After coming off a disastrous 2014 draft class that left the New Orleans Saints with only one player remaining on their team (luckily a very good one in Brandin Cooks), the Black and Gold kept all nine of their selections in 2015 to address the lack of depth that plagued the team the previous season.
The draft was received with mixed reviews, as some thought the Saints had drafted smart, capable players ready to take their skills to the next level; while others felt the Saints reached for projects and missed on several highly touted prospects that remained on the board.
Luckily for the Saints, the 2015 draft class looks to be a very solid group of young players, but how well will they transition to 2016?
Pick No. 13 – OT Andrus Peat, Stanford
2015 – After a slow start in training camp, Peat earned playing time in 12 games, starting eight at tackle and guard, as injuries mounted. He finished the year at the guard position, where he struggled in pass protection for most of the year.
2016 – With a full off-season under his belt, Peat is primed to start for the Saints in Week 1. Sean Payton has praised the 2nd year player for arriving to OTAs in good shape, and has gone on the record that Peat will start this year. This staff writer predicts Peat as a starter at Right Guard, but don’t be shocked if he takes over at Right Tackle and never looks back.
Pick No. 31 – LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson
2015 – With 112 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception; Anthony is a star just starting to shine. The durable Anthony started all 16 games and earned All-Rookie honors.
2016 – The Saints signed veteran middle linebacker James Laurinaitis to take over the signal-caller duties. This signing will allow Anthony to slide over to outside linebacker and focus more on making plays and less on calling coverage. 120 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 interception are my predictions to go with a trip to the Pro Bowl for this talented defender.
Pick No. 44 – LB Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
2015 – Kikaha got off to a monstrous start before nagging injuries and a scheme change sidelined him for most of the second half of the season. He finished with 52 tackles, 4 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles while starting six games and playing in 15 games. Though his playing time dropped off, Kikaha finished 6th in sacks among rookies and 2nd in the NFL for forced fumbles.
2016 – The Saints announced that Kikaha will be moved to defensive end, a position change that should greatly benefit Kikaha and the Saints. By allowing him to pin his ears back and rush the quarterback, the Saints will unleash what Kikaha does best. He will still be a situational defender and the majority of his snaps will come on passing downs. Still, he should be highly effective so long as the nagging injuries are behind him. 57 tackles, 8 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles would be a great year for the second year veteran.
Pick No. 75 – QB Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
2015 – Grayson competed with Luke McCown for the backup job to Drew Brees. McCown won the job and Grayson found himself 3rd on the depth chart.
2016 – Don’t expect much to change although Grayson will be given every opportunity to win the backup job this training camp. Even if Grayson does not out-right win the job, I predict the Saints to release McCown, who will always be available if needed, and keep Grayson on the roster to avoid other teams from taking a waiver claim on him.
Pick No. 78 – CB P.J. Williams, Florida State
2015 – After a promising training camp, Williams suffered a season-ending hamstring injury and was placed on Injured Reserve. He did not play a down in 2015.
2016 – Williams is an unknown. He will have plenty of chances to compete for playing time behind starters Keenan Lewis and Delvin Breaux. If he can make it through training camp healthy, I expect Williams to land on the depth chart at the 4th corner spot and contribute on special teams.
Pick No. 148 – LB Davis Tull, Tennessee-Chattanooga
2015 – Davis Tull was drafted with the expectation that he would be placed on IR before the season started due to a lingering shoulder injury. His 37 sacks during his career at Tennessee-Chattanooga is cause for optimism.
2016 – A relentless pass rusher in college, Tull will look to make the most of his opportunity now that he is healthy and hungry to prove himself. If he can make it through training camp unscathed he will be in the rotation of pass rushers while also contributing on special teams.
Pick No. 154 – DT Tyeler Davison, Fresno State
2015 – Davison was a pleasant surprise for a fifth-round choice and earned a spot on the field during his rookie season. He finished the year with 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks while playing in all 16 games and starting five games.
2016 – Davison will look to compete for more playing time in 2016 but now has to contend with veteran Nick Fairley and 2016 1st Round Selection Sheldon Rankins. While Davison should get his share of snaps in the DT rotation, I don’t see his numbers moving up much from last year. Still, his presence on the line will be vital to the Saints turning around a porous defense.
Pick No. 167 – CB Damian Swann, Georgia
2015 – Swann showed natural instincts and ability to play the corner position in the NFL. Playing in seven games, and starting two, the rookie was on his way to a very solid year before a slew of concussions ended his season.
2016 – After suffering his third concussion it is unclear whether the Saints can count on Swann to be a contributor for this team. If Swann suffers another concussion in training camp then the Saints may be put in a tough spot on his future with the club. Until he can prove his durability, the Saints cannot depend on Swann being a major player in the backfield.
Pick No. 230 – RB Marcus Murphy, Missouri
2015 – The Saints always seem to get good production from their 7th round picks, and Murphy was no exception. He flashed big play potential as the kickoff and punt returner before an ankle injury in 2015 ended his season. While he returned a punt for a 74 yard touchdown, he also struggled to hold on to the ball, fumbling three times.
2016 – This training camp will be a make-or-break for Murphy and his spot on the roster. The saints drafted RB Daniel Lasco in the 7th round, and if he can shake off the injury woes from his last year at Cal, he will win the returner spot and Murphy will find himself looking for employment elsewhere. However, if Murphy can show his fumbling habits are under control and Lasco is plagued by the injury bug, Murphy should return as the Saints primary returner.