New Orleans Saints Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Khairi Fortt, LB, California – Round 4
The Saints were in the market for some young linebacker talent. Veteran David Hawthorne hasn’t played all that well for New Orleans over the past couple of seasons, while Curtis Lofton has some limitations to his game. The Saints drafted Kevin Reddick as a potential replacement, but they needed more potential starters. Fortt could end up turning into Reddick’s partner in the middle of New Orleans’ defense.

Fortt is an excellent fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. The 6-foot-2, 248-pounder has a good skill with size. He is a physical player and has quality speed for a large linebacker. In 2011, Fortt played some for Penn State before sitting out the 2012 season after transferring to California, so he really only played one full season of college football. Fortt had 64 tackles in 2013. Thus, he is a little raw entering the NFL.

Fortt would have been better off returning for his senior season and gaining more experience, but if the Saints are patient with Fortt, he could develop into a solid starter in the middle of Rob Ryan’s defense.

Most Likely To Bust

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska – Round 2
This Saints regime hasn’t had a great track record of drafting cornerbacks. The organizatio has done well with free agent signings at the position, but draft picks like Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins ended up being disappointments. Robinson looks like a bust. Considering that Jean-Baptiste is a raw cornerback, the Saints’ track record doesn’t invoke a lot of confidence for developing Jean-Baptiste into a good starter.

Jean-Baptiste had four interceptions with 12 passes batted and 41 tackles in 2013. It was his only season as a full-time starter. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound corner fits the mold of the big corners who are becoming the rage in the NFL. At the Senior Bowl, Jean-Baptiste showed the movement skills to remain at corner, but he needs to learn to play off-man coverage in the NFL.

New Orleans has been a consistent winner since Drew Brees was signed in 2006 and is aiming for another Super Bowl title. Thus, the Saints aren’t pressuring Jean-Baptiste to start immediately as they have veterans Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey to lead their defense. Perhaps developmental time will turn Jean-Baptiste into a good pro, but he enters the next level with some bust potential.

Potential Boom Pick

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State – Round 1
It isn’t a stretch by any means to think that a talented wide receiver could be a boom pick when he’s going to an offense that is run by Sean Payton and quarterbacked by Drew Brees. Cooks landed in a perfect landing spot as New Orleans was looking for some speedy play-makers to help make up for the loss of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. Taking Cooks in the first round was a great fit.

Cooks was one of the nation’s leaders in receptions and receiving yards in 2013. He was superb for quarterback Sean Mannion. Cooks recorded 128 receptions for 1,730 yards with 16 touchdowns for the season. It wasn’t his first good year either, as he finished 2012 with 67 catches for 1,151 yards and five touchdowns.

The 5-foot-9, 189-pound Cooks has big-play potential and can hurt defenses downfield. He is a great route-runner with good hands and is a tough receiver. Even though Cooks is undersized, he has enough strength and toughness to line up outside and isn’t relegated to being a slot receiver. It wouldn’t be surprising if Cooks is an immediate contributor for New Orleans and ends up becoming a big-time producer.

Future Depth Player

Ron Powell, OLB, Florida – Round 5
Even though the Saints switched to a 3-4 defense before the 2013 season, they haven’t done much to add pass-rushing outside linebackers. Powell played that role for Florida over the past two seasons. In 2013, Powell had four sacks. He missed the previous season with a knee injury, which was a huge loss as he really started to come on strong in the second half of 2011 as a sophomore when he totaled six sacks.

Powell (6-3, 237) may not have the size to be an every-down starter in the NFL. He also needs some development in his pass-rushing moves, but he has some natural talent and was the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school. Once Powell is all the way back from his injury, he could be a rotational pass-rusher and special teams contributor for New Orleans.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

20. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: A- Grade
The Saints are giving up a third-round pick to move up from No. 27 to 20. I’d say it’s worth it, considering they landed the top receiver available. Wideout was a big need for New Orleans; Marques Colston is always banged up, while Lance Moore is gone. Brandin Cooks will take Moore’s spot and will be a huge upgrade. It’s almost scary to imagine the Saints’ offense now with Cooks joining Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Sean Payton will have lots of fun with Cooks.

58. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska: C+ Grade
Stanley Jean-Baptiste has a ton of potential, given his massive 6-foot-3 frame. Tall corners are all the range now, so it’s easy to understand why a team would take Jean-Baptiste in the second round. The problem is that the Nebraska product is a fourth-round talent. He struggled at times at Nebraska. He may fill a need, however.

126. Khairi Fortt, ILB, California: B Grade
This is a solid pick. I thought Khairi Fortt would be chosen around this range, and he also fills a need for the Saints. David Hawthorne hasn’t played well for them over the past couple of seasons, so it’s possible that Fortt could step in as the starter in 2015.

167. Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama: C Grade
The Saints like to use three safeties on the field, so they were expected to take one even after signing Jairus Byrd. However, Vinnie Sunseri is a reach; I didn’t think he would be drafted.

169. Ronald Powell, DE/OLB, Florida: B- Grade
There’s a bit more value with this New Orleans pick. The Saints really needed to get another pass-rusher because they can’t count on Victor Butler contributing. I guess it’s better late than never, but they should have obtained an outside linebacker earlier. Ronald Powell makes sense here though.

202. Tavon Rooks, OT, Kansas State: C- Grade
Tackle depth makes sense, but I did not have Tavon Reeks listed as a draftable prospect. If this were the fifth round, I’d give the Saints a Millen, but there are no blatant reaches in the middle of Round 6.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: B . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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