By Barry Hirstius – Contributing Writer
The New Orleans Saints got back more in return for their investment in their 2017 NFL Draft class, than any other team NFL team did last year for any one particular group of rookies.
In fact, their first four picks were just about perfect as it can possibly get, expectations-wise.
Some would even say that the Saints 2017 Draft class put together by General Manager Mickey Loomis and Assistant General Manager / Director of College Scouting Jeff Ireland, was one of epically historic proportions. Some are even calling it THE GREATEST Draft Class in the NFL’s entire 99-year history.
Top draft pick (#11 overall) CB Marshon Lattimore led the team with five interceptions and got the most first-place votes (45) in any category at the NFL Honors Awards on the night before the Super Bowl.
Fellow 1st Round pick (#32 overall) and O-Lineman Ryan Ramczyk was just one of three rookie offensive linemen to start all 16 games.
2nd Round pick (#42 overall) Marcus Williams became a ball-hawk free safety who had five interceptions last year including the playoffs, and has the talent to emerge as a perennial Pro Bowl-caliber defender.
And of course there was RB Alvin Kamara; the team’s first of three 3rd Round picks (#67 overall) who “blew away” NFL defenses with his remarkable Gale Sayers-like slippery elusiveness, on his way to 1,901 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns to being named the 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year.
Their 5th pick of the 2017 class — 3rd Round selection (#76 overall) linebacker Alex Anzalone — might have been able to make a similar impact if he hadn’t gotten injured in Week #4 in London, England against the Miami Dolphins and was lost for the season after being placed on injured reserve.
As a direct result: the Saints became of the biggest surprises in the entire NFL last year; and certainly credit has to be given where credit is due to the absolutely phenomenal job that’s been done by Ireland and the entire Saints Scouting Department for the last few off-seasons in a row; that has since allowed the Saints franchise to return to being among the League’s elite level-caliber of teams.
To “hit” on these many picks as they clearly have done in one Draft, is an absolute testament to the work that they did since the end of their last losing season (2016), with regard to talent evaluation and how a player “fits” into their program on either side of the football, as well as special teams.
The 2017 Saints Draft Class has Ireland’s fingerprints all over it, and it can’t be emphasized enough about just how good of a job that he’s done for the organization since coming aboard in January of 2015.
Amazingly however even though it’s been well over a year ago now: the Saints’ return on Ireland’s investment keeps paying off one player at a time.
The latest player to make a significant impact from the team’s 2017 Class most recently is 3rd Round selection (#103 overall and the third of the team’s 3 picks in that round) defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who played mostly in the team’s substitution pass-rushing packages but saw a much more significant role towards the end of the season
Now in his 2nd year, Hendrickson has taken a HUGE STEP forward this past off-season; and in fact Canal Street Chronicles co-editor and film analyst Walter “Deuce” Windham says that Hendrickson has began to show rapid development and has now emerged as a likely starter for the future of the team’s defense at starting right defensive end (opposite of All-Pro Cam Jordan) who can be relied upon to play all three downs.
Windham observes that one of the advantages of being a situational pass-rusher for the team last year was that it allowed Hendrickson to focus on honing his craft, and last year he was tasked with taking on greater responsibility due to injury.
This upcoming season assuming the Saints defensive line stays healthy, Windham says that Hendrickson will likely return to situational rush duties where his focus will be finding opposing quarterbacks — but also now is a player capable of making a significant impact down the line.
During the team’s recently-completed Training Camp, Windham notes that at times Hendrickson has specifically lined up as a seven technique outside the tight end in a two point stance; which has allowed him to utilize a series of pass-rushing techniques that have made him a player to be reckoned with.
Windham also says that he spoke privately with someone close to the team and they noted this about Trey’s performance against the Arizona Cardinals:
“He’s playing a stand-up 7 tech in a 5 man front, basically 3-4 OLB stuff. The fact that he’s able to be this explosive with his hands without using the ground as a platform is really scary.”
It can’t be overstated enough how elated the organization must be right now, about Henrdrickson’s giant leap forward from one year to the next.
For his part, Hendrickson told reporters the other day that he’s simply just doing whatever they ask of him, to get make an even bigger impact for the team moving forward.
“I have a great coach in (defensive line coach) Ryan Nielsen, who prepares me really well for anything” Hendrickson said to reporters at Practice prior to the Pre-Season loss to Arizona. “I’m just trying to absorb as much information and be coachable to get the job done on Sundays.”
“It’s just focusing on doing my job and heightened focus on the little things like alignment and assignment,” Hendrickson said. “The detailed things are what separates people in this league.”
Another thing that has since allowed Hendrickson to begin standing out, is the sheer grit and determination that he plays with on every single snap of the football.
“I try to bring a bit of consistency and a little bit of an edge too,” Hendrickson said. “It’s part of why I play and the competitiveness just comes-out on the field.”
“He’s got a good grasp as to what we’re doing,” said Saints head coach Sean Payton.
“He’s stronger. Fortunately right now he’s healthy and you feel him. There’s a presence to him. I think in his second year now, knowing what we’re doing, we’ve seen some really good things in practice. Hopefully that can continue but he’s played well.”
“There’s a physical presence to him and it’s not necessarily the feistiness, it’s how a player plays between the whistles,” Payton said.
“Can he defend the run? Can he affect the passer? Do we consider him a pressure player or not? What are the things we think he does very well and let’s try to do those things.”
“I think in Year 2, he’s a guy that’s in the mix definitely for playing.”
It goes without saying that Payton and the rest of the Saints organization have to be pinching themselves while giddy in the knowledge that the team has now “hit” on every single pick in last year’s phenomenal 2017 Draft Class, with the lone exception of 6th Round pick (#196 overall) Al-Quadin Muhammad.
Currently a back-up rotational player in certain pass-rush situations, Muhammad needs another impressive Pre-Season like he did last year, to earn a bigger role and have a much bigger impact in his 2nd NFL season this year.
Nevertheless: that’s a total of 6 players out of the 7 players chosen, that are either starters in their 2nd year or are currently making a significant impact for the franchise.
Which means that it can now be said that with Hendrickson’s notable off-season development, that the sensational New Orleans Saints 2017 Draft Class continually keeps paying off — and it’s still doing so one player at a time…….
Editor’s Note: If you have a chance, check out our editorial on why we took down one of our articles today!
If you enjoy Barry’s writing, be sure to check out his interview piece on Saints linebacker Demario Davis! Don’t forget to also check out our series on things to do in New Orleans as well as upcoming events!