When the New Orleans Saints pulled off a trade last night to move up a total of 14 spots in the 2nd Round of last night's 2019 NFL Draft, the prevailing thought among many analysts as well as most Who Dat fans was that the team had done so in order to select any one of a handful of available top-rated players at the wide receiver position.
But instead, Saints front office brass had another plan: which was to draft one of the highest-rated centers in the entire 2019 Draft Class: Erik McCoy of Texas A&M, a player with a 1st Round grade whom the Saints were able to get at #48 overall. And for a Saints offense that still needed a new starter at the center position following the recent retirement of 10-year veteran Max Unger, the selection of McCoy now gives the Black and Gold a player who was an elite, "lights out" performer against some of the nation's best defensive players.
“We felt strongly he wouldn’t make it to 62,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said to reporters after the selection was made, while noting that the team itself actually had McCoy graded McCoy as an early second-round pick, which was right where they selected him.
But when teams began making a run on offensive linemen not long after the 2nd Round began last night, Payton revealed that he and GM Mickey Loomis decided to be aggressive — and they pulled the trigger and moved up to grab him before any other team could..
“He’s one of those players that in the process stood out,” Payton continued, referencing how the 21-year old San Antonio, Texas native stood out to the Saints scouting department and coaching staff while watching Texas A&M game film throughout their evaluation process.
“See his strength on tape in each game. Really had a high grade on him. Played at obviously a high level of competition. See the consistency. Just a lot of things to like with the player", Payton emphasized.
The 6-foot-4 inch, 303 pound McCoy — who only allowed ONE sack in 3 whole seasons (1,528 career pass-blocking snaps) against some of college football's top-rated pass-rushers — started every single game during that time (39 starts) and helped lead the Aggies offense to gain more than 2,000 yards rushing in each of the last three seasons.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 27, 2019
— #BTHOoffseason (@TamuHighlights) October 15, 2017
McCoy missed the 2015 Season as a redshirt, before he eventually became a starter as a redshirt freshman in the 2016 Season. After a solid season in 2017 as a sophomore, McCoy was a captain in all 13 games for A&M last season in 2018; and was named the program's offensive MVP after being a top blocker for a unit that gained a whopping 6,131 yards of total offense.
But just how good is McCoy really though, for some skeptical Saints who were asking last night?
The Draft Network Lead Analyst Jon Ledyard says that McCoy was "lights out" against National Champion Clemson and impressive against SEC powerhouse Alabama; while showing the ability to match quickness in pass protection and make outstanding plays in the running game as well. And while he'll need to develop more hand technique to help him overcome his issues with a shorter arm length than most centers, he's still considered to be a "plug and play" immediate starter who can anchor the center position on the Saints O-Line for a very long time.
The Saints gave up their 2nd Round pick in next year's 2020 NFL Draft and one of their 6th Round picks later today (#202 overall ) to make the trade with the Miami Dolphins; who in exchange gave the Saints their 2nd Round pick (#48 overall) to move up and take McCoy; as well as a 4th Round pick (#116 overall) that the Black and Gold will use later on this morning when the 3rd and final day of the event gets underway at 11 A.M. Central time.
Erik McCoy reacts with family and friends to being drafted by the #Saints!
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) April 27, 2019
Payton told reporters last night that the credit for part of their decision-making process actually goes to Saints offensive line coach coach Dan Roushar; whose input heavily influenced the Saints' final decision to move up and select McCoy. Payton noted that McCoy impressed them a little bit more each time that they met with him; the first encounter which came back in late January during the Senior Bowl in Mobile. Alabama.
It was there at the Senior Bowl practices that week where McCoy reportedly "aced" his interview after a mid-week Senior Bowl practice, with Saints scouts who were there to observe some of the nation's best players who make up this year's deep class at several positions, That was followed by a stellar performance for McCoy at the NFL Scouting Combine early last month, before he impressed the Saints scouting department staff even further after he worked out for them privately after his pro day.
“We really had a high grade on him. (McCoy) was kind of the guy coming into today. He was the target coming in this morning", Payton stressed in his comments. Additionally, Payton did acknowledge that the selection of McCoy now will create some competition for the center position in OTA's and Training Camp, since the team had just recently signed free agent and former Minnesota Vikings O-Lineman Nick Easton to replace Unger.
Payton said that the versatility that both Easton and McCoy have (they both can play center and either one of the guard positions) will benefit the team in the long run,
“You never want to lose a player like Max (Unger),” Payton said. “He was a great player for us. But you identify the need area and address it, if possible. (We) felt really good about signing Nick (Easton). So now (we feel) a little bit better than the night after Max was retiring.”
The Saints will be picking a total of 5 more times later today. They have a pick in Round 4 (#116 overall), Round 5 (#168 overall), Round 6 (#177 overall) and twice in the 7th Round (#231 overall and #244 overall). With those picks, the Black and Gold is expected to target positions such as wide receiver, defensive end / edge rusher, and possibly even a safety; all of which could be on their "shopping list" for today's 3rd and final day.
But one thing the Saints can scratch off the list is the center position — now that they have a young man who should be "lights out" for their O-Line, for a very long time....