METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints went all in to try to snag a potential difference maker near the top of the draft.
As for their other six picks, time will tell.
In the days leading up to the draft, Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis were convinced the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Davenport was worth trading up to take in the middle of the first round. So they did that and had to give up next year’s first-rounder as part of the deal.
“This is the philosophy regardless of position: If there’s somebody we really covet and we have an opportunity to move up, then we’re just going to analyze the cost and the risk. And if we like it, we’re going to make a move,” Loomis said.
With their other picks on Friday night and Saturday, the Saints selected Central Florida receiver Tre’Quan Smith in the third round; Florida State offensive tackle Rick Leonard in the fourth round; Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson in the fifth; Boston College cornerback Kamrin Moore and Louisiana Tech running back Boston Scott in the sixth; and LSU interior offensive lineman Will Clapp in the seventh round.
The cost of drafting Davenport 14th overall arguably was a little high. In addition to next year’s first-round pick, the Saints gave Green Bay the 27th and 147th overall picks this year.
Payton and Loomis saw that as fair. After all, the Saints enter 2018 looking like a contender. They hope playing Davenport opposite All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan increases chances of winning enough to push their traded-away 2019 top pick toward the end of the first round.
“He clearly, for us, was a guy that we felt strongly enough about,” Payton said.
The Saints ranked 17th defensively last season — considerably better than the previous three seasons, but with room to improve. New Orleans’ offense, by comparison, ranked second in 2017.
Payton and Loomis say elite pass rushers can be tough to find in free agency and often have to be obtained in the draft.
“Pressure traits are hard to come by,” Loomis said. “When you have them, you protect them and you generally don’t let them out of the building.”
That’s what the Saints have done with Jordan. They’re hoping Davenport becomes a similar type of player.
Davenport was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year for UTSA last season after making 8 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. He also had eight quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and four batted passes. While Davenport’s level of competition in college was not as strong as prospects coming out of the Southeastern Conference, UTSA coach Frank Wilson, a former lead recruiter at LSU, said Davenport “is as talented as any of those guys. His work ethic is as good as any of those guys.”
Last season, the Saints drafted five players who filled starting roles, and two — Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara — who were voted rookies of the year. This season, Davenport might be the only prospective starter. Smith could play regularly on offense, but will have to compete for snaps with several accomplished veterans. Jamerson and Moore join a defensive backfield full of returning regulars. Leonard and Clapp likely will back up incumbent starters, as will Scott.
Two of the Saints’ third-day draft choices switched sides of the ball during their college careers. The 5-11, 198-pound Jamerson switched from receiver to defensive back as a sophomore. The 6-7, 305-pound Leonard played defensive end two seasons before beating out an incumbent starter at offensive tackle as a junior.
“I’m comfortable with where they’re at from an experience standpoint,” Payton said. “You see that a lot in college.”
Not only was Clapp the first LSU player selected by the Saints since linebacker Al Woods in 2010, he grew up in the New Orleans area and routinely attended Saints games with his family.
Meanwhile, Scott is from Zachary, just north of Baton Rouge, and described his mother as an avid Saints fan.
At least two of the Saints’ third-day draftees should fit in nicely in a music city like New Orleans. Leonard is an avid guitar player. Scott grew up playing trombone and has been in a band.
Entering the draft, Payton cited linebacker and tight end as positions of need. But no players at either position were drafted by New Orleans.