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Last Player Taken in the Greatest Draft Class in Saints History, Al-Quadin Muhammad Hopes to Have Much Bigger Impact in Year 2

45 total snaps in 4 regular season games. Those were the numbers last season as a rookie and a part of one of the greatest Draft Classes in NFL history — the New Orleans Saints 2017 NFL Draft — for 2nd year defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad.

24 of those snaps came on defense and 21 came on special teams for the 23-year old former Miami Hurricanes star, who was the final player taken by the team last year with the 196th overall selection in Round #6. 

If that doesn't sound like a significant impact on par with other rookies last year such as Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk, and Marcus Williams among others, that's probably because it wasn't.

Photo courtesy of Derek E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports

The Saints 2017 Draft class put together by General Manager Mickey Loomis and Director of College Scouting Jeff Ireland, was one of epically historic proportions.

Lattimore and Williams led the team with five and four interceptions, respectively, with Lattimore getting the most first-place votes (45) in any category at the NFL Honors Awards on the night before the Super Bowl.

Ramczyk was just one of three rookie offensive linemen to start all 16 games. And of course there was Kamara; who "blew away" NFL defenses with his remarkable Gale Sayers-like slippery elusiveness, on his way to 1,901 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns.

But there were other members of last year's Saints draft class who either didn't earn nearly as much notoriety or saw limited playing time: linebacker Alex Anzalone, who was injured in Week #4 in London, England against the Miami Dolphins and lost for the season after being placed on injured reserve; and Trey Hendrickson, who played mostly in the team's substitution pass-rushing packages but saw a much more significant role than Muhammad did.

Which begs the question: why did Muhammad appear to be the "odd man out" from last year's impressive Draft Class?

Photo courtesy of Layne C. Murdoch

There were a few reasons, actually.

Muhammad as most Saints fans are likely aware, didn't exactly follow the typical path that most college players take when coming into the NFL.

He didn't play much in college due to a variety of issues that are usually associated with young men making unwise decisions as they enter into adulthood.

Such as when Palm Beach Post Canes beat writer Matt Porter says that Muhammad — an Irvington (just outside of Newark), New .Jersey native — was suspended for nearly as many games (14) as he played in (17) at the University of Miami, where he finished his brief career with the Hurricanes with 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks.

Entering his redshirt junior season, he was dismissed in Aug. 2016 (along with linebacker Jermaine Grace) after UM found he violated NCAA rules by dealing with a South Beach luxury car rental agency. Porter adds that Muhammad was also suspended for the 2014 season for punching a fellow student after UM’s spring game and benched for the first game of 2015; which led many at the school to wonder "what might have been".

Al-Quadin Muhammad - Saints News

(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

In other words, Muhammad still had a lot of "growing up" to do, despite his impressive-but-still-raw-and-developing talent that he flashed on the campus at Coral Gables in Miami-Dade County.

But to his credit, Muhammad embraced being taken by New Orleans; and devoted his efforts as a rookie last season to try and become a better person and a better player.

That paid off for Muhammad as he became IMMENSELY popular with Saints fans during the Pre-Season last year, which was when he began showing everyone exactly why Saints scouts and the defensive coaching staff became enamored with him in the first place.

Muhammad tied former Kansas State star and Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Jordan Willis to lead all NFL rookies in sacks (4) during the Saints 2017 Pre-Season games, and looked as if he might be the pass rusher that the Saints have long sought to put at Weakside Defensive End; on the opposite outside edge across from All-Pro Cam Jordan.

Photo courtesy of Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports

But while the raw talent and athleticism were certainly evident to everyone, the Saints coaching staff ultimately felt that Muhammad wasn't quite ready for the "big time".

He made the Final 53-man roster with no problem after that impressive Pre-Season performance, but yet the team felt that he needed further development before he would be ready to start playing in games. As a result, when the season started he found himself usually on the inactive list during Game Days.

Muhammad appeared in 4 total games: against the Minnesota Vikings in Week #1 (5 special teams snaps), the Green Bay Packers in Week #6 (a snap count of 3 snaps on defense and 10 on special teams), the New York Jets in Week #16 (his most extensive action of the year with 17 snaps on defense and 6 on special teams), and the season finale in Week #17 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4 snaps on defense).

Those weren't exactly any numbers to be overwhelmed by, and it was indicative of the notion that while team brass likes his potential, they didn't feel he was capable — at least not YET anyway — to complement Jordan as the other outside pass-rushing end.

That's clearly the case, considering the Saints since that time now have filled that vitally important complementary role with the addition of this year's top 2018 draft pick, University of Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport.

So.....where does that leave Muhammad this year as he enters into his 2nd NFL season? 

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Probably as the final defensive end to make the team again, behind the rookie Davenport, long-time NFL veteran George Johnson, and Hendrickson (4th year star Hau'oli Kikaha has been moved to the back-up role at "Sam" / strongside linebacker).

During the team's recent OTA's, Muhammad actually got some 1st-team snaps with Cam Jordan sitting out team drills and Trey Hendrickson missing practice with an injury.

But clearly he'll need another impressive Training Camp and the Pre-Season like he did last year, to earn a bigger role and have a much bigger impact in his 2nd NFL season this year.

During a recent youth camp at his old high school alma mater of Don Bosco High School in nearby Ramsey, New Jersey just outside Newark, Muhammad told sports writer Darren Cooper that his current status is one that will serve as motivation for him in the upcoming 2018 NFL season, regardless of how much that he actually does (or doesn't) get to play in the games that count in the standings.

"I wouldn't say it's been hard," Muhammad said. "It's just motivating me to work harder, study harder. When my opportunity does come, just show up and do some great things to where they'll keep me out there."

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

His time will eventually come, but trying to pin-point exactly when the proverbial "light bulb" will come on (when college players finally get acclimated and successfully adapt to playing at the professional / NFL level) is still yet to be determined.

Nevertheless, you can rest assured that the 6-foot-4, 250 pounder will seek to put forth a maximum effort, especially now that he has grown so much on a personal level since his time spent with the Hurricanes football program in South Florida.

With the start of 2018 Saints Training Camp now only a little bit over 3 weeks away, Al-Quadin Muhammad will be doing his very best, to have a much bigger impact in Year 2.....

Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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