The Saints are one of the better teams in the NFL lately, and most teams would prefer not to have them on the schedule, but historically they are one of the worst teams in the NFL. Despite being generally awful, the Saints have proven to be astute drafters over the years, pulling in some fantastic talent. Of course, they've shot a few blanks too, it's just a matter of which was their biggest regret. My pick may offer some controversy, but I did spend a lot of time muddling over two choices.
The year was 1999, and John Elway had just retired after the Broncos second consecutive Super Bowl win. Mike Ditka, coach of the 6-10 Saints showed his love for marquee running backs by trading away his ENTIRE allotment of draft picks (the Redskins were the lucky recipients) for the chance to draft Ricky Williams of Texas.
Unlike most of the other draft choices in the FN "Biggest Regret" series, Williams was actually and outstanding player and was relatively successful on a bad Saints team (they went 3-13 the following season), but didn't really show his value until he was traded to the Dolphins in 2002.
The regret isn't signing Williams, who was unlikely to fall to them at number 12, but they could have picked up some good talent even if they'd stayed at their original pick. In the first round, they could have had Jevon Kearse or Antoine Winfield; Dre' Bly in the second; Joey Porter or Dat Nguyen in the third, and so on.
For those who were wondering, Ditka got canned at the end of the season.
Here are some other draft day miscues that failed to make the cut:
Russell Erxleben - "...and with the eleventh pick in the NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints choose punter Russell Erxleben of Texas. Hang on! Am I reading this right? A punter?" Yes, the Saints chose a punter with their top pick in 1979. This was my other choice for top regret, as the Saints were close to turning the corner and could have used a different position. For the record, Erxleben was average at best and was out of the NFL by 1983, apart from a brief appearance as a replacement in 1987.
Joe Campbell - two years previously, the Saints made another faux pas in signing Campbell, who possessed the kind of mean streak the Saints wanted in their players. Or so they thought. It turns out Campbell was a headcase who was constantly getting into fights with opposition and teammates alike, and was let go in 1980, where he bounced around the league for a couple more years, before going for good in 1981.
Shawn Knight - in 1987, the Saints wanted Rod Woodson. I mean, really, really wanted him, but they didn't expect him to be on the board at 11. Then, bizarrely, Woodson was passed by again and again until the Steelers picked him at number...10! This left the Saints in something of a bind, and they looked at their other choices - Haywood Jeffires, Harris Barton and Knight. For some reason, despite having an excellent line, they picked Knight, who ended up playing with three different teams in three seasons, then ended up in the World League. Barton and Jeffires combined for three Pro Bowls, and were considered among the best at their respective positions.
Jonathon Sullivan - in 2003, the Saints were looking for help on the interior defensive line and at corner, but the top choices, DeWayne Robertson and Terrence Newman were already gone. They had a shot at Marcus Trufant, but chose to go the tackle route instead, signing the athletic Robertson, fresh off a monster year at Georgia. There was one small problem - he didn't really want to play. He stuck around for a couple more years before being traded to New England in 2009, but he only lasted four months with the Patriots, in part because of possession charges.