Almost one year since the Saints took a gamble and traded away their #1 pick in this year’s Draft to the Green Bay Packers for the opportunity to move up and get rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport, the team’s loyal fans are still divided over whether the move was a good one. Some feel they might have made a mistake by taking a talented but raw player with a pattern of nagging injuries early in his career.
However, yesterday in an interview with ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett, Saints head coach Sean Payton seemed to suggest that any lingering doubts fans have about the 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end regarding his future role with the franchise are entirely unwarranted.
“We like it,” Payton told Triplett when asked how he and the franchise feel about having made the still-controversial move which some skeptical Who Dat fans have remained very critical of. “When he played last year, we feel like we saw some real good traits, to where we feel like this guy is gonna be a dominant player for us.”
Marcus Davenport had a great year for the Saints in his debut season pic.twitter.com/wdThVSeHHc
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 24, 2019
The Black and Gold moved up to the #14 spot (held by Green Bay) to get Davenport by giving the Packers the 27th and 147th overall selections in the Draft last year, along with what eventually became the 30th overall pick in this year’s Draft, which takes place three weeks from tonight.
While the doubters and skeptics feel that the Saints gave up far too much for the talented 22-year old, Payton believes the young edge pass rusher some have labeled an “athletic freak of nature” is worth every bit of draft capital that was required to land him.
Search: Does Marcus Davenport belong in the NFL?
Result: 👇 pic.twitter.com/I3lTwYDOMP
— UTSA Football 🏈 (@UTSAFTBL) September 30, 2018
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) October 9, 2018
“That’s the challenge when you try to grade that trade,” Payton explained, looking at it a year later, from the perspective of fans and those who in the media who heavily criticized the team for having gone through with it. “Hypothetically, if we finished with four wins this year, that’s not a good trade because (of) the value. But 27 and 30, on any number chart I don’t think you’re gonna arrive at 14.”
Did the Saints overpay for Davenport? Maybe. However, that’s purely in the eye of the beholder.
Had the Saints not finished with a (13-3) win-loss record, the #1 seed in the NFC, and were one play away from being in the Super Bowl, then maybe the argument against trading for Davenport would have some more merit.
Let’s face it: if New Orleans would have finished (3-13) instead, and the Packers would have ended up with a Top 5 pick later this month that initially would have been for the Black and Gold, some loyal Who Dats would be ready to start a riot.
But here’s the thing: all of those Saints fans who still believe that Davenport wasn’t worth what the Saints gave up to get him, simply aren’t grasping the bigger picture. The organization not only knows what they have in Davenport, but they are willing to take the time that’s necessary to allow him to progress naturally and eventually blossom into the star they know he can become.
“He played exceptionally well at Minnesota,” Payton said, referring to the game played on the road at Minneapolis last October in which the rookie recorded two sacks in a 30-20 victory over the Vikings on NBC Sunday Night Football.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 29, 2018
“And we thought he played exceptionally well in two or three other games for us. His toe slowed him down,” Payton added, referencing the turf toe injury that kept Davenport out of the line-up for three games and caused trepidation among the doubters of his capabilities and the likelihood that he could remain healthy for an extended period.
Last season, although Davenport didn’t start any games as the back-up at right defensive end, he did play around half of the Saints’ defensive snaps in the 15 games he played, including the playoffs (he was inactive for three games because of the toe injury).
In all, he finished the season with 22 tackles (12 solos), 6 TFLs (tackles for loss), 4.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 28 quarterback “pressures,” 12 quarterback “hits,” and 1 forced fumble. However, Davenport was coming on very strong before he hurt his toe in the Vikings game; he had put up a total of four sacks in five weeks. He did eventually return for the final two months of the season, but later admitted he wasn’t completely healed and told reporters the injury was considered “season-ending.”
However, regardless of how the season ultimately ended, the organization remains steadfast in their belief that Davenport was the player they needed to not only hopefully help the team “win now” while they’re so close to winning a championship, but for the future of the franchise as well.
That sentiment was echoed in Triplett’s interview, by assistant general manager and Director of College Scouting Jeff Ireland.
“Injury always affects development. So when a guy is dinged and injured, and he’s playing through it, he’s tough as heck, that slows development,” said Ireland. “But certainly we’ve got a plan for him. He’s gonna get healthy, that’s No. 1. Then there’s gonna be a little bit of starting back from scratch. But he’s a fast learner, and he’s a tremendous athlete, so his development should be pretty quick, I hope.”
Marcus Davenport is the top rookie edge defender in the NFL so far this season. pic.twitter.com/hHNTn85AOa
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 15, 2018
With the departure of Okafor to Kansas City, the Saints are currently short-handed at the defensive end/edge pass rusher position (Davenport, Cam Jordan, and Trey Hendrickson), and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the team decides to add depth there still.
They are thought to be interested in targeting free agent (and former Detroit Lions pass rusher) Ezekiel Ansah, who is still available until he gets official medical clearance for an early-season shoulder injury last September. Also, as we mentioned in our 2nd Mock Draft, the Saints could always choose to draft another one in the later rounds of the draft, such as University of Nevada edge rusher/defensive end Malik Reed.
However, regardless of whomever they do eventually bring in, the plan going forward is for Davenport to see more than 50% of the snaps, with that number likely to increase over time as he grows more and more comfortable with his role.
For those Saints fans who remain skeptical, keep this in mind: not every NFL player develops their skills and gets better in the same amount of time.
Some players are “superstars” immediately when they come into the NFL. Others might take a few years. Consider this: as a rookie, All-Pro defensive end/edge pass rusher Von Miller had 11.5 sacks for the Denver Broncos in 2011. That very same year? Saints All-Pro Cam Jordan had just one sack in his first NFL season.
You get the point.
The NFL Draft is all about the future. But, because of the risk that many skeptics think the Saints took by trading what they did to get him, there’s a perception among fans that the Saints thought Davenport was going to be their “missing piece” to helping Drew Brees win another Super Bowl before he retires.
Small school, big talent!
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 27, 2018
What some of those same skeptics forget is that Davenport can also help the Saints win a Super Bowl AFTER Brees is long gone, especially considering that the young man has the obvious talent to become a future “superstar” for the Saints’ defense and the entire franchise, well into the next decade.
So try to relax, Saints fans — because pretty soon you’re all going to see that Marcus Davenport was definitely “worth the gamble.”
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.