Plain and simple, the New Orleans Saints were one of the biggest winners on draft day 2011, no matter what way you look at it. Top to bottom, they had one of the most impressive classes in the NFL, and got four players in the first four rounds who had 2nd round grades or higher by my book. In fact, they got three players that I projected at one point or another as first round selections, so that should give you some indication of just how good I feel this class is…
1. First Round, 24th overall: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Cam Jordan was a home run pick. His quickness off the snap, instincts, and pass rush potential are going to really upgrade the Saints’ front line, which all of a sudden has at least three Pro Bowl caliber players with Jordan, Will Smith, and Sedrick Ellis. This is a team who had some serious weakness on the defensive side of the ball even when they won the Super Bowl, and now they have added the necessary pieces to have a dominant front four as well as some of the best defensive backs in the NFL.
Pick Grade: A++
2. First Round, 28th overall: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The Saints ended the fall of Mark Ingram, who will carry a chip on his shoulder into the NFL, and being the first back off the board, at this point he was great value. Now, the Saints DID trade a future first round selection for the right to draft Ingram, but this is focusing on the 2011 aspect of the draft, not next year. The fact is, the Saints made a pick, and I think Ingram was a great one. This Saints backfield theoretically includes guys like Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, Chris Ivory, and now Mark Ingram. An area last year of weakness is now a very big area of strength. Thomas and Bush could both be gone, but I think Ingram will have a huge impact regardless. He might not be a yardage machine, but he is a tough, hard-nosed runner who gets those tough yards. I think this is a great spot for Ingram to go, and I think this was a very, very good pick.
Pick Grade: A
3. Third Round, 72nd overall: Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
This is a guy I had projected to the Saints in the first round at times this offseason. He fell for injury concerns, but in the third round, the risk is well worth it. Wilson ran a sub 4.5 second 40 yard dash at 6’4″ 250 pounds, and he is one of the most physically imposing linebackers in the draft. He led the Illini in tackles last year coming off of a serious injury that kept him out of his sophomore season, and he has the athletic ability to start for this team right away if needed.
Pick Grade: A
4. Third Round, 88th overall: Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville
Patrick was a guy gaining a lot of steam before the draft. He is a playmaker with some character concerns, but there will be a spot for him in what looks to be a very deep New Orleans defensive backfield. They drafted Patrick Robinson, Malcolm Jenkins, and guys like Tracy Porter over the last couple of years, not to mention Pro Bowl safety Roman Harper, so they really have an eye for defensive back talent. This is just the rich getting richer here. He will see time as a rookie on special teams and in nickel and dime packages, and could develop into a full time starter. He does come with some character concerns, however.
Pick Grade: B
5. Seventh Round, 226th overall: Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh
Romeus was absolutely dominant for Pitt when he was healthy, but he missed pretty much his whole senior season because of injury, allowing his teammate Jabaal Sheard to win Big East Defensive Player of the Year as well as get selected in the early second round by the Cleveland Browns. Romeus is great value and a worthwhile risk in the seventh round, because he has a ton of potential and can put pressure on the quarterback.
Pick Grade: B
6. Seventh Round, 243rd overall: Nate Bussey, LB, Illinois
83 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss last year for the Illini, and while he’s not the biggest player on the field (6’2″ 228) he will join his former teammate Martez Wilson and help this New Orleans special teams unit right away, and he could be a real asset in that regard. Was a real playmaker for Illinois last year with three fumble recoveries, a blocked kick, and his first career interception. Co-special teams player of the year for Illinois for his prowess on kick and punt coverage.
Pick Grade: B
Overall Draft Grade: A
The Saints hit big with the picks they needed to, and I love the guys they got in the seventh round. This is a team primed to win now as well as in the future. A very, very good draft by my eye.