METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints tipped the balance of their 2015 draft class decisively toward trying to fortify a defense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season.
The Saints, who began Saturday’s final rounds of the draft with two fifth-round picks, traded for a third and used all three on defensive players, giving them a total of six defensive players among their nine total selections. It was the most defensive players the Saints have selected since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1994.
"We needed to improve our defense, clearly," general manager Mickey Loomis said. "We needed to improve our depth on defense. I think all of us would have said coming into the draft that would have been a goal and yet we don’t know that we can always achieve that. … It worked out for us and I’d say we’re pretty excited about it."
New Orleans began the day by selecting Chattanooga outside linebacker Davis Tull at No. 148 overall, then took Fresno State defensive tackle Tyeler Davison with the 154th pick, which had been acquired in a March trade that sent former Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs to the Chiefs. The Saints then traded their sixth-round picks for this year and next to the Washington Redskins in order to draft Georgia cornerback Damian Swann with the 167th overall pick.
They’ll all join a defense ranked second-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed last season (384 per game) and 23rd in sacks per pass attempt.
The Saints closed out the draft by selecting Missouri running back Marcus Murphy, who excelled as a kick and punt returner in college and initially will be a candidate for that role in New Orleans, coach Sean Payton said. Murphy said he liked the way the Saints once used small-but-speedy Darren Sproles out of the backfield and hopes he can play a similar role.
New Orleans did not draft a new passing target, even after trading away start tight end Jimmy Graham and wideout Kenny Stills, who led the club in yards receiving last season.
Payton said the Saints were interested in a couple receivers who were drafted before the Saints could take them, but added, "We didn’t approach it like we had to get a receiver."
Rather, Payton expressed confidence in several young receivers already on the roster, including 2014 undrafted free agents Seantavius Jones and Brandon Coleman, who spent most of last season on the practice squad. He added that the Stills trade to Miami, which brought the Saints veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick, "probably doesn’t happen if we didn’t have didn’t have that same confidence about some younger (receivers) on the roster."
The 6-foot-2, 246-pound Tull was named Southern Conference defensive player of the year three times. He was credited with 18 tackles for losses and 10 sacks last season. He’s had 37 sacks and 60 tackles for losses in his career in college football’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Tull said he prides himself on the effort he exhibits on every play — the result of a drive which he said came from being lightly recruited by colleges after missing most of his senior season in high school with a broken leg.
"We were just talking about losing scholarships in high school and having a broken leg and having people not believe in you and having that chip," Tull said. "You always want to prove other people wrong."
Tull was the second edge pass-rusher drafted by New Orleans, joining Washington outside linebacker and second-round pick Hau’oli Kikaha.
The 6-foot-2, 316-pound Davison was credited with 8 sacks last season and was named to the All-Mountain West Conference first team. But Davison, a former competitive wrestler, said his aggressiveness getting into the backfield won’t undermine his ability to defend the run.
"You don’t want to be a one-trick pony," Davison asserted. "A lot of people attach the stigma to nose guards that they can’t get after the quarterback. I think that you can’t buy into that mindset."
The 6-foot, 189-pound Swann was named an All-Southeastern Conference second-team player by The Associated Press last season, when his four interceptions tied for a team high. Swann also was fourth on the team in tackles with 65 and had a 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Swann was the second cornerback drafted by the Saints, who also took Florida State’s P.J. Williams in Friday night’s third round.
Swann said he was hoping to join a team with well-respected veterans at his position, and expects to learn a lot from starting cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Keenan Lewis.
"I’m in a great position," Swann said. "I’m going in eyes wide open, ears open, ready to work."