orleans Saints accomplished two years later. It was so bad that Green Bay subsequently brought House (2017) and Williams (2018) back as free agents.
First-round safety Damarious Randall from Arizona State made 30 starts and 11 interceptions in three seasons but was burned frequently. The Packers sent him to the Cleveland Browns before the 2018 season for DeShone Kizer, who didn’t pan out as a backup to Aaron Rodgers.
Second-round cornerback Quinten Rollins from Miami of Ohio began his college career as a basketball player and ended it unemployed after a 2017 injury. Third-round running back and receiver Ty Montgomery and fourth-round linebacker Jake Ryan made it to their fourth seasons. Neither did much; lasting as long as they did made them the stars of the class.
The four others that Green Bay selected in the remainder of the draft are also gone, confirmation that the Packers couldn’t have done much worse had they just taken Mel Kiper’s word on prospects.
Sean Payton’s ‘magic week’ paid dividends for the Saints
Coming off three straight 7-9 seasons, the New Orleans Saints needed to score big in the 2017 NFL draft. As such, coach Sean Payton was working just as hard as the team’s scouting department and hit the road to see as many prospects as possible.
In one blurry stretch, Payton visited Columbus, Ohio, to look at Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore; Knoxville, Tennessee, to check out Vols running back Alvin Kamara; and Lubbock, Texas, to watch Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes throw.
“I call it the magic week,” Payton said in a recent media availability.
The Saints held the No. 11 pick in the first round and loved Mahomes or Lattimore for that slot. When the Cincinnati Bengals took 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 took Mahomes. The Saints snared Lattimore, who has nine 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 thanks to a trade with New England that sent Brandin Cooks to the Patriots. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin was first-team All-Pro in 2019.
The New Orleans Saints drafted a great foundation
Landing two stars in the first round was only the beginning of the job reshaping the New Orleans Saints’ roster after three straight losing seasons. In the second round, they took Marcus Williams, who has been a four-year starter at safety.
The Saints could have simply quit after the next pick and their draft would have still graded out at A-plus three years later. That’s because they took Alvin Kamara with the 67th pick overall. Kamara is in the midst of his fourth straight season with at least 700 yards on the ground and 80 receptions. Averaging out at better than 1,500 yards of total offense and 13 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 is in his first year as a full-time starter and has been a monster with 12.5 sacks in his first 14 games.
“It’s an amazing class,” Saints left tackle Terron Armstead said. “It’s ridiculous, really — honestly, it’s ridiculous just to put all those names and bring all those guys in at one time.”All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference