While many of the writers and analysts are handing out "Mid-Season Awards" for the New Orleans Saints and the rest of the NFL, there's one individual who has been clearly overlooked or at the least, somewhat underappreciated for the (6-2) Saints: assistant GM and Director of College Scouting Jeff Ireland.
The Saints are one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this year; and let's be certain to give credit where credit is due, to the absolutely phenomenal job that's been done by Ireland and the entire Saints Scouting Department this past off-season.
To "hit" on these many picks as they clearly have done in one Draft, is an absolute testament to the work that they did since the end of last season, with regard to talent evaluation and how a player "fits" into their program on either side of the football, as well as special teams.
This 2017 Saints Draft Class has Ireland's fingerprints all over it, and it can't be emphasized enough about just how good of a job that he's done for the organization since coming aboard in January of 2015.
As I've mentioned previously and I'll emphasize yet again:
I believe that you have to go all the way back to the Saints 1981 Draft under then-head coach Bum Phillips, to find a Saints draft class as good as this year's 2017 Saints Draft Class has turned out to be.
While the 1986 and 2006 Saints Drafts were good in their own rights; the 1981 Saints Draft is generally regarded by long-time Saints writers / observers such as myself, as the team's greatest Draft class ever.
The 1981 Saints Draft Class yielded several immediate starters including Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Rickey Jackson, running back George Rogers, strong safety Russell Gary, defensive tackle Frank Warren, defensive tackle Jim Wilks, tight end Hoby Brenner, cornerback Johnnie Poe, and fullback Hokie Gajun; along with back-up players offensive guard Louis Oubre, nose tackle Jerry Boyarsky, and linebacker Glen Redd.
That's a whopping ELEVEN (11) players that made the team's final roster that year (back when the Draft still had 12 rounds), and out of those 11, eight of them were either immediate or eventually became starters.
Now it's unlikely that this year's 2017 Draft class will match the 1981 Draft Class put together by Phillips, just from the sheer amount of impact that the 1981 class had on the franchise as a whole.
The team had finished 1-15 the year before in the infamous "Aints" 1980 season; and head coaching philosophy aside, Phillips' superior talent evaluation skills were in full swing when he put together his first-ever Saints Draft class in his dual capacity of head coach and General Manager.
Jackson, Warren, and Wilks in particular went on in later seasons to become a part of the foundation in the late 80's under Phillips' eventual successor, former USFL champion head coach Jim Mora; of a top-rated defensive unit that Saints fans would eventually go on to know and love as "The Dome Patrol".
While it's still way too early to tell if the 7 players chosen by Ireland will have a similar impact upon the franchise heading into the future as that 1981 Draft Class chosen by the Bum did, the potential to be ranked at the top of the team's Draft history is now obviously becoming a distinct possibility, given the team's current success.
It's fair to say for example that a player like Marshon Lattimore, has made the type of immediate impact upon the overall success of the team as Rickey Jackson did in his first year.
I can't even tell you how big of a "home run" that Ireland and the Saints organization have hit with the Lattimore pick.
It's on a MONUMENTAL scale — much in the very same manner as Phillips did with Jackson.
And of course, Lattimore isn't alone.
The immediate impacts similarly made by Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, and Alvin Kamara can't be understated.
Even Alex Anzalone, who is on I.R. and was lost for the season during the win over Miami, was set to make a significant impact at weak side linebacker; and defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad both appear to have the capability to have a long-term impact with the organization as well.
In his press conference held earlier this morning, Saints head coach Sean Payton was quick to give Ireland some well-deserved praise and recognition for the team's success up to this point:
"I think Jeff Ireland has done an outstanding job and how we look at players, all of that, was overhauled, if you will. And I think that the results are paying off, fortunately for us.", Payton said.
Sean Payton said the Saints revamped their scouting process a couple years ago: "I think Jeff Ireland has done an outstanding job."
— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) November 8, 2017
That can't be overstated enough, at this point.
'Outstanding' isn't even a strong enough word to accurately describe it.
Which is all the more reason that if we're going to hand out 'Mid-Season Awards' for the Saints' success so far, then I'm giving 'my' award to the man who's just as responsible for the Saints "turnaround" this year, than anyone.........