New Orleans Saints
After all of the early first round controversy involving quarterbacks Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers, the New Orleans Saints were satisfied with the 18th pick in the first round. Rumored to covet University of Miami linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams, the Saints were hoping that one of those players would fall right into their hands in the middle of the first round. But at the 12th overall pick, the New York Jets quickly grabbed the highly talented but undersized linebacker Jonathan Vilma in need of much more youth at the linebacker position after they released veteran linebackers Marvin Jones and Mo Lewis earlier in the off season. Five picks later, the Denver Broncos were on the clock.
About two weeks before the NFL Draft had begun, the Denver Broncos had traded up by dumping former Pro Bowl cornerback Deltha O'Neal over to the Cincinnati Bengals. Many believed that this move was made to fill the void at running back exposed when the Broncos traded Clinton Portis to the Washington Redskins for arguably the top cover cornerback in the game, Champ Bailey. Apparently, no running backs were placed high enough on the Broncos draft board to make them worthy of the 17th overall pick. Denver went to the defensive side of the ball by drafting Miami University's LB D.J. Williams one pick before the New Orleans Saints were set to select.
With the Saints on the clock, General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Jim Haslett came to a consensus to select the next highest rated player on their draft board. Catching many by surprise, the Saints selected a defensive end out of The Ohio State University named Will Smith. Already having two solid defensive ends in Charles Grant and Darren Howard, the Saints still decided to go with another defensive end at the 18th selection. Smith, who is also capable of playing inside linebacker, might very well be placed there during the 2004-2005 season to bolster the aging linebacker corps. It should also be noted that Darren Howard was tendered as the teams franchise player, and cost could be a factor for the team. They will likely not look to bring him back after this upcoming season. With enough experience as well as quickness to play linebacker, Will Smith will likely be an interesting rookie to watch next season. After the questionable pick, the Saints went into the second round with two selections hoping to add even more depth to their team.
Even after drafting former Tennessee stand out wide receiver Donte' Stallworth three years ago in the first round, the Saints were apparently still looking to get younger at that position with the 50th overall pick on the first day of the NFL draft. Desiring much more speed at that position, the Saints decided to select a weapon for QB Aaron Brooks to throw to. The New Orleans Saints selected a wide out from Louisiana State University, Devery Henderson. At a slim 191 pounds, Henderson ran a 4.41 forty at the combine as well as showing his tremendous strength when bench pressing 350 pounds. Technically playing wide receiver for only two full seasons, Henderson has a great upside. In addition, Henderson will likely be put into the slot position at receiver for the 2004-2005 season along side the versatile tandem of Joe Horn and Donte' Stallworth.
Ten picks later, the Saints went back to defense picking LB Courtney Watson out of Notre Dame. Projected to also play a great deal next season, Watson has a small but thick frame…just what the Saints were looking for. With a good possibility of playing inside linebacker in 2004 for the new 3-4 defensive scheme under head coach Jim Haslett, Watson has tremendous quickness for a linebacker and has also been awarded for his outstanding character in his community. After the first three picks for the New Orleans Saints, the initial goals of the team set before the draft were slowly coming together but one must still wonder, will the Saints draft a much needed cornerback anytime soon?
Due to a past trade involving the Washington Redskins, the Saints were left without a third round selection as well as a fourth round selection. Going into the fifth round of the draft with high hopes, New Orleans picked a large defensive tackle from UCLA named Rodney Leisle. Thought to possibly be a first day selection, Leisle surprisingly slid down many team's draft boards. Regarded to be one of the strongest players in the entire country, Leslie has a good jump off of the ball and creates great leverage to get to the ball carrier. He is truly what the Saints were looking for as far as explosiveness and attitude goes.
As the fifth round wore on, the Saints had yet another draft pick when they selected possibly the top fullback in the country, Mike Karney from Arizona State. With only one fullback on their roster in Terrelle Smith, the Saints went with one of the most hardcore lead blockers available. At 254 pounds, Karney has a built frame, which will come into play one day when he is blocking for superstar running back Deuce McAllister. Karney is an extremely hard-nosed player that won't back down from a challenge and he'll come right at the defenders, something the Saints were looking for in the middle of the draft.
Without a sixth round pick, the Saints looked to conclude their draft with one quality selection that would impact the team in the future. At the 39th pick in the 7th round, the Saints chose yet another linebacker. Colby Bockwoldt, a 6-1 230 pound linebacker from Brigham Young University, was popular for both his solid tackling ability as well as his pure toughness at the position. With tremendous speed, Bockwoldt does have his downsides though. In previous games, he was noted as a finesse player because of his lack of power and strength to get past larger and more capable offensive lineman. Although he has his problems, this seventh round pick for the New Orleans Saints should be an interesting project in many years to come.
While the Saints concluded their 2004 NFL Draft with an optimistic selection, many have to wonder when they will finally realize their tremendous problem in their secondary, which has been one of the worst in the entire league for the past few seasons. Even though the Saints traded their 5th round selection of this year to the Jacksonville Jaguars for quality cornerback Jason Craft, the secondary still just doesn't have enough speed to shut down the receivers and to avoid the "big play". After the loss of safety Sammy Knight last season, the Saints have yet to recover. Although the team still carries great potential, many Saints fans will be questioning the motives of the front office during the regular season due to their probably and withstanding defensive struggles.
Overall, the New Orleans Saints, out of the NFC South
division, slightly improved their chances of making the playoffs for the
first time in several years next year due to their solid yet average NFL
draft. Selecting 4 defensive players out of the six players chosen, the
Saints stuck to their original draft plans of strengthening the defense.
Ultimately, the Saints gained some great youth and talent that will be
sure to arise in the near future down in good ole' New Orleans but still,
the secondary is in need of an excess of help for the upcoming 2004-2005