05 July 2011

The 2011 Draft: Impact Players

The results of the Saints' 2011 draft hold enough promise that the current draft class has the potential to rival the 2006 draft, widely considered the best draft in Saints' history. 

In 2006, the Saints kicked off the draft with the much ballyhooed selection of Reggie Bush at #2 overall and then went on to add Roman Harper, Jahri Evans, Zach Streif, and Marques Colston. The 2006 draft supplied a vital core of players who ranged from the underrated and versatile (Streif) to the elite (Evans, Colston), with each player fulfilling a key role during the past five years for the NFC's winningest team over that span.  

In 2011, the Saints added several promising players to bolster the team's foundation and fill vital needs on the roster. Let's take a look at each of these players and see what their roles might be and how soon they might contribute. 

Nate Bussey, OLB Illinois
* 7th round, 243rd player selected overall
* 6'1, 228

The second of two LBs selected from Illinois by the Saints, Bussey projects as special teams contributor in 2011, assuming he makes the Saints' roster. 

While he lacks ideal size, his speed, quickness, and work ethic provide key attributes for his role as a special teams player. Impressing the Saints with his demeanor and character, Bussey already appears to be a favorite of Gregg Williams.   

Gregg Williams on Bussey: "Fans will be pleased how tough he is, how versatile he is. He can play in space, and wait til you see him on special teams. He can flat get it done."

Sean Payton on Bussey: "He's a guy that has versatility. We think he can be guy that will contribute right away in the kicking game."  

Greg Romeus, DE Pitt
* 7th round, 226th player selected overall
* 6'5, 264

Romeus possesses prototypical size for an NFL DE. In 2009, he was the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. 

Back and knee injuries derailed the latter part of his college career, sinking his draft stock from a projected 1st/2nd round pick to late-round status. It appears unlikely that Romeus will be able to contribute in 2011 due to rehab on a torn ACL. 

Romeus will be a project for Gregg Williams and the defense, but his overall physical attributes, athleticism, and pass-rushing skills will provide him the opportunity to ultimately crack the Saints' lineup, likely in 2012. With the Saints aging at the DE position (W. Smith, A. Brown), Romeus--assuming he's fully recovered from an ACL injury--should provide adequate replacement value. 

Gregg Williams on Romeus: "I like the fact that he has a basketball background. He has very good athletic ability."  

Johnny Patrick, CB Lousiville
* 3rd round, 88th player selected overall
* 5'11, 191

Patrick should immediately see the field in 2011 on special teams, playing a key role on the coverage units as a gunner. The Saints' coverage unit was an area of inconsistency in 2010 and Patrick should quickly help raise the level of the special teams, an area he excelled in college. 

He will also compete for the nickel back spot, fortifying a defensive backfield replete with talent. Patrick's key attributes are his ball skills (he's a converted WR) and quickness.  

Mike Mayock on Patrick: "He's very quick. He has good feet; he's a natural change-of-direction guy." 

Sean Payton on Patrick: "We do think he has versatility. He's someone that can certainly provide depth right away on the kicking game." 

Martez Wilson, OLB Illinois
* 3rd round, 72nd player selected overall
* 6'4, 250 

Wilson is athletically-elite due to his size and his speed--he ran a 4.49 at the NFL combine this year, the fastest among linebackers. In 2010 at Illinois, Wilson was a tackling machine amassing 112 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. 

His draft stock dipped due to a neck injury in 2009, but his measurables and potential make him the real steal of the Saints' draft class especially considering the Saints' need to upgrade the LB position. 

While Wilson may initially struggle to learn the complexity of Gregg Williams' system, he will be guided along in the nuances of the schemes by the highly-intelligent and experienced Jonathan Vilma which should help speed Wilson's development. Wilson also provides a pass rushing presence off the edge that the Saints have lacked for several years. 

Mike Mayock on Wilson: "He's big, strong, fast; some teams are looking at him as a potential outside rush linebacker because he's so long." 

Ron Zook on Wilson: "He might be more of a pure athlete than anyone I coached with the Saints. He really has a chance to be a special player." 

Mark Ingram, RB Alabama
* 1st round, 28th player selected overall
* 5'9, 215

Maybe the most complete, polished RB to come into the NFL since Adrian Peterson, Ingram possesses the increasingly-rare 'every down back' capability. With NFL bloodlines--his father, Mark Sr., was a WR for many years--Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009, maintains elite vision, great balance and burst, patience, good pass-catching skills, excellent pass-protection abilities, and consistent ball security (Ingram fumbled only twice in his college career). 

Ingram's role in the Saints' offense will likely evolve in stages, and I foresee his impact in 2011 to follow a similar path to Jimmy Graham's in 2010. Regardless, Ingram will provide an immediate boost to a lethargic running attack. His ultimate ceiling is that of an elite NFL RB. 

Sean Payton on Ingram: "One trait that is impressive is his ability to block pressure and pick up. He is a physical back, he can catch the ball, but he is good in his protections."

Nick Saban on Ingram: "New Orleans is the perfect situation for him; he was the best RB in the draft. Mark is a very versatile player and this is a great fit for him."  

Cam Jordan, DE Cal
* 1st round, 24th player selected overall
* 6'4, 287

Jordan provides a much-needed infusion of talent to a Saints' defensive line that struggled last year pressuring the QB and stopping the run. Jordan will help in both areas, and more immediately vs. the run where he projects as an elite run stopper. 

His high IQ and versatility will allow him to play multiple positions in Gregg Williams' varied schemes, and for this reason, he was a highly-prized pick for the Saints who, admittedly, were surprised that Jordan was available to them at 24. 

With the impending four-game suspension of Will Smith (StarCaps), Jordan should see plenty of playing time immediately. Also owing to his own NFL bloodlines--his father, Steve, was a Pro Bowl TE for several years--Jordan should make a smooth transition as an every-down DE in the mold of the Saints very-own Will Smith. 

Mike Mayock on Jordan: "Jordan might be the best five-technique in this draft. He gives [you] scheme versatility because you can play him inside, and he can stand up." 

Gregg Williams on Jordan: "He won't be pigeonholed into one area. He gives you the ability to play hard against the run, but we can also move him inside on passing downs." 

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