Saints went 'big' and addressed needs in NFL draft

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Three of the first four players the New Orleans Saints selected in the NFL draft were linemen, including the first player they traded up to take.

While coach Dennis Allen did not necessarily foresee New Orleans focusing on the trenches with the bulk of their highest draft choices, he wasn't surprised it turned out that way, either.

“There's not a lot of big, athletic humans roaming this earth right now, and when you find one that has the skill set to play football, those are valuable guys to get,” Allen said as the draft concluded Saturday.

“Football’s a big man’s game,” Allen continued. “We had a chance to go get some big guys that we think can help us.”

New Orleans' draft class was headlined by Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee in the first round and Notre Dame defensive end Isaiah Foskey in the second. On Saturday, New Orleans traded with Chicago to obtain Old Dominion offensive lineman Nick Saldiveri at the top of the fourth round.

In Bresee and Foskey, the Saints also addressed positions of need after losing prominent players on the interior defensive line and at defensive end in free agency with the departures of tackles David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle, and end Marcus Davenport.

“They filled some of the needs we had on the team,” Allen said. “I feel good about where we’re at in terms of the roster.”

While the Saints already have projected starters at both offensive tackle spots in Ryan Ramczyk and Trevor Penning, the addition of the 6-foot-6, 316-pound Saldiveri gave New Orleans a versatile lineman who also is open to playing guard or center, as he demonstrated at the Senior Bowl.

The Saints gave Chicago their fourth- and fifth-round picks in order to select him.

“I’m an offensive lineman at the end of the day. I’m not in one box,” Saldiveri said. “I play it all and I take pride in that. I take pride in having the ability to do that because it’s not easy.”

When New Orleans made a second trade Saturday for an additional fourth-rounder, it had nothing to do with adding size and strength.

The Saints sent Jacksonville a 2024 fourth-rounder and the first of their two 2023 seventh-round picks for the right to select 6-foot Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener. He was the second skill player New Orleans picked after TCU running back Kendre Miller in Friday night's third round.

While Haener grew up outside of San Francisco, his favorite player was Saints all-time passer Drew Brees.

“That is so unbelievable that I'd literally wear Drew Brees jerseys or Saints beanies — and having the opportunity to go play in New Orleans is really just going to be a dream come true,” said Haener, who also wore No. 9 in college.

Haener will begin his career as a third-stringer behind Derek Carr and Jameis Winston. Haener already has a relationship with Carr, who also played at Fresno State.

Time will tell if Haener can develop into a starter despite lacking prototypical NFL QB height, like the 6-foot Brees did. But Haener was prolific in college, passing for 2,896 yards and 20 TDs against just three interceptions in 10 games last season.

“We had a lot of success here with a guy that probably didn’t have all the physical traits of some of the other quarterbacks around the league, but was highly skilled at decision-making, processing, getting the ball out on time, throwing the ball with accuracy," Allen said. “Those are really traits of a quarterback that allow him to be successful.”

In New Orleans, Haener will have to pick a new number. The Saints aren't likely to make the No. 9 jersey available to any active players for the foreseeable future.

“That's OK," Haener said. "I'll figure it out.”

In the fifth round, the Saints drafted 6-foot, 203-pound safety Jordan Howden. He played five years at Minnesota, starting 49 games and making four career interceptions — two last season.

The Saints traded veteran tight end Adam Trautman to Denver — where he'll rejoin former Saints coach Sean Payton — in order to draft Wake Forest receiver A.T. Perry in the sixth round.

“We like Traut. He’s been a good player for us,” Allen said. "Sean drafted him. So, we kind of felt like there was probably some interest there.”

New Orleans also gave its final seventh-rounder to Denver as part of the deal to get the 6-foot-5 Perry, who scored a program-record 28 touchdowns for the Demon Deacons, and also set a single-season school mark with 15 TDs in 2021.

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