Saints draft Ohio State receiver Thomas with 2nd-round pick
METAIRIE, La. (AP) The New Orleans Saints' draft class now includes a pair of Ohio State teammates who won a national championship together.
Time will tell if receiver Michael Thomas and safety Vonn Bell can help their new team return to the NFL playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
New Orleans used its initial second-round choice to draft the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Thomas 47th overall on Friday night. The Saints then traded their third- and fourth-round picks to New England so they could bring in Bell with the 61st overall pick.
''It's big,'' Bell said of being drafted to the same team as Thomas. ''We'll have the same mentality. We'll want to get in there and make an immediate impact.''
Thomas caught 56 passes for 781 yards and nine touchdowns last season for the Buckeyes. His selection comes a few months after the Saints released the franchise's all-time leading receiver, Marques Colston.
Thomas adds depth to a receiver core led by Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman, and gives quarterback Drew Brees a tall target with a 33-inch vertical leap and who is well regarded as a red zone target for his ability to rise above defenders for contested throws.
''There's definitely a lot of opportunity there,'' Thomas said of playing for New Orleans. ''Marques Colston, when he was there, had a great career and I felt like they needed to fill that role and I felt like I could be that guy to come in and fill that role right away.''
Colston ''is a big, physical receiver, just like I would consider myself,'' Thomas added. ''As a kid, I remember watching `Monday Night Football' and they were making a ton of plays with Drew Brees. I mean, it's still shocking to me right now to be in this situation.''
Thomas was among Ohio State's top receivers the past two seasons, and like Bell, won a 2014 national title with the Buckeyes.
The 5-11, 199-pound Bell had eight interceptions and more than 150 tackles during the past two seasons combined. He was the second defensive player drafted by the Saints, who took Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in Thursday night's first round.
Bell fancies himself as a student of the game, who'll grasp schemes and help ensure his teammates are lined up right.
''You're going to get another general on the field,'' Bell said.
Bell also bristled at the suggestion, made by some draft analysts, that his tackling needs work.
''I'm a phenomenal tackler. I'm very confident in my tackling skills,'' Bell said, adding that the criticism ''really bothers me.''
Saints coach Sean Payton liked the fact that Bell followed through on sending videos the Saints coach had requested during pre-draft evaluations.
Payton had mentioned to Bell that the Saints always want to see players perform certain individual drills, such as shuttle runs. A couple of days later, Payton said, his phone lit up with the videos he'd requested.
''It was important to me, not as much what the times were, but the idea of just completing something that everyone else completes,'' Payton said. ''When we drafted him, I said, `Had you not sent me back those videos, you'd still be sitting home eating nachos.''
Barring another trade, the deal with the Patriots left the Saints with just two more draft picks in the last five rounds - one each in the fifth and seventh.
The Saints picked Thomas even though they weren't necessarily desperate for help in the passing game. Brees led the NFL in passing last season with 4,870 yards and also racked up 32 touchdown tosses.
A 31st-ranked defense appeared to be the bigger problem for the 7-9 Saints in 2015. Still the decision to release Colston left depth relatively thin at receiver.
Payton, meanwhile, has never been shy about his affinity for tall receivers in the offense he designed and which has been among the NFL's most prolific for the past decade.
''I love his size,'' Payton said. ''I love his competitive nature.''
Payton was the offensive coordinator in Dallas a little more than a decade ago, when Thomas' uncle, Keyshawn Johnson, played for the Cowboys.
Thomas called Johnson a ''great influence,'' particularly as it pertains to his work ethic, and that he talks with his uncle often about his game.
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A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to evaluation videos Payton discussed as being sent from Thomas. Payton was speaking of videos sent by Bell.