New Orleans Saints, NFL Draft Retrospective

New Orleans Saints 2016 NFL Draft Retrospective and Regrade

How does the New Orleans Saints 2016 NFL Draft class look three years later?

For the New Orleans Saints, the 2016 NFL Season was a continuation of a disturbing trend that had been going for two years. The Saints had finished 7-9 in both 2014 and 2015 – a year in which the Saints defense was historically bad under Rob Ryan who was fired before the season was over.

Dennis Allen took over as defensive coordinator and is still here in 2019. But that year the Saints defense gave up the most touchdown passes in NFL history, allowed the highest overall quarterback rating in NFL history and, for that year, allowed the most yards per pass and run in the league. Needs going into the 2016 NFL Draft were at offensive guard, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end. But clearly, the defense needed to be the main focus.

Original Grade

Sports Illustrated: B

“The Saints needed all kinds of help on defense, and certainly got it on the line with the selection of Sheldon Rankins with the 12th overall pick. Rankins is a pass-rusher with great run strength, and has the talent to define a defensive line for the next half-decade. And third-round safety Vonn Bell from Ohio State has the play potential to replace free-agent bust Jairus Byrd.

Moreover, the Saints got one of the best receivers in this class in Ohio State’s Michael Thomas; he’ll add to Sean Payton‘s offense as a bigger target for Drew Brees. Manitoba (Canada) defensive tackle David Onyemata is a project, but an interesting athlete. And Cal running back Daniel Lasco could be a seventh-round steal if he can get past the injuries that affected his 2015 season. There’s no outside pass-rusher, but Rankins could cure a lot of ills on that front seven” – Doug Farrar

FanSided: D

“The Saints only took five players but did a really nice job of getting talent. New Orleans was able to land a nice fit in defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins before adding Vonn Bell at the safety spot out of Ohio State. The Saints also brought in Bell’s teammate, Michael Thomas, to go with Brandin Cooks. This is a quality class that could help Drew Brees find the playoffs again.” – Matt Verderame

Draft Class

Round 1 (No. 12)

Sheldon Rankins

DE, Louisville

Current Team: New Orleans Saints

The consensus was that Robert Nkemdiche out of Ole Miss was the best of the defensive tackle group if not the best overall athlete in the draft. But significant off the field issues caused him to fall to pick 29 for the Cardinals. There are no regrets or missed opportunities for the Saints in taking Rankins Even though he’ll be missing significant time in 2019 while his ACL heals, he made huge strides in 2018 and, though a little slowly, is becoming one of the NFL’s young stars.

In three seasons:

·     41 games with 32 starts

·     86 combined tackles, tackles for loss

·     30 quarterback hits

·     14 quarterback sacks

Round 2 (No. 47)

Michael Thomas

WR, Ohio State

Current Team: New Orleans Saints

The Saints desperately needed a wide receiver in this draft. By the time their number came around again in the second round, at pick 47, five receivers were off the boards. Michael Thomas has so thoroughly bypassed the five receivers taken before him in 2016 that his career numbers are equal to the cumulative yardage posted by the first four.

In 2018 he broke the Saints franchise record for receiving yards with 1,405 and he has more yards in the first three years of his career than any other receiver in NFL history.

In three seasons:

·     47 games

·     321 receptions

·     3,787 receiving yards including the all-time Saints franchise record

·     23 touchdowns

·     2 Pro Bowl appearances

Round 2 (No. 61)

Vonn Bell

S, Ohio State

Current Team: New Orleans Saints

This was the first strange move in this draft for New Orleans. Perhaps the Saints were sensing they’d been had in their signature free-agent deal for Jairus Byrd. Vonn Bell is a decent tackler and athlete but by collegiate standards, not by NFL standards. He’s just sort of average as an NFL safety. He only posted a 30.5-inch vertical at the combine for example. It’s no wonder he doesn’t have his first NFL interception yet.

In three seasons:

·     9 passes defended

·     5 forced fumbles

·     6.5 quarterback sack

·     249 combined tackles

Round 4 (No. 120)

David Onyemata

DT, Manitoba

Current Team: New Orleans Saints

David Onyemata is a similar athlete to Rankins but he also has something of a nasty streak. Originally from Nigeria, he prepped and went to university in Canada and played football while in school at Manitoba for the first time. He was very raw coming into the league and each year we see an improvement. Unfortunately, he’ll likely be sitting out the first few games of 2019 due to an arrest for marijuana possession.

But the Saints are seeing solid year on year growth out of Onyemata as he works splitting time with Sheldon Rankins in relief at the three-technique spot.

In three seasons:

·     48 games

·     15 quarterback hits

·     6.5 sacks

·     91 combined tackles

·     8 tackles for loss

Round 7 (No. 237) 

Daniel Lasco

RB, California

Current Team: Free Agent

Daniel Lasco is no longer with the Saints. As a junior at Cal, he had 1,471 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs. Coming into his senior year at Cal the school tried to launch a grassroots campaign to get him the Heisman but his numbers fell off a cliff due to injury. In college, he looked and played bigger than 6-foot-1 and 205-pounds and he had decent speed.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, he set a record for running backs with a broad jump of 11-foot-3, a 41.5-inch vertical, a 4.46 40 and 23 reps on the 225-pound bench press.  But none of this and a chiseled physique ever helped Lasco in New Orleans. In two years as a running back, he gained a mere 43 yards from scrimmage and no touchdowns.

Retrospective Grade

There were a couple of suspect moves in this draft for the Saints. Bell has flashes but the Saints overspent for him in draft capital at least. On his scouting combine report, the NFL safety he’s compared to is Kurt Coleman. And Daniel Lasco ended up not being much though he was a good special teams player.

When you come out of a draft with four starters and one a generational athlete like Michael Thomas you’ve had a solid day of draft work. The 2016 NFL Draft netted the Saints four starters. With Vonn Bell at least being serviceable and the only bust coming in the seventh round, that’s at least a B.

New Orleans put some important pieces in place during the 2016 draft, and their quality draft record has continued on since then. For the most part, the Saints got what they were looking for and even beyond in some cases.

No draft is perfect but 2016 showed that you can net more than just one great player in any given draft. With only five picks to use, the Saints organization did a great job of scouting and finding what was needed on both sides of the ball.

by Roy Anderson

Roy is a lifelong Saints fan and resident of Pensacola, Florida. He graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. Hobbies include cat herding, guitar playing, bleeding Black and Gold, and screaming at NFL officials through my TV.

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