RICK CLEVELAND: Saints’ success not a product of sexy drafts

RICK CLEVELAND

RICK CLEVELAND

ESPN’s NFL draft guru, Mel Kiper Jr., gave the New Orleans Saints a relatively low C-plus for their work in last weekend’s proceedings.

If you think Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton are concerned the least bit, think again.

They care not.

Payton was absolutely giddy about the first round choice Brandin Cooks, a blur of a wide receiver out of Oregon State. Payton and Loomis also love their second round pick, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a big, strong cornerback out of Nebraska.

That said, if we’re going on recent Saints history the value of this 2014 draft will be in the lower rounds – and even in the signing of undrafted free agents. That’s where the Saints have made their living over the last decade, with players whose names were rarely, if ever, uttered by Kiper and other draft experts.

Don’t believe it? Leading rusher Pierre Thomas was undrafted out of Illinois. Leading receiver Jimmy Graham played only one year of college football at Miami and was the 95th pick of the draft. Marquis Colston, the Saints’ all-time leading receiver? He was a seventh round choice out of Hofstra.

All-Pro guard Jahri Evans? A fourth rounder out of Bloomsburg, the 108th pick of the 2006 draft. Zach Streif, a solid right tackle and one of the Saints’ captains, was a seventh rounder out of Northwestern.

The guess here is that the Saints will find equal value from some lower draft choices and some undrafted free agents in 2014. They seem to have an eye for this.

Anybody who has watched Alabama’s defense over the past three years had to love the fifth-round pick of Crimson Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri. He, along with linebacker C.J. Mosley, were the glue to Bama’s defense before a knee injury ended Sunseri’s senior season. He is a coach’s son and like a coach on the field. Don’t be surprised if he breaks into the Saints lineup, particularly in nickel and dime packages.

Injuries, such as Sunseri’s, apparently do not scare the Saints. New Orleans’ fourth round, two fifth round and sixth round choices have all suffered major injuries during their college careers. But if there’s any team in football that can be excused for not writing off players due to serious injuries, it has to be the Saints.

After all, the Saints obtained Drew Brees essentially because other ballclubs, most notably the Miami Dolphins, thought his career in jeopardy because of an injury to his throwing shoulder.

Undrafted

Of the recently signed undrafted free agents, this guy stands out to me: Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman, seemingly a Colston clone. Coleman stands 6 feet, 6 inches, weighs 220 and ran a 4.52 40 for scouts. Again, a knee injury (torn miniscus) hindered him his senior season or he surely would have been drafted. The Saints correctly figure he is a potential big-time value for very little risk. (He earned a third round grade after his red-shirt sophomore season, but decided to stay in school.)

Delta State fans surely will remember the name Seantavious Jones, who caught six touchdown passes for Valdosta State in one 2013 game against the Statesmen. He is 6-3, 205 pounds, can run and obviously can catch. He’s another Saints’ undrafted free agent signee. Don’t count him out.

Here’s a stat all Saints fans should revel in: On the team’s final 53-man 2013 roster, 24 – or 45 percent – were formerly undrafted free agents.

That’s impressive.

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.