Brian Allee-Walsh

NFL draft is there for the Saints’ taking

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (12) celebrates after his 1-yard touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 13, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. Colston was a successful late pick for the Saints.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (12) celebrates after his 1-yard touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 13, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. Colston was a successful late pick for the Saints. Associated Press

The New Orleans Saints are poised to have their best NFL draft in franchise history, 51 bittersweet years and counting.

General Manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton have positioned themselves beautifully to make a big splash in the deep end of the annual college talent pool with five picks in the first three rounds, in the first 103 slots, at Nos. 11, 32, 42, 76 and 103.

All are seen as high value picks, whether used individually or boldly bundled in order to make the biggest impact.

The possibilities to address their roster needs at edge rusher, cornerback, running back and OL are there for the choosing, provided the aforementioned decision makers and entire football operations collectively do their pre-draft homework, make wise and prudent decisions and get a little luck over the three-day period of April 27-29.

Throw in single picks in the sixth and seventh rounds — Nos. 196 and 229 overall — and the 2017 Saints draft could be a banner year, on par or better than 2006, 1986 and 1981.

Here’s a look back at those three drafts:

▪  2006: RB Reggie Bush (No. 1), S Roman Harper (No. 2), OL Jahri Evans (No. 4), OL Zach Strief (No. 7a), WR Marques Colston (No. 7b). All five played key roles in the most successful run in franchise history under Loomis and Payton from ’06 to present. That draft also featured DE Rob Ninkovich (No. 5) who has gone on to play an integral role in two Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots after twice being cut by Payton (2007-’09).

▪  1986: G Jim Dombrowski (No. 1), RB Dalton Hilliard (No. 2), RB Rueben Mayes (No. 3a), LB Pat Swilling (No. 3b). All contributed mightily in the team’s success under GM Jim Finks and Coach Jim Mora in the 1980s and early ’90s.

▪  1981: RB George Rogers (No. 1), DB Russell Gary (No. 2), LB Rickey Jackson (No. 2b), DE Frank Warren (No. 3a), TE Hoby Brenner (No. 3b), FB Hokie Gajan (No. 10) and DE Jim Wilks (No. 12). Jackson, Warren, Brenner, Gajan and Wilks all became endearing figures in Saints history after helping the franchise break through with its first winning season and trip to the postseason in 1987.

The trade that sent fourth-year wide receiver Brandin Cooks to New England for first- and third-round picks has generally received high marks from pundits and analysts around the league but the true measure of this transaction can’t be determined until the Saints put faces and names with picks.

That moment is fast approaching.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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