What do the Saints look for in a rookie quarterback?

Malik Willis #7 of the Liberty Flames. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
Malik Willis #7 of the Liberty Flames. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

In 2017, the New Orleans Saints were primed to take Patrick Mahomes with the 11th overall pick but got beat to the punch by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Now, in the Mahomes era that never was, what will the Saints do in the 2022 NFL Draft with two first-rounders instead of one?

After NOLA made that blockbuster draft picks trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, many would expect the team to use one of their first-rounders on a quarterback. Contrary to 2021, the 2022 quarterback class does not run deep, and if the Saints wanted to pull the trigger on a QB, it’d have to be in the first round.

Good thing for the Saints is current head coach Dennis Allen has a better history at drafting quarterbacks than Sean Payton did. Back when he coached the Raiders, Allen sank one of two shots with second-rounder Derek Carr in 2014 (his other pick, Tyler Wilson in 2013, was a very poorly attempted airball).

On the other hand, Payton has gone 0-for-4 with his quarterback picks during his Saints tenure: 2021 fourth-rounder Ian Book, 2020 seventh-rounder Tommy Stevens, 2015 third-rounder Garrett Grayson, and 2010 seventh-rounder Sean Canfield.

Simply put, the bar for rookie QBs in New Orleans is pretty, pretty low.

To pick a quarterback or not to pick a quarterback? That is the Saints’ question

Last year, in an interview with The Athletic, Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland talked about some of the quarterback traits he liked the most in rookies. According to Ireland, these are the “boxes” that prospective quarterbacks should check:

  • Was he a three-year starter?
  • Did he record at least a 60 percent career passing percentage?
  • Did he have a 2-to-1 touchdown ratio?
  • Was he a two-time captain?
  • Can he make plays when things break down?

In the 2022 quarterback class, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, UNC’s Sam Howell, and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral can all answer “yes” to those questions.

Interestingly enough, Liberty’s Malik Willis is the only top quarterback prospect who fails (he was a two-year starter and wasn’t team captain), but Willis arguably has the highest ceiling in his class.

Keep in mind Ireland was talking about then-rookie Ian Book when he listed his criteria, and, well, look how that turned out.

Ireland also stated:

"“Arm strength? Look, that’s probably not one of the top three things I’m looking for at quarterback, because I think quarterback arm strength is overrated.”"

Tangibles and intangibles only mean so much, and for all we know this next generation of quarterbacks could be the future Josh Rosens of the league.

Spoiled by the legendary dominance of Drew Brees, the Saints don’t have a particularly good track record when it comes to drafting franchise quarterbacks and may be better off fortifying other positions of need.

Personally, we’d take an offensive tackle and wide receiver with the first two picks, but we’re just writers, after all.

Next. 3 free agents that the Saints will regret not signing in 2022. dark

We trust Mickey Loomis and the big guns to make the right call come Thursday night.