Dig Baton Rouge

Report card: Grading the new faces on the New Orleans Saints’ roster

The New Orleans Saints made the most of their five picks in the 2016 NFL Draft in Chicago last weekend by selecting Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas, Ohio State safety Vonn Bell, Mantioba defensive lineman David Onyemata and California running back Daniel Lasco.

Saints head coach, Sean Payton and Vice President/General Manager, Mickey Loomis are known for taking an aggressive approach to the draft which explains why the team only had six picks heading into this year’s draft in the first place. Of course, a couple draft-day trades left New Orleans with five picks but they certainly took steps towards addressing most of the team’s needs.

Rookie training camp is just a few weeks away, and DIG has a comprehensive breakdown of all the new faces on the Saints roster.

The Safe Bet

Defensive Tackle, Sheldon Rankins, 12th Pick Overall

School: University of Louisville

Grade: A

Rankins might be the safest pick the Saints have made in a while. The 6-foot-2 defensive tackle was one of the most NFL-ready players in this year’s draft and should be a solid fit in the three man defensive front for the Saints. At 305 pounds, he’ll be able to play in the three or five technique depending on what defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s scheme calls for this fall.

New Orleans finished last in both yards allowed per rush (4.9) and yards allowed per pass play (8.35) so Rankins will help the defense improve on clogging gaps and rushing the quarterback.

Rankins is also considerably athletic for his size. When he scooped up a fumble and hurdled a Boston College defender on the way to a 46-yard touchdown, it was clear that Rankins was a rare talent. Rankins finished the 2015 season as a second-team All-ACC player with 58 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and six sacks.

The Steal

Receiver, Michael Thomas, 47th overall pick.

School: Ohio State University

Grade: A-

The Saints landed the steal of the second round in Thomas. Many teams passed on the former Buckeye receiver because his numbers weren’t as prolific as others in his class. Thomas wasn’t featured in the Ohio State offense but when his number was called, he delivered.

Those who watched Ohio State play in the 2015 College Football Playoff surely remember Thomas’ acrobatic touchdown catch against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Thomas was one of the best route runners in the country, making defensive backs look silly on multiple occasions last season. The Los Angeles native appeared in 39 games and recorded 113 receptions for 1,602 yards and 18 touchdowns over the course of three years at Ohio State. Don’t be surprised if Thomas makes an immediate impact in his rookie campaign for the Saints.

Payton said he was intrigued by Thomas’ tenacity and ability to make catches in traffic in a press conference last Saturday.

“He’s big, competitive, I love his hands in traffic and I think he has a very unique skillset,” Payton said. “He has real strong hands and has some good runs after the catch. You watch him workout and you watch him compete and you see game film after game film and at times it’s hard based on what they (Ohio State) do offensively, but I love his size and his competitive nature and his makeup is outstanding.”

The Safety Net

Safety, Vonn Bell, 61st overall pick.

School: Ohio State University

Grade: B

The Saints acquired another pick in the second round by trading their third and fourth round picks to the New England Patriots. Bell, a former teammate of Thomas, was near the top of the Saints’ board after they lost Rafael Bush, who inked a deal with the Detroit Lions this offseason. Bell will likely be asked to cover slot receivers as he joins a safety rotation that includes Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd.

After being drafted, Bell said he’s looking forward to playing with his former Buckeye teammate.

“It’s big, I know (Thomas) is a workhorse too,” Bell said. “He will work like I do and we have the same mentality. We’ll make an immediate impact to the program and get out there and have great production and really just learn and do what you love at a high level and just have camaraderie with your brothers.”

The “Big” Risk

Defensive Lineman, David Onyemata, 120th overall pick

School: University of Manitoba

Grade: C+

New Orleans’ true risk-taking colors showed on Saturday when they made yet another trade to move up and draft Onyemata in the fourth round. Onyemata is a six-foot-four, 300-pound defensive lineman who grew up in Nigeria before going to school at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Many teams were after Onyemata after his strong showing at his pro day, but he didn’t strike many as the type of player you trade picks for. Not to mention, Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings, who was at one time evaluated as a first-round talent, was still on the board when the Saints made their selection.

Make no mistake about it though, Onyemata isn’t one of these projects or high-ceiling guys you often hear about. Payton said he expects Onyemata to see the field in his first season with the team.

“We’re excited to have him and I would say that we see some versatility in this player,” Loomis said. “We’re expecting some early contribution. This isn’t a guy that is just going to sit and not be productive for us. I think we expect some early contributions from him.”

The Special Teams Specialist

Defensive Lineman, Daniel Lasco, 237th overall pick

School: California

Grade: B-

The Saints used their last pick to strengthen the special teams unit by picking up Lasco in the seventh round. In his junior season at California, Lasco rushed for 1,115 yards, and 12 touchdowns but was plagued by injuries the majority of his senior season. As a true freshman, Lasco led Cal with 12 tackles on special teams.

Special teams will likely be where most of Lasco’s playing time comes from and he’s more than ready to take on that role.

“I know I am a special team’s guy,” Lasco said. “I know I am great on special teams, and I know I can impact the game and give the team an edge in all phases of special teams. I am going to start by making my living on special teams and help the organization out the best I can doing that and with that I will sit behind some of the great running backs that are there, be able to pick their brains and learn what it takes to be a great NFL running back.”


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