General Other

Reviewing disastrous 2014 Saints draft picks, grades, and impact

Reviewing disastrous 2014 Saints draft picks, grades, and impact

Our 2021 NFL draft countdown marches on, this time reviewing the 2014 Saints draft picks. Let’s get out in front of this: it was one of the worst draft classes of the Sean Payton era, with all but one player washing out of the NFL in just three years; the only pro-qualify talent to persist was their first selection, who forced his way out of New Orleans through a trade before his rookie contract expired. Not great! But here’s how we got here.

Previous draft reviews:

The context

May 23, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan talks with defensive tackle Issako Aaitui and defensive end Greg Romeus and defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker during organized team activities at the Saints training facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints beat all expectations in 2013 with Rob Ryan overhauling the defense, thanks to breakout seasons from defensive end Junior Galette and cornerback Keenan Lewis. New Orleans won its first road playoff game and gave the eventual Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks a tough fight before elimination. Things were trending up. And the Saints made some exciting moves early in the offseason. They pulled off a coup in free agency by signing free safety Jairus Byrd to a market-setting deal despite their limited salary cap resources, while also adding Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey to the secondary. There was a ton of optimism that Ryan’s maverick defense could work if the Saints only invested enough into it. On offense, New Orleans needed a spark after trading Darren Sproles to the Eagles (where he ended up joining Malcolm Jenkins, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent). They still had quality personnel on that side of the ball around Drew Brees, but no one matched Sproles’ speed in the open field or elusiveness after the catch. So the plan on draft day was to add an electric athlete to the mix.

The picks

Oregon State wide receiver Brandon Cooks poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the New Orleans Saints as the 20th pick the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

  • Round 1, Pick 20: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

  • Round 2, Pick 58: CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska

  • Round 4, Pick 126: LB Khairi Fortt, California

  • Round 5, Pick 167: S Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama

  • Round 5, Pick 169: LB Ronald Powell, Florida

  • Round 6, Pick 202: RT Tavon Rooks, Kansas State

The grades

ESPN’s Mel Kiper was unimpressed with that haul, rating the Saints with a C-plus: “I had wide receiver as a big need for the Saints, with Marques Colston soon to be 31, and Kenny Stills now asked to play a much bigger role after the departure of favorite Drew Brees targets like Lance Moore and Darren Sproles. They moved up to get Brandin Cooks — Philly could have snapped him up at No. 22 — and get an immediate threat. Cooks is an athletic dynamo, a sure-handed target who can create space, make short catches and turn them into longer gains, and will also take the top off a defense vertically on occasion. The Saints got a promising CB in Round 2 with Stan Jean-Baptiste, but he needs a lot of work, particularly in learning how to tackle more effectively. Still, he’s a worthy project. Khairi Fortt fits as the OLB I’d suggested, and Vinnie Sunseri has a chance to stick because he’s a sharp player who can translate the Rob Ryan defense, which demands a safety with smarts. Ronald Powell is worth a flyer based on the hope that he stays healthy. The question for me is depth at tackle. They like Terron Armstead, but it’s a position I would have looked at earlier. Cooks is a win, and it’s a lot of “We’ll see” after that.” Meanwhile, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar at Sports Illustrated were a little more optimistic, but not by much. They graded the 2014 Saints draft class a B-minus: “Sean Payton’s passing offense got a whole lot faster with the addition of Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks in the first round; Cooks has the kind of game-breaking potential you might see in DeSean Jackson at his best. Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was a reach in the second round, but he does fit the prototype for the big, aggressive cornerback teams desire these days. Cal’s Khairi Fortt is a thumping linebacker who should be perfect for Rob Ryan’s defense, and Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri, though limited, should be a good special-teamer.”

The results

Jun 11, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (33) during minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This was a mess. Cooks was never happy with his role running flush-out routes downfield to create opportunities for teammates in the space he opened up, and he showed no ability to pick up yards after the catch on designed screens. He just didn’t have the vision to find open lanes and fly past defenders. When the Saints picked a better receiver in Michael Thomas a few years later, he pouted and complained to the media until he got traded out of town. Beyond Cooks: Jean-Baptiste showed up to training camp unable to cover anyone, which was also true of Champ Bailey, the Saints’ projected No. 2 corner. Bailey was cut before the season started. Jean-Baptiste, Sunseri, and Powell combined for 22 defensive snaps until they were let go. Fortt and Rooks never dressed for a game with New Orleans. That’s on top of the botched free agent pickups of Bailey and Jairus Byrd, whose body began to break down before he even signed with the Saints and kept him off the field for much of his New Orleans tenure. On the whole, this offseason was a colossal failure. It set the team back for years and directly led to their streak of 7-9 finishes in the mid-2010’s.

1

1

About the author

Erin Clark

Erin is a sports enthusiast who loves indulging in occasional football matches. She is a passionate journalist who flaunts a perfect hold over the English language. She currently caters her skills for the sports and health section of Report Door.