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Lackluster Draft Class Can Be Polished

Posted By Heather Ireland On May 3 2012 @ 9:59 pm In New Orleans Saints | No Comments

With a few days to let the dust settle, here’s the run-down on the 2012 Saints draft picks:

The New Orleans Saints have had a lot on their plate lately and so having a lackluster 2012 NFL Draft would not have been a surprise to many. Even though the Saints were unable to get on the board until the 3rd round due to a combination of last season’s trade-up to draft RB Mark Ingram and the Bountygate penalty recently conferred upon the team, the coaching staff remains confident there is more to their draft picks than the ratings so far would imply. That support came straight from the top when interim head coach Joe Vitt stepped up to support the decisions made: “We would like to say that Sean [Payton] would have been so proud about how our scouts worked this weekend… There was a really great consensus on the players that we took. They fit into the mode we want – their character, integrity, passion for the game and work habits.”

These aforementioned character traits are all rather important at this point for the Saints as the team still awaits further Bountygate penalties in the form of player suspensions coming against those players lacking in some of those areas. General manager Mickey Loomis said that the team’s draft choices were not affected by those impending suspensions, since no one knows yet exactly who the suspensions will affect or how.  While perhaps some more consideration along those lines should have happened given the current situation, the team is still holding strong that the choices they made will stand the test of time. Rather than see the 2012 NFL Draft as yet another blow to the Saints in a seemingly unending stream of hits, take a closer look at the picks below and try to think like Loomis for the moment to see the draft in a better light.

Akiem Hicks (DL, Regina)

Jumping into the action in the third round, the Saints used their #89 pick to choose Akiem Hicks, a 6’5”, 318 lb. 22 year old, who played the last two seasons at Regina College in Canada. Many draft pick ratings show that Hicks’ value is not as clear cut as most teams might be aiming for but Vitt stood behind their pick when he said on behalf of the team, “We know he’s raw. He has to be coached, but that’s the fun part. He fits the character of our football team. We love his tenacity. We love his resiliency. He has good work habits.” Need more evidence than his character? There is that, too. LSU saw talent they were looking for when they recruited the highly ranked junior college prospect from Sacramento City College in 2009, but lost out on their find because of recruiting NCAA violations, which kept Hicks from his hopes of Division I ball.  Not to give up on a dream, however, Hicks went on to be recruited in Canada, choosing to play for Regina College where not only did he play at conference all-stat caliber both seasons, he made the first team CIS All-Canadian this past season as well as being nominated for the award of CSI’s top lineman.

With the last Canadian university player drafted to the Chargers in 2009, Hicks got a lucky break to be seen by NFL scouts when he was invited to the East-West Shrine, which is the only all-star game that chooses to feature players from both the United States and Canada. Vitt said that he knew they were looking at someone that worked well within their defensive system when the coaching staff got a look at him during that all-star game. On Hick’s play Vitt further clarifies what the scouts saw when he told reporters, “He dominated, played really well, threw some bodies around. That’s where people really started to notice this guy, the raw pass-rushing ability, the feet, the hands. When you get ready in your third round, you love to get a guy that’s got some redeeming qualities of greatness that you can work with. And you can’t coach size and quickness.” So while the draft comments have come out against Hicks regarding his lack of strength against the run without being necessarily strong against the pass rush either, the Saints have taken a good look and like the potential they see, so have the confidence in your coaching staff that they can get it done in Hicks.

Nick Toon (WR, Wisconsin)

The 6’2”, 215 lb. wide receiver not only has great size for his position, something the currently suspended head coach Sean Payton likes to see in his receivers, but also has natural football IQ for the game, which made Toon a decent 4th round pick at #122. Vitt spoke up on what he and the scouts saw in Toon when he said, “No. 1, I think he has a great pedigree. He’s a polished route-runner, can catch the ball outside the framework of his body and can make the big play.” That pedigree Vitt refers to has a lot to do a former NFL player drafted in the first round of the 1985 NFL Draft as the #10 overall pick to the New York Jets, Al Toon, his father.  The younger Toon speaks of his father’s influence on his game and life, “My dad was a great football player and a great resource of mine growing up. He has been a great sounding board for me throughout my career, my entire life — a great blue print as far as a football player.”

With his pedigree what it is, one of the main reasons Toon did not find a team until the 4th round was his draft workouts, but his resume from Wisconsin – leading the team with 64 catches tallying up 926 total yards and 10 touchdowns – is what the Saints coaching staff focuses on now. “We like the way this guy can run routes right now,” Vitt said. “He’s competitive. He’ll fight you for the ball. He’s a good blocker. He’s in good shape right now. He’s excited to be here, so we’re expecting the best.” The offensive coordinator for the Saints, Pete Carmichael Jr., supports the pick as well, telling the press that “he[Toon] can run faster than people give him credit for” and that “he’s a real smart guy who can play more than one position for us” speaking to Toon’s versatility as a player.  That versatility could put him in direct competition with current Saints WR Adrian Arrington who already had his eye on the spot left open by Robert Meachem, who left the Saints for the San Diego Chargers as a free agent after this past season. Out of the players drafted to the team, Toon has the greatest possibility making an impact sooner.

Corey White (S, Samford)

Corey White, the #162 overall pick, joining the Saints in the fifth round had this to say upon being drafted: “It’s going to be fun picking off some balls from Drew Brees. It is going to be real fun… I am real confident in my game. You have to be confident to play this game.” While White has great confidence in his game, there are many that did not have great confidence in the Saints choice of White. Coming from a small school and clocking in at just 5’11” and 206 lbs., he still led his team at Samford in interceptions last season, with a total of four at the corner position, along with five pass break-ups and 58 tackles, so the numbers are there, but there is one important factor missing that would have made him a better choice for the Saints… man coverage. White has proven himself to be a strong tackler and an aggressive player when it comes to secondary run support, yet he lacks the strength in the defensive style run by the very team he was just drafted to. Because of his strengths and the team’s defensive plan, White will most likely be removed from the corner position where he has comfortably shined at Samford to a safety position to begin his NFL career.  The team, however, could have good use of White in the near future within their secondary team, utilizing the strengths he does bring, sooner than he might see defensive play. Yet to be determined how many balls he will actually be picking off from his new QB.

Andrew Tiller (OG, Syracuse)

The decision to draft Tiller in the 6th round (#179 overall pick) most likely had a lot to do with a recommendation from former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the Saints, Doug Marrone. Tiller has been coached by and developed under Marrone up at Syracuse for the past three years, and so with in-depth knowledge of both team and player, Marrone sat in the best position to give his former Saints a tip where he saw fit.  Standing at 6’4” and 324 lbs. it comes as no shock that Tiller is known to be very physical and aggressive on the field, earning his spot as a starter for every game of the last two Syracuse seasons. That plus earning a spot on the first-team All-Big East last season still did not prepare the big man for the 2012 NFL Draft which he admits when he says, “I was in such shock. I’m still on a natural high right now. I’m waiting to come down.” With just a couple of weeks before having to report to mini-camp, we can only hope he gets his head out of the clouds soon and back to earth where he will have to call on all the coaching from Marrone he’s ever received in order to have a chance at earning a roster spot this coming season.

Marcel Jones (OT, Nebraska)

Last, but definitely not least when you consider size (6’6”, 320 lbs.), Jones joined the Saints in the last round of the draft as the #234 overall pick for 2012. Again, as with many of the players already listed, the general public has been less than confident in the last pick of the Saints’ coaching staff, but in defense of himself and the coaches’ choice, Jones had a lot to say after he was drafted: “For a guy my size, I think I move my feet pretty well. I have a pretty good kick-slide so that will come in handy when Drew [Brees] drops back to pass.” Not lacking in confidence, as with Tiller, above, it will still be some time before Jones is most likely leaned on to protect the franchise quarterback, but Jones proves he has a good head on his shoulders when he continues to say, “ I’m a young guy; I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’d love to go in there and learn from all the veterans, ask them what I can bring. I think I can bring a little youth, I can move my feet pretty well, I’ve got pretty good hands and pretty long arms as well. I can use my length to my advantage when I need it. Those are some things I can bring to the team and am looking forward to bringing.”

Looking back at the details of the draft and the players brought on to the Saints, it really does not look as bad as some dramatized, but most likely does earn an average grade, even being left out of the first and second round picks. There were some places where the scouts could have looked to filling a couple of other positions, but through free agency pre- and post-draft the Saints have a good chance at giving themselves some stability to fall back on going into a rather unstable and still uncertain 2012 season. So fret not, Saints fans! We have plenty more to focus on than just development players at the moment, don’t you think?

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