Big Easy Magazine’s 2019 Saints Draft Report Card and Final Grade


Photo by Barry Hirstius

The New Orleans Saints 2019 Draft is now in the books. This past weekend the team was able to add a handful of talented former college football stars to their roster – which has made them one of the top teams in all of Pro Football and that last season was one controversial no-call away from going to the Super Bowl.

Did the Black and Gold manage to make their team even better, despite having a limited number of draft picks this year (only 5) compared to previous years?

This morning, Big Easy Magazine concludes our coverage of the 2019 Saints Draft with our take on each pick with an individual grade, as well as our Final Grade for the entire class as a whole.

Round 2 (#48 Overall) Erik McCoy, Center/Guard, Texas A&M University

The Saints initiated a trade with the Miami Dolphins and moved up a total of 14 spots from near the bottom of Round 2 at #62 overall, up to the 48th overall position and quickly took Erik McCoy before some other team could sneak in and get that opportunity instead. Originally projected to be a mid-to-late 1st round pick by a handful of respected draft analysts, McCoy fell down most draft boards just slightly, but nevertheless possesses elite-caliber talent, especially as a pass protector.

The 6-foot-4 inch, 303 pound McCoy allowed ONE sack in three whole seasons and anchored the Aggies O-line, becoming the top center in the nation’s toughest conference (the SEC) against some of college football’s top-rated pass-rushers. McCoy started every game (38 total starts) and helped the Texas A&M offense gain over 2,000-plus rushing yards in each of the last three seasons.

The best thing about this pick was that the Saints’ brass avoided the temptation to make the “flashy” pick that many fans were hoping to see (a ‘big-name’ wide receiver had been the most popular choice for a sizable portion of Who Dats), instead opting to address what some observers felt was still considered to be a team need given the sudden and somewhat unexpected retirement of 10-year veteran Max Unger in February.

The Saints had addressed the situation in Free Agency with the signing of former Minnesota Vikings reserve center/guard and young veteran Nick Easton last month, but making this move still made a lot of sense. The team will now potentially be set at the position for a long time to come, and with a player who, over the course of time, could blossom into a perennial All-Pro. In the NFL, one old adage is that you can never have too many quality players to put on your offensive line; the selection of McCoy gives the Black and Gold someone who can “anchor” their O-Line down in the trenches well into the next decade.

Grade: A

Round 4 (#105 Overall)  Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Free /Strong Safety, University of Florida

Aggressiveness has been a notable trait shown by the Saints organization in recent drafts, and this year’s clearly was no exception. Team brass once again traded up in Round 4 (this time with the New York Jets in exchange for their 5th round selection), moving up 11 spots and take Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Gardner-Johnson had a Top 50 grade but like McCoy ended up falling below his initial draft projection.

Like McCoy, the Saints are getting another potential draft steal with Gardner-Johnson, who essentially becomes the team’s insurance policy at safety if they aren’t able to re-sign current starting strong safety Vonn Bell once he becomes a free agent in 2020.

However, if Bell and fellow safety Marcus Williams both eventually decide to remain with the team long-term, the addition of Gardner-Johnson could potentially make the Saints secondary even more formidable. As a rookie, Gardner-Johnson should make his impact as the team’s designated ‘slot’ DB, at either corner or the safety position. But based on pure ability, Gardner-Johnson is clearly a potential star in the making in his own right.

Grade: A+

Round 6 (#177 Overall) Saquon Hampton, Free Safety, Rutgers University

Saints fans met this pick with skepticism initially, unsure of why the team chose the safety position for a 2nd straight pick. However, the logic behind the pick was eventually made evident: the Saints were simply selecting a player whom, as General Manager Mickey Loomis would explain later at his post-draft press conference, was someone they had ranked within the top 70 out of their own Top 100-ranked players.

Saquon Hampton is a solid safety and was a team captain at Rutgers, but his true value to the Black and Gold might be that he’s considered by most NFL scouts to be an elite-caliber player on special teams — a special teams “ace” if you will — particularly on the kickoff and punt return coverage units. That, of course, is a trait that’s very near and dear to the heart of head coach Sean Payton.

With new special teams coordinator Dan Rizzi having joined the coaching staff, the organization would like for him to have a smooth transition taking over, and a player like the versatile Hampton has the potential to help do that and even more.

Grade: B

Round 7 (#231 Overall) Alizé Mack, Tight End, University of Notre Dame

This might end up being the most underrated selection of the entire 2019 Saints Draft, simply because New Orleans was possibly able to achieve one of their original goals coming into the Draft evaluation process: “grooming” a young tight end to become the new #1 starter at the position sometime down the line.

The Saints signed former Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl TE Jared Cook (the top free agent tight end on the market this off-season) last month to man the starting position for the next few seasons following the retirement of former starter Benjamin Watson. However, the addition of Alizé (pronounced Alli-ZAY) Mack now gives the Black and Gold an option that they likely didn’t expect this late in the Draft.

Mack told reporters after his selection by the Saints that he believes that he can be a “weapon” in the Saints offense, and NFL scouts agree for the most part. Mack was projected to be a 3rd to 5th round pick by a variety of analysts, but in a very similar fashion to other players in this 2019 Saints Draft Class, ‘fell’ down the draft board and was still available.

Mack moves well for a man of his size and has especially good YAC (“yards after the catch”) capabilities – he has drawn comparisons to former Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker. With Jared Cook serving as his mentor for the first few seasons, Mack could possibly evolve into the player the Saints were hoping to get when the whole draft process began several months ago.

Grade: B+

Round 7 (#244 Overall) Kaden Elliss, Linebacker, University of Idaho

Last but not least, the Saints chose Kaden Elliss, the son of former 1990’s Detroit Lions All-Pro defensive end Luther Elliss, with their final pick of the Draft at #244 overall. He immediately began to draw comparisons to current Saints 3rd string QB Taysom Hill. Ellis, just like Hill, can play multiple positions on the field; including the tight end spot on offense and on the defensive side of the ball both as an outside linebacker and at defensive end.

Even though the Saints will eventually have to figure out where his talents suit the team best, to that point Elliss told reporters that he willingly would line up wherever the Saints coaching staff asks him to; it wouldn’t come as a shock to see him eventually make the team’s Final Roster based on sheer heart and determination alone come early September.

Grade: B+

2019 SAINTS DRAFT OVERALL GRADE:

It would be remiss not to mention the brand new Saints’ UDFA Class (undrafted rookie free agents that weren’t picked in the draft), which might have been one of the deepest UDFA classes that the team has assembled in recent years given that several of them were originally projected to be mid-to-late round draft picks themselves. Some of the better-known names that the Black and Gold signed include: Nebraska RB Devin Ozigbo, Texas WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Utah linebacker Chase Hansen, and Wyoming EDGE pass rusher Carl Granderson.

That said, for a team that only had a grand total of five picks this year, the Saints still ended up having a pretty damn good draft, all things considered. Not only has New Orleans appeared to have gotten much younger, but they also appear to have gotten even better as a team talent-wise, if that’s even possible.

The NFL Draft for most teams (and especially for the Black and Gold in recent years) comes down to picking players that are not only talented but also fit the team (or the scheme) and then having the proper vision of how to implement it all during the season. The Saints didn’t have a “sexy” draft by any means, but it was still solid, and most importantly: they got great value — which continues to be the key to their success.

2019 SAINTS DRAFT FINAL GRADE: B+


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.

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