The draft is two weeks away but it’s never too late (or early) to grade the New Orleans Saints picks from the 2016 NFL Draft after their rookie seasons.
With a 7-9 record in 2016, the New Orleans Saints didn’t really live up to expectations. With only five draft picks last year, the Saints didn’t really have a chance to build on their roster. This year, things are looking a little brighter for the team. With two first-round picks, they should be able to find some studs or at least players to have ready by the regular season.
In 2016, the team was still able to find some studs and players to groom in the future, however. Let’s look back at their 2016 class and reevaluate their value to the team and if they’ll make the 2017 roster.
As far as grades go, I’ll be using the traditional A-F system unless a player was injured, traded or failed to get any playing time.
Nov 27, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) rushes against Los Angeles Rams guard Rodger Saffold (76) during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Round 1, Pick 12: Sheldon Rankins, DE
In the first round of the 2016 draft, the New Orleans Saints selected Sheldon Rankins, a defensive end out of Louisville. In his last season with the Cardinals, Rankins had 58 tackles, six sacks and a recovered fumbled returned for a touchdown.
In his rookie year with the Saints, Rankins played in nine games. In those nine outings, he racked up 20 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumbles. When he got on the field, he was actually pretty impressive and a big part of the Saints defense. With such a terrible defense in 2015, he was one of the key parts in them making headway towards becoming one of the better defenses last year.
It might seem obvious, but Rankins is going to stay on the roster this year. The Saints signed him to a four-year contract and there’s no doubt he’ll be an important asset this year. As far as a grade, I’m giving Rankins a B+, but only because of the fact that he missed almost half the season. If he can stay healthy, the payoff will be huge.
Dec 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) catches a touchdown against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams (13) in the fourth quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Saints defeated the Cardinals 48-41. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Round 2, Pick 47: Michael Thomas, WR
In the second round, the Saints decided to pick up some offensive help. Wide receiver Michael Thomas out of Ohio State was the best match for the team. During his time at Ohio State, Thomas finished out his redshirt junior year with 56 catches for 781 yards and nine touchdowns.
Missing only one game last season, Thomas was one of the best investments the Saints made. He finished the season with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns. He quickly was able to adjust to the Saints offense and behind Cooks and Snead was one of Brees’ top wide receivers.
Another obvious one, but there’s no way the New Orleans Saints are getting rid of Michael Thomas. With Cooks now gone, he looks to be either target No. 1 or 2 depending on where Snead or Ginn stand. He completely exceeded expectations.
Round 2, Pick 61: Vonn Bell, S
Fans weren’t very happy with this pick at first. Originally, the Saints were supposed to have six picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, but traded one away to pick twice in the second round. Another product of Ohio State, Vonn Bell’s final year consisted of 65 combined tackles, two interceptions, and a recovered fumble.
Bell played all 16 games in his rookie season and finished the season with 87 combined tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles and a recovered fumble. Despite not producing any interceptions, Bell was well-worth trading up for and inevitably made the defense a lot better. That’s not even mentioning that he was paid an incentive later for his hard work on the field.
Once again, Bell will stay on the Saints roster this year. With the Saints likely looking at the defense again in the 2017 draft, he could have a breakout sophomore season.
Dec 24, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is tackled by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Buccaneers 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Round 4, Pick 120: David Onyemata, DT
A draft pick that puzzled many, the Saints selected David Onyemata in the fourth round. During his time at the University of Manitoba, Onyemata won the J. P. Metras Trophy. What made the pick so curious was how relatively unknown he was coming into the process.
Regardless, Onyemata played every single game last season, but his stats didn’t impress. He ended his rookie year with 18 combined tackles, no forced fumbles, and no sacks. Hopefully, coming into his second season, he works hard to hone his skills and clean up what he needs to.
I’m on the fence if the Saints will keep him. While he might have the skills, they might not be willing to wait for him to catch up. Ultimately, he didn’t really produce like the team had hoped for.
Round 7, Pick 237: Daniel Lasco, RB
With their final pick, the New Orleans Saints decided to take a running back. At the time, it didn’t seem like a huge priority for the team. In his last year at Cal, Lasco rushed for 331 yards, three touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
Last season, Lasco only played in seven games. But with such a stacked running back corps, that isn’t really surprising. He rushed for 32 yards on 11 carries and failed to score a single touchdown. What could be on Lasco’s favor is the Saints’ current running back situation. If he can compete and step up, he might have a chance to be the starter but that seems doubtful.
I’m on the fence with Lasco, because he didn’t do much in those seven games. However, the Saints could definitely use him if necessary. There’s still a chance for him, but his rookie season could be the end for him in New Orleans too.