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ROLLING THE DICE? Despite Recent Draft Success, Saints Pick of Marcus Davenport Raises More Questions Than Answers

For the last few past NFL Drafts, the New Orleans Saints organization and particularly their college scouting department have had a stunning amount of success with reshaping and "remodeling" their roster with young talent, that has returned them back into the upper echelon of Playoff-caliber teams in the League competing for a shot at winning the Super Bowl.

By doing so, they've more than earned the right from both fans as well as from the media that covers the team on a daily basis, to be given a benefit of a doubt regarding any moves they might make; with regard to their decisions in choosing a particular prospect.

In NFL circles, that's often referred to as "trusting the process".

However, when it comes to last's night's bold and somewhat shocking move to trade up with the Green Bay Packers in exchange for their #27 overall pick, its 1st-round pick in next year's 2019 NFL Draft, and their 5th-round pick in this year's Draft (#147 overall) tomorrow afternoon, in order to select athletically-gifted University of Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport, his selection by New Orleans raises more questions than answers.

In gambling circles, that's often referred to as "rolling the dice".

Photo: David J. Phillip / Associated Press

The last time the Saints traded two first-round picks to move up in the draft for a player was back during the 2003 NFL Draft, when they dealt the # 17 and #18 selections overall to Arizona; in order to move up to the #6 overall spot to select then University of Georgia defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan.

We obviously don't have to remind Saints fans of how that eventually turned out.

The freakish and muscularly-built 6-foot-7, 264 pound Davenport is the ultimate physical specimen and prototype of an EDGE rusher / defensive end in today's modern NFL; and gives the Saints a "complementary" pass rusher opposite of All-Pro Cam Jordan that they've lacked on the defensive line for the past several years.

IF Davenport fully plays up to his potential at the next level?

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

He should become a 10+ sack guy playing as a sidekick to Jordan, with the absolute greatest of ease.

In fact, New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill believes that Davenport has enough tools to be an effective piece of the puzzle for the D-Line, for many years to come.

A three-sport star at Stevens High School in San Antonio, CBS Sports.com notes that Davenport joined his hometown university and played 11 games as a true freshman, recording three sacks in limited action.

He made 11 starts the following year, racking up 49 total tackles, including 7.5 for loss, and four sacks while also forcing two fumbles. Davenport was named second-team All-Conference USA after tallying 67 total tackles, including 10 for loss, with 6.5 sacks as a junior.

Davenport — who's Dad and Grandfather were actually both born and raised in New Orleans — then "broke out" in his senior season by setting career highs in tackles for loss (17.5) and sacks (8.5) while forcing three fumbles and even scoring a touchdown after recovering a fumble agains t Rice.

Photo courtesy of The San Antonio Express-News

He had 11 total tackles, including 3.5 for loss, in that game, which followed an big performance against North Texas in which he had four tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. 

That caught the attention of NFL scouts everywhere, which was followed up by his impressive performances at the Senior Bowl (where he had 2 sacks and a fumble return for a TD) and the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a a 4.58 40-yard dash, a time faster than other current NFL players around his size like DeMarcus Lawrence (4.8), Ziggy Ansah (4.63) and Joey Bosa (4.86). 

He was actually the fastest defensive lineman in the entire event.

Interestingly enough, Davenport was actually a former wide receiver in high school (if you can imagine that), and he has bulked up nearly 70 pounds after switching over first to outside linebacker; before mostly lining up either as a stand-up end off the edge, or with his "hand in the dirt".

However, despite all of those notable accomplishments, this morning there are still some questions as to whether or not Davenport was the "right pick" to make.

Here's a quick look at a few of those questions — such as.......

 

#1: DID THE SAINTS "PAY TOO MUCH" TO GET DAVENPORT?

Photo courtesy of The San Antonio Express-News

The answer to this question, all depends on your point of view.

From the perspective of most knowledgeable football fans in general, the thought is probably that Davenport's  potential to be a DOMINANT player at the next level, justifies any move that the Saints made.

But from the pessimistic point of view, the thought might be that New Orleans paid too much.

You certainly hope that he turns out to be an absolute stud in Year #1 of his NFL career, if the goal is to "win now". But at least from the outside looking in, he looks more like a developmental player with extremely high upside, but also substantial risk.

Now of course, if the Saints go (12-4) later this year and would be picking in the late 20's or early 30's in next year's 2019 NFL Draft, this will be a non-issue.

But — what if the Saints DON'T repeat last year's success, and have a losing season in 2018? That means that New Orleans could possibly be out of a potential Top 10 pick, in the worst-case scenario.

If there's anything we know, it's that both in life and also as a professional football player in the NFL, there are ZERO guarantees for eventual success.

 

#2: IS DAVENPORT READY FOR THE STEP UP TO THE PROFESSIONAL LEVEL AND CAN HE HAVE AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT FOR A SAINTS TEAM THAT'S TRYING TO "WIN NOW"?

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Davenport’s 22 career sacks and 38 tackles for loss are impressive. But some teams will have reservations over the competition his production came against — multi-sack outings vs. the likes of Alabama State, Louisiana Tech and North Texas, for instance.

But — how will he fare against the Eagles, Rams, Vikings, and the hated arch-rival Atlanta Falcons?

Clearly, Davenport is still a "raw" player; which after the pick Saints head coach Sean Payton acknowledged last night to the gathered media, is a valid concern.

"Yeah, listen, I think that's fair. (But) that's part of what we get to do as coaches. We look forward to that. When you're around this player you're looking at certain traits. He's a guy that fits the prototype scale, the metrics in regards to his height, weight, size speed. He has tremendous make up. He's very smart."

As the New Orleans Adovocate's Underhill notes: even with some "rough edges", there are still a lot of things to like about what Davenport can do.

Underhill says that Davenport can win with his speed inside, and knows how to use his long arms to jab players. He also converts speed to power very well. When he gets proper leverage, he can explode into an offensive tackle’s chest and send his feet pedalling backward.

But he also cautions there are other times when he plays too high, allowing less talented players to block him out, struggles to find a countermove or doesn’t approach a snap with a plan.

These are things which hopefully can be pin-pointed and eventually fixed by defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, who as Underhill also adds, has already had some very notable success in the development of 2016 Draft pick and now soon-to-be 3rd year veteran defensive lineman David Onyemata.

Bottom line (and the answer to this question) is that in Underhill's view, it might take time for Davenport to reach his full potential, but he's good enough to help and to come in and make an IMMEDIATE IMPACT, in 2018.

Let's hope that Underhill's assessment, ends up being accurate in the long run.

 

#3. WILL THE SAINTS REGRET "PASSING" ON OTHER PLAYERS THAT WERE AVAILABLE WHEN THEY MADE THE DAVENPORT PICK?

Photo courtesy of The San Antonio Express-News

Every year, invariably NFL teams usually will "pass" on one or more higher-rated players, to go after a player that they targeted, and last night was no exception.

Two players in particular that many Saints fans wanted but were "passed' on to move up to grab Davenport, were Boston College defensive end  / EDGE rusher Harold Landry, who surprisingly wasn't taken in Round 1 but was ranked ahead of Davenport by some analysts because they feel he has more "polish" as a player (having played against much tougher competition); and Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, who eventually was drafted by Baltimore at #32 with the final pick of the 1st Round.

However, the Saints do deserve the benefit of the doubt, given that we're only just one year removed from seeing them put together the NFL's best draft class last year in 2017 that included Marshon Lattimore, Ryan RamczyckMarcus Williams and Alvin Kamara.

Without any hesitation, New Orleans knew that getting a pass rusher (or "pressure player" as general manager Mickey Loomis referred to it the other day) was a team 'need', and they quickly and purposely identified Davenport as their guy.

Nevertheless, we'll still have to wait and see whether or not this was the proverbial "right move".

There were more than just a few observers after the Davenport pick was made, that felt passing on Jackson will come back to haunt them. 

Let's call it what it really is, which is the undeniable fact that Drew Brees is 39 years old now (he turns 40 next January) and while his game doesn't appear to be slipping, he sure in the hell ain't going to keep on playing forever. 

You can "keep kicking that can down the road", but sometimes you end up stepping on that very same can and wind up CUTTING OPEN your foot.

Go ask the Denver Broncos how well not having a QB "ready" to take over after Peyton Manning retired, has worked out for them.

That said, the Saints are clearly in a "win-now" mode — and if they feel that finding a pass rusher for 2018 makes more sense than drafting Brees' eventual replacement, then who are we to judge them?

Some will see it as "rolling the dice".

Others will see it as a team that is VERY AGGRESSIVELY trying to bring home a World Championship back home to New Orleans for its super-passionate fan-base affectionately known as the "Who Dat Nation".

But in any event, last night's selection of Davenport will continue to raise more questions, than answers. Perhaps at this time next year, we'll know if the Saints' bold move, was well worth making.....

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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