After last season's virtual draft, Cleveland played host to festivities this year with a handful of potential draft picks present and socially distanced because of COVID-19.
Here's a pick-by-pick look at how each player New Orleans has selected will fit.
Round 1, No. 28 overall: Payton Turner, DE, Houston
My take: This pick raised eyebrows since Turner wasn’t widely graded as a Round 1 prospect by many analysts -- and since cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver and even quarterback were seen as more glaring needs for the Saints amid reports that they would aggressively try to trade up on Thursday night. But New Orleans definitely needed more defensive line depth after parting ways with DE Trey Hendrickson and DTs Malcom Brown and Sheldon Rankins this offseason. And it should come as no surprise that the brain trust of Sean Payton/Mickey Loomis/Jeff Ireland values bigger, longer DEs like the 6-foot-6, 268-pound Turner more than some other teams and analysts might. That has always been their prototype at the position ahead of smaller, “tweener” OLB types, and he could potentially play DT in some packages.
Parcells prototype: You may have noticed a trend here for the Saints, who also drafted current starting DEs Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport in Round 1 over the past decade -- both of whom fit a similar size and length prototype. Jordan was an all-time great draft choice, while Davenport has battled injuries and inconsistency. Regardless, Payton said that he has believed in that prototype for DEs since his days with the New York Giants and with the Dallas Cowboys under mentor Bill Parcells. The same goes for GM Loomis and assistant GM/college scouting director Ireland, also a Parcells protégé. “We felt this guy was in a different ballpark with his traits, his makeup, his skill set,” said Payton, who stressed that the Saints had him ranked ahead of that group of players who may be ranked in the 25-40 range. “There were too many things that we felt real good about.”
Room for one more? Coincidentally, the Saints just picked up Davenport’s fifth-year option for 2022 on Thursday morning. But the Saints have always believed in rotating several players across the defensive line, and Payton reiterated that they envision a big role for Turner in such a rotation right away after he had five sacks in five games last year while dealing with a calf injury and a positive COVID test. “We feel like it’s a passing game, and we feel like it’s an important position,” Payton said.
Round 2, No. 60 overall: Pete Werner, LB, Ohio State
Pete Werner's NFL draft profile
Check out the best highlights from Ohio State ILB Pete Werner's college career.
My take: This draft continues to be a little more steak than sizzle for the Saints. But they filled one of their biggest needs by going back to their favorite feeder school. The Saints have now drafted eight players from Ohio State since GM Mickey Loomis took over in 2003. Werner also fits New Orleans’ size profile at the position (6-3, 238 pounds). He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2020 who averaged 6.3 tackles per game with a sack and two forced fumbles. He could compete right away for a starting job alongside All-Pro Demario Davis. He’ll have to compete with last year’s third-round pick Zack Baun, among others, since the Saints typically use just two LBs on most downs.
Round 3, No. 76 overall: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
Paulson Adebo's NFL draft profile
Check out the best highlights from Stanford CB Paulson Adebo's college career.
My take: It’s about time! The Saints finally filled their most glaring need at cornerback -- and they finally made their first trade up the board this year, sending pick Nos. 98 and 105 to the Broncos to move up 22 spots. The Saints were overdue for such a move since they have now traded up 21 times in the past 15 drafts. Adebo can’t be written in ink as New Orleans’ No. 2 starter across from Marshon Lattimore at this stage of the draft. But he should definitely get a chance to fill that vacancy after the Saints released veteran Janoris Jenkins. Adebo (6-1, 198) projects as an outside corner who could develop into the type of physical press-coverage corner the Saints like. He was a first-team All-Pac 12 corner in both 2018 and 2019 with four interceptions each year before opting out in 2020.
Round 4, No. 133 overall: Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame
Ian Book's NFL draft profile
Check out the best highlights from Notre Dame QB Ian Book's college career.
My take: Book is unlikely to compete for the starting job right away against veterans Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. And it's fair to label him as a long shot in the long term, as well. But as Sean Payton likes to say, the Saints are "in the quarterback business" until they find Drew Brees' successor. And they could do worse than taking a chance on the winningest QB in Notre Dame history (30-5 as a starter). Like Brees, Book will have to overcome his short stature (6-foot, 211 pounds). But ESPN analysts Louis Riddick and Todd McShay commended him for his timing throws and ability to adjust when plays break down.
Round 6, No. 206 overall: Landon Young, OT, Kentucky
My take: It's hard to project Young as a future starter at this stage of the draft. But he will compete for a backup spot as a T/G on game days. And it would be a huge bonus if he shows the potential to develop into something more, since All-Pro starters Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are both heading into the final year of their contracts. The Saints showed conviction in Young by trading two picks (No. 218 and No. 229) to get him. The 6-6, 310-pounder started at left tackle for two-plus seasons at Kentucky and was selected first-team all-SEC by coaches last year.
Round 7, No. 255 overall: Kawaan Baker, WR, South Alabama
My take: The Saints finally landed a receiver for the first time in three years (every other team in the NFL had drafted at least one over that span). Obviously they aren’t filling their need for a No. 2 or 3 receiver to replace veteran Emmanuel Sander here. But Baker (6-foot-1, 215) will compete for a job with fellow young receivers such as Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Baker had 51 catches for 659 yards and 8 TDs in 10 games last year.