- Mel Kiper Jr., Football analyst
I tend to evaluate NFL teams through the prism of the draft and development first, and from that standpoint, the New Orleans Saints might seem like a pretty depressing case. Their winless start to 2012 could be blamed on a few different things, which I'll get into, but the state of the roster itself has a lot to do with the draft. Before the season, this ranking had the Saints No. 32 in the NFL in terms of under-25 talent and productivity. A look at recent draft classes makes it easy to see why.
The Saints haven't landed a Pro Bowl player with a first- or second-round pick since 2006. While Pro Bowls are no guarantee, the Saints also lack major impact from recent first-round picks in general. Sedrick Ellis (2008) and Malcolm Jenkins (2009) have become starters but certainly not stars; it's the same for Patrick Robinson (2010). Cameron Jordan (2010) was supposed to help the pass rush but has just 2 sacks in his first 20 games. Mark Ingram (2010) has been pretty good when healthy but also came at the cost of a 2012 first-round pick, meaning he'd need to be exceptional to justify the cost. Given that the team's most productive running back during the past few years, Pierre Thomas, wasn't even drafted, the value attached to Ingram's arrival was curious, to say the least.
Because of their lack of picks in Rounds 1 and 2, the Saints got the least amount of talent out the 2012 draft among all NFL teams. The highlight of the draft in recent years for New Orleans has to be Jimmy Graham, a third-round steal in 2010. After that, you'd point to Carl Nicks, a 2008 fifth-rounder.
But it's fair to say that returns have been light compared to the rest of the league. The question now is, given the lack of young talent as well as the bad start in 2012, have the Saints now eliminated their window to compete for titles?
I'd actually say no. Although this season might be a lost cause if the Super Bowl is a goal, the team can compete again in 2013.
Mel Kiper writes that despite the New Orleans Saints' struggles so far this season, it isn't time to enter rebuilding mode. The Saints can still contend for Super Bowls in 2013 and beyond.