The New Orleans Saints made four overall selections in the 2020 NFL Draft and made three draft day trades. With the Saints success in the Draft over the last 15 years, this could be yet another memorable class.
The Saints 2020 NFL Draft started with a shocker as they selected Cesar Ruiz an offensive lineman from Michigan with the 24th overall pick of the draft. Sean Payton and Co. continued their aggressive approach on day two making two trades within the third round with the Browns and Vikings to grab LB Zack Baun, Wisconsin & TE Adam Trautman, Dayton. Mickey Loomis shared following day two that the three selections in the first three rounds of the draft were all in the Saints top 40 on the draft board.
New Orleans remained fairly quiet on day three (Rounds 4-7) as they had traded the rest of their 2020 draft picks to move up and select Trautman at the end of the Third Round. The Saints made one move on day three trading with the Texans for their 7th Round pick where they selected QB Tommy Stevens, Mississippi State.
24th Overall: Cesar Ruiz, OL, Michigan
The Ruiz pick presents an interesting future for the Saints as they gain another versatile athlete who can play multiple line positions (see Peat, McCoy & Ramczyk). Perhaps the plan is to “win now”, keep Brees upright, and give Kamara room to run. With the pick the Saints can also continue to build an offensive line that gives confidence to the “bridge” or “heir apparent” quarterback in the coming years.
New Orleans is approaching a difficult offseason in 2021 as the 2017 draft class (Lattimore, Ramczyk, &Kamara) are all due new contracts. Ruiz’s versatility on the interior of the offensive line allows New Orleans to part with Larry Warford’s $13M cap hit (2nd highest on the team) and replace him with a rookie’s contract. The move then creates cap space to negotiate new contracts with the stellar 2017 Draft class.
You see this pick was not as far out of left field as many fans have shared. Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis selected a player that, in their eyes, will impact how the Saints offense will run for many years. When you take the shock factor out of the equation, this pick was a good one.
74th Overall: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. Wisconsin’s Zack Baun held a late First-Round grade ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft and fell into the Third-Round where the Saints did not hesitate to pull the trigger and trade up. Baun’s versatility as a pass rusher and cover LB will give the Saints defense a new wrinkle in their linebacking core.
After the Day One (First Round) of the 2020 NFL Draft, Sean Payton told the media that the Saints needed to address the linebacker position “in one way or another”. Payton continued to say that the Saints were looking at the potential of trading up in the draft to do so. While the trade was not into the early portion of the Second Round as initially rumored the Saints traded up to grab great value in the third.
Baun’s explosiveness, hands, and ability to read play development are the first things that pop of the screen when you watch his film. At Wisconsin they used him primarily as a pass rusher collecting over 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season. However, his versatility and sideline to sideline speed makes him a perfect candidate to play MIKE LB in New Orleans.
105th Overall: Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton
The Saints have lacked a true big play TE target since the departure of Jimmy Graham in 2015. While former TE Ben Watson and current TE Jared Cook put together good seasons for the Saints as receiving threats since Graham, there has been a lack of star power from that position...enter Adam Trautman. Odds makers had Trautman being selected at 68.5 ahead of the draft so to see him fall 37 picks past his expected draft position had the Saints chopping at the bit to get back into round three.
The Saints traded the rest of their Draft picks (130, 169, 203, and 244) to trade up in the draft at select the small school TE. Trautman becomes the first Dayton Flyer to be drafted since 1977 when OT Bill Westbeld was selected in the eleventh round by Seattle. Though TE was not a major position of need for New Orleans, Sean Payton seems to have a clear-cut plan for his newest TE.
“Well, we see him as a true Y (blocking tight-end). I think for a small college player, we feel like he’s got real good inline strength. He’s also someone that that I think has got very good hips, so he’s changing direction. You know, you can see that in how he sets up his routes. So for someone who played at a smaller level you see a dominant player. And, see him as someone that can help us as an inline tight-end. And obviously, you build. In his first year build on some of the things that that we feel like he can do outside. One challenge we talked about this yesterday with maybe the lack of offseason program that teams will have.”
- Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Trautman has the opportunity to grow into a big time TE but it will not happen right away as he becomes the third TE on the depth chart behind Jared Cook and Josh Hill. This pick is a great insurance option if the Saints do not keep Cook at the end of this season and ensures Trautman is the Saints TE of the future. At 6’5 he has the height at length to become a big time pass catcher and has time to sit and learn. If you’re Trautman, you can not ask for anything better.
240th Overall: Tommy Stevens, QB, Mississippi State
After making two trades on Day Two (Rounds 2-3) the Saints had one more up their sleeve trading into the seventh round to draft Stevens. During his three years at Penn St. Stevens found himself in “The Lion” role, one very similar to what Taysom Hill plays for the Saints. Starting in 2017, Stevens lined up at multiple offensive positions RB, WR, & QB after losing the position battle at QB to Trace McSorley. After two years in “The Lion” role Stevens transferred, following his offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State.
2019 was not a kind year to Stevens. He separated his shoulder, suffered a high ankle sprain, broke a rib and punctured a lung. Despite the injuries, the Saints have asked about Stevens since the Shrine Bowl and met with him via a video call over the weeks leading up to the draft.
He finished his collegiate career with 1,459 yards, 15 touchdowns, and six interceptions. The former high school safety also rushed for 887 yards, added 62 receiving yards, and scored a combined 14 touchdowns. His athleticism, arm strength and size make Stevens an intriguing option for the Saints but his lack of durability raises question marks.
This was not the "sexiest" draft class Sean Payton has had during his tenure in New Orleans but it has the chance to be one of his bests. The Saints addressed immediate needs on the first two days grabbing the best interior lineman in the draft, finding an athletic LB to play along side Demario Davis and a TE who can grow under Payton's offense.
New Orleans is in a "win now" mode with Drew Brees' final days in the NFL on the horizon. Sean Payton and staff pulled off a draft with the perfect balance of building for the future while also bringing in high-quality immediate impact guys for the upcoming Super Bowl or Bust season.