As we continue to savor a thrilling and unforgettable 51st season of New Orleans Saints football and we embark on what promises to be a compelling offseason, I ask Who Dat Nation who would you rather have now?
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, who went to the Kansas City Chiefs with the 10th pick of the 2017 NFL draft, or Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who went to the defense-starved New Orleans Saints one pick later?
Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster, who went to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 31, or Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who went to the Saints one pick later at the bottom of the first round?
Game-changing Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara, who the Saints traded up to acquire in the third round, or the proverbial “best player available’’ in their bullpen?
The resounding answer is Lattimore, Ramczyk and Kamara. Each played pivotal roles in the Saints becoming relevant again by winning the NFC South and returning to the postseason for the first time since 2013.
And all by the grace of the NFL gods, each became property of the Black and Gold.
Lattimore quickly developed into a shutdown corner and a first-time Pro Bowl selection at the ripe age of 21 and helped improve the Saints defense ten-fold in the blink of an eye.
No doubt, Mahomes has oodles of potential and it’s easy to see why the Chiefs made a blockbuster trade with Buffalo to move past the Saints into the 10th slot. By all accounts, Saints GM Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton were poised to grab Mahomes at No. 11 as heir apparent to Drew Brees.
The Chiefs surrendered first- and third-round picks in 2017 and a first-round pick in 2018 to jump from No. 27 to No. 10 to get Mahomes, who might supplant Alex Smith as their starting quarterback as early as next season.
That said, Mahomes would have sat on the bench last season, learning at the feet of the master, perhaps, but still sitting, waiting for a turn under center that likely wouldn’t have come. Ask backup Chase Daniels.
Lattimore earned his spurs in Year 1, contributing a team-high five INTs and oftentimes shadowing the opposing team’s best wide receiver.
In terms of Ramcyzk, all he did was start every game, whether it was at left tackle for Terron Armstead or at right tackle for Zach Strief, wherever he was needed. R2 played every snap on an injury-riddled offensive line that was in flux throughout the season.
Ramczyk was not perfect. He made his share of rookie mistakes. But he showed up every game and acquitted himself well and may unwittingly have eased Strief into retirement.
Again, the Saints were strongly considering Foster at No. 32. He filled a definite need at linebacker. But the 49ers moved three spots back into the first round to acquire Foster, making a deal with Seattle (via Atlanta) at No. 31.
At the time, it looked like Saints officials might have been ambushed by the wheeling and dealing Chiefs and 49ers.
Looks sometimes can be deceiving.
That was not the case in the third round when the Saints brain trust moved swiftly and boldly, sending a seventh-round pick in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2018 to the 49ers in order to get Kamara at No. 67.
All Kamara did this past season was take the NFL by storm, joining teammate Mark Ingram as the first running back tandem in league history to each eclipse 1,500 yards from scrimmage.
Well played, Mr. Loomis, Coach Payton and assistant GM Jeff Ireland.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.