The Ravens, Jets, Chiefs, and Giants were a few of the clear winners during Day 1 of the NFL Draft. Whether it was trading up to get high-end cornerbacks or pass rushers, or just making solid decisions with the picks they already had, those teams won the night based on who they added to their rosters and how little they had to give up to acquire them. You can’t have a bunch of winners without a few losers though, and boy did the Saints lose last night.
The Saints weren’t the only team to walk away from last night with their tail tucked between their legs. The Cowboys and Patriots both reached for offensive linemen. The Commanders reached for receiver Jahan Dotson, and the Packers once again refused to select any wide receivers. Yet none of these teams reached the level of ineptitude that the Saints did.
I know it’s become somewhat of a meme at this point, but the Saints literally pulled a Kevin Costner in “Draft Day” last night. Why on Earth would the team trade up to select a player they could’ve gotten at 16? Sure, the Commanders wound up choosing a receiver so it’s likely that Washington would have selected one at 11, but they probably would’ve picked Jameson Williams. How do I know this? Well, considering the Commanders were willing to trade down, they probably didn’t like the receiver options they had at 11. They would’ve gotten flamed if they selected Dotson before both Williams and Chris Olave, so they traded down and let other teams pick those guys first and acquire some draft capital in the process. They clearly weren’t sold on either Olave or Williams, otherwise they would’ve picked one of them. If they didn’t get any trade offers they liked and were forced to make a pick at 11 and opted to avoid Dotson, it’s likely they would’ve taken the guy most analysts and experts considered to be the better choice. It’s not a guarantee that that would’ve happened, but I feel pretty confident in that assumption. The argument is of course, perhaps the Saints knew the Commanders were going to pick Olave, and that’s why they traded up, but like I said, if they really liked and wanted Olave, they wouldn’t have traded the pick at all.
That leaves the Vikings at 12, who wound up trading their pick to the Lions. The Lions aren’t going to trade up if the guy they wanted wasn’t available. Do you really think they’d trade up 12 picks, giving up another first and an early second in the process, to grab their second option? No chance. Therefore, it stands to reason that if the Saints never traded up to 11 to select Olave, the Commanders likely would’ve gone with Williams, thus the Vikings don’t trade their pick to Detroit and instead trade it to someone else or make their own selection. Olave likely doesn’t come off the board at all if the Saints just stayed put. They could’ve got their guy, kept their third and fourth-round picks, and avoided the hassle of having to generate a trade. Instead, they traded up so that they could pop champagne and celebrate a job poorly done a few minutes earlier. Bravo!
That’s not where the Saints’ stupidity ends though. The Saints weren’t done putting palm to face. With the 19th pick, the Saints took Trevor Penning, a left tackle out of Northern Iowa. Trevor Penning ‘CAN’ become a good tackle in the future, but he’s not ready to start right now. The man needs some serious work on his technique. He was so used to bullying smaller pass rushers in college and then got exposed at the Senior Bowl. He’s big and anyone with his size has the potential to dominate at the NFL level, but he’s got a lot of work before he’s ready for that. The Saints don’t boast an elite roster, but they will be competing for a playoff spot next year, so the decision to draft a left tackle to replace Terron Armstead who isn’t ready for the NFL seems questionable. I know Penning was the most highly touted tackle left on the board at 19, but you have to think trading down would’ve been a better option. Even if they don’t land Penning there were several other more pro-ready tackle options in Abraham Lucas (although he also needs some refinement as a pass blocker) and Zach Tom.
Perhaps the Saints are planning on developing Penning into a suitable left tackle in a few years. If that’s the case, sure. However, unless it’s a quarterback, I’ve always worked under the assumption that you shouldn’t draft a project in the first round. That’s what later rounds are for. The first round is for immediate impact players you can stick into your lineup and forget about. Penning isn’t that.
At the end of the day, the Saints traded up for a player they could’ve had at their original pick. They lost a third and fourth-rounder to get him. I like Olave, but they absolutely didn’t need to make that move. I could’ve lived with that decision, but to follow that up by drafting a tackle who many consider unready for the NFL? I don’t like it. As is the case with anybody drafted yesterday, there’s a chance that both Olave and Penning turn into superstars and prove all the haters wrong. If that day comes, I’ll gladly apologize and waddle away with egg on my face, but even still, in both scenarios, the Saints could’ve handled their picks much better. No matter how Olave and Penning turn out, that is a fact, and that’s what makes them the biggest losers of Day 1.