This is always a difficult question, but in this year in particular its a necessary one. Before getting too deep into the question I’ll cover the obvious. Every one of the Saints draft picks are important, and the team would prefer for every one of them to have a meaningful and impactful rookie season, however there is a difference between what the team ( and fans) would prefer, what what they need most. The Saints rookies in question for the sake of realism will be the four rookies who are most likely to have a real impact in 2017. I’ll briefly cover why I believe each of them is important for the upcoming season, and then at the end I’ll tell you who I believe is most important.
Lattimore was the Saints 1st overall pick and was widely accepted as the most talented corner in the draft. Lattimore has a great combination of speed, strength, agility, and confidence that makes him an ideal NFL corner prospect. The Saints just so happen to also be a team that was plagued by atrocious corner play last year. Due to their yearly bout of corner-ebola the Saints lost their entire starting group by the end of week 2. That left them to play way out of their depth (and in a couple of cases ‘should be out of the league’) veterans and undrafted free agents who were FAR from ready. The results can be imagined. Lattimore is arguably the team’s best chance to bring the team’s corner position at minimum up to an actual NFL level, something they desperately need if they want to finally field a decent defense. Lattimore has ball skills, speed, and instincts to spare, so while rookie corners do tend to struggle, a reasonable expectation is for him to have an overall good (while up an down) year.
Context shapes how we perceive everything. At the time of the draft Ramczyk was a projected top 15 pick who dropped due to injury, and the Saints had what was shaping up to be one of the best offensive lines in football. A few months, an injured shoulder, and a change in context later and Ryan Ramczyk has gone from the draft pick who was lauded for his ‘value’ and whom fans were outraged over for the lack of commitment to getting positions of greater need, to just the right player at just the right time. Without Terron Armstead getting hurt Ramczyk was a luxury pick based largely on value, but the moment Terron went down he because a tremendously valuable pickup as he could potentially allow Andrus Peat to stay at left guard and the Saints offensive line to have some semblance of being whole. While he only had a single year of Division 1 college tap, Ramczyk demonstrated every attribute you could ask for from a blue-chip tackle. Size, speed, strength, technique, and a truly nasty disposition when he gets to the second level in the run game.
Williams brings value to the Saints in several areas. He is a rangy and athletic ball hawk who should bring everything to the team they once hoped to get from the now departed Jairus Byrd. Williams is an intelligent, dedicated, and disciplined football player who was seemingly born to play as the deep safety in a defense. The Saints just so happen to have a need for such a player and so the fit was obvious, but even better Williams should help them fully unleash the potential of their 3-safety sets. That alone makes him valuable. Williams brings leadership, athleticism, and playmaking ability to a defense that needs all three. Certainly the opportunities to make plays will be limited until the pass rush improves, but his athleticism and range will make him an asset in a way Byrd was no longer able to be.
I compared him to Pierre Thomas with speed before the draft, and I am staying with that comparison. Kamara has already impressed both coaches and teammates with his approach, acumen, and intelligence for the game, and his physical tools were never in question. Kamara has the agility and acceleration to play the part of the Saints x-factor out of the backfield similar to how Bush and Sproles used to, but he also possesses the ability to be a true between the tackles runner in a way they never excelled at (especially Sproles). Kamara is stronger that many expect, but his agility, hands, and intelligence make him a great candidate to be the league’s next ‘weapon X’.
I fully and honestly believe that all 4 of these rookies are important to the Saints, and not just in a long term sense or because we want all players to work out, these 4 specific players all bring something to the table. However, only one of these players is at a position where there is zero depth. Lattimore is one of 4 corners who could potentially fill 2 starting outside spots, the Saints signed Rafael Bush so Williams doesn’t have to be great right away, and Kamara is a part of the most stacked unit on the roster. Only Ramczyk is in a position where he is the only viable option. If Ramczyk is not able to be the Saints starting left tackle they will have to move Peat over which then exposes the interior and puts the Saints single most valuable asset in jeopardy. There are entirely plausible scenarios where each of the other three players fail to live up to expectations, but only in the case of Ryan Ramczyk does a players success have real and significant impact on the Saints fortunes and that is what makes him the most important draft pick in my eyes.