The New Orleans Saints entered the 2013 Draft following a disappointing 2012 season. The suspension of head coach Sean Payton for the entire year in the wake of the ‘bounty scandal’ cast a shadow over the year and led to an unaccustomed 7-9 finish and a season without the playoffs.
Even entering the draft New Orleans found themselves at a disadvantage, having been forced to forfeit its second round pick as further punishment for the bounty scandal.
But with the return of Payton and the recruitment of Rob Ryan to try to turn around the league’s worst defense, it was an exciting time for a rookie to be joining the Saints.
New Orleans emerged from the draft with five selections, having ‘used up’ one of their six original choices as part of a trade. One year on, how did the 2013 Saints’ draft class fare in their first year as pros?
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (B+)
The Saints’ first round pick, Vaccaro was selected with the 15th overall choice. The former Texas player made an instant impact in Rob Ryan’s new look Saints’ defense, deflecting a potential game winning touchdown pass into an interception on debut against the Falcons.
From there he did not look back and integrated himself quickly into the defense, until a serious ankle injury against Carolina curtailed his season in Week 16. Vaccaro finished his first campaign with 79 tackles, 1 sack and an interception. He will be keen to improve on these numbers next season whilst looking to become a leader on the field for the Saints. Definitely a positive addition to the roster.
Terron Armstead, T, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (C)
Armstead was selected with the first of two third round picks. The tackle appeared in just 6 regular season games, but managed two starts amongst them. His involvement in the last three games, including starts against Carolina and St Louis, suggest that he has convinced Sean Payton and his staff of his current and long term potential for the franchise.
Starts in both postseason games enhance this burgeoning reputation. What began as a frustrating start to his first NFL season ended in regular game time and a realistic prospect of becoming a regular starter in 2014.
John Jenkins, DT, Georgia (C+)
Jenkins was the Saints’ second third round selection. Appearing in all 16 regular season games (with 5 starts) and both postseason encounters, he accounted for 26 tackles in total (5 of which came in the playoffs). Twice he recorded a season high of four; in the home win over the Panthers and at Philadelphia in the Wild Card round. Jenkins will look to kick on from this in 2014 and establish himself as a regular starter in Ryan’s defensive schemes.
Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma (B-)
The Oklahoma graduate was picked up in the fifth round after amassing 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns from 204 catches with the Sooners. Starting in 10 of the 16 games (he appeared in all), Stills quickly became a regular part of the Saints offense and finished 3rd on the team in terms of yardage.
And 32 catches for 641 yards saw him more involved than the experienced Robert Meachem whilst his 5 touchdowns and average of 20 yards per reception were respectable numbers in a rookie year. Being targeted just 51 times gives him a reception percentage of 62.7, something he will look to maintain and improve with more targeting in 2014.
Rufus Johnson, LB, Tarleton State (no grade)
Johnson failed to make an appearance in 2014 and was frequently listed among the inactive players. Drafted 183rd overall he is the highest ever selection from Tarleton State, which is in itself a huge achievement. Whether or not he remains on the roster for 2014 is a question the Saints management can answer.
Overall a successful series of selections for New Orleans; their draft class combined for 52 games and 31 starts over the course of the season. With only 5 picks, this represents a more than respectable haul from the 2013 Draft. The question now is whether or not the Saints can repeat or better this performance in 2014!