Only one. That’s the number of players Sean Payton has drafted out of LSU during his time with the Saints, since 2006. He’s drafted the same number of guys from LSU as he has from Bloomsburg, Hofstra, Towson, Wingate, Samford, Canada (technically Payton was suspended when Akiem Hicks was drafted), Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Tarleton State. You get the idea, schools far less impressive from a talent pool perspective than LSU have yielded as many draft picks for the Saints. And yet, based on recruiting, LSU has had top 3 talent in college football over the last decade. So what gives? Does Sean Payton have an aversion to drafting LSU players?
It doesn’t help that the Saints traded up to get the only LSU player they drafted in the 4th round in 2010. Defensive tackle Al Woods (pictured) would be released before the regular season and never ended up playing a single snap for the Saints. Who knows what went on behind the scenes, but that pick ranks as one of the worst in the Sean Payton era. And there’s been some really bad ones. It makes you wonder if Payton got some assurances and feedback from the LSU staff that were dead wrong on Woods, which made him feel like he could never trust their opinion again.
Sixty four. That’s the number of LSU players draft since 2006. Of those, only 12 were drafted before the Saints would even have a chance to consider them. Those are Odell Beckham, Jr., Barkevious Mingo, Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers, Rueben Randle, Brandon Taylor, Patrick Peterson, Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, JaMarcus Russell, Dwayne Bowe and LaRon Landry.
Now consider LSU players, just to name a few, the Saints have passed on, in most cases numerous times: Andrew Whitworth, Kyle Williams, Ricky Jean-Francois, Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard, Steve Ridley, Joseph Barksdale, Brandon LaFell, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Bennie Logan, Tharold Simon, Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry, Trai Turner, Kwon Alexander. Drafting any of those guys would have constituted a massive upgrade in talent and performance over the current roster the Saints have. I’m sure I missed a couple. Most of these guys are either Pro Bowlers, Super Bowler winners, or massive contributors to the teams that employed them during their NFL career. I’ll spare you the list of players the Saints took over them – it is depressing beyond words.
So why do the Saints keep doing this? Part of it has to do with philosophy. On the offensive side of the ball, I would envision it being difficult to adjust from playing for LSU to playing for the Saints. LSU is fully committed to the run and extremely conservative. The Saints are pass heavy, utilize wholesale substitutions, play very aggressively and demand the cognitive skill to absorb a massive amount of plays, checks and audibles. That’s not to say LSU are necessarily not smart enough, but they don’t have that kind of experience. Quite simply, playing offense for LSU doesn’t really prepare you all that well for the NFL. It’s not that some of the guys on this list couldn’t play for the Saints and be successful (after all Devery Henderson did a nice job even though he was drafted by Jim Haslett), it’s that Sean Payton may find an offensive player from a small school that runs a similar scheme to the Saints more appealing.
On the defensive side of the ball, while philosophy is quite different also, that’s where I find the lack of LSU picks less defensible. LSU runs a very traditional front and relies on the athletic prowess and skill of its players to play very aggressively. That means they play upfield and blitz like crazy. In fact, the “fit” was pretty good when Gregg Williams was coaching. With the switch to a 3-4, which didn’t really happen, fit has been less pronounced. All the same, when your defense has been historically bad in two out of the last three seasons, you should be in the business of adding talent upgrades wherever you can find them regardless of fit. You can figure out where to play a very talented player in most cases.
One player I immediately think the Saints should take without question is outside linebacker Deion Jones. Let’s go ahead and buck this trend in this draft. Jones plays outside linebacker, a position of desperate need for the Saints. He’s shown a nose for the football, speed, playmaking ability, and coverage skills. He’s projected between the 3rd and 5th round, but that could increase based on how he does at the combine. Jones produced a monster 2015: 100 tackles, 13.5 for a loss (!), 5 sacks, 3 defended passes and 2 interceptions. He’ll be playing at the Senior Bowl and on paper I can’t think of a 3rd round or later prospect that’s more perfect for the Saints needs. He could play weakside and immediately give depth to a position desperate for it. Even if he struggles to adjust to a Dennis Allen scheme at first, his production and qualities cannot be ignored compared to other 3rd round prospects.
Hopefully this is the year the Saints draft their second LSU player under Sean Payton. The team is desperate for young, contributing talent and LSU has consistently produced that very thing in recent years. Jones seems like a no brainer.