Saints add safety, trade up for running back in NFL draft
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints added a ball-hawking safety and traded up to take a running back during the second day of the NFL draft.
The Saints also acquired a pass-rusher for a defense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks last season — albeit at the end of the third round, and with their sixth pick overall.
New Orleans used their second-round pick on Utah safety Marcus Williams, who has intercepted 10 passes over his last two seasons. The Saints then traded a 2018 second-round pick and this year’s seventh rounder to San Francisco so they could draft Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara early in the third round.
The trade increased the number of Saints third-round picks to three. With their final two picks of the round on Friday night, they added versatile Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone and Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson.
“We’ve helped all three levels of our defense,” general manager Mickey Loomis said. “And we were able to get a player that we coveted on offense.”
The 6-foot-1, 202-pound Williams, picked 42nd overall, intercepted five passes in 11 games last season and also had five interceptions in 2015, when he was selected first-team All-Pac-12.
Williams was the second defensive back taken in the Saints’ first three picks as New Orleans sought to strengthen a defense that ranked last in the NFL in yards passing allowed. A night earlier, the Saints used their top pick, the 11th overall, to take Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Williams described himself as a confident player and sounded like one.
“I’m able to get sideline to sideline. I’m that guy that wants to take the ball away regardless of where I’m at and I can make tackles,” Williams said.
Williams impressed scouts with his 43½-inch vertical leap, tied from the second highest of any prospect at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, and only a half-inch lower than the highest leap.
He played basketball in high school in the Los Angeles area.
“I dunked on a couple people,” he said.
He credited his ball skills to his basketball background and to playing receiver in high school.
The 5-10, 214-pound Kamara was a prized Alabama recruit who wound up leaving the Crimson Tide after an apparent falling out with coaches. He spent the bulk of his college career as a backup rusher at Tennessee. Still, he performed well when given the chance, gaining 596 yards and nine touchdowns on 103 carries in 2016.
While Kamara’s combination of size, speed and relative good health made him among the top running back prospects in this year’s draft, the Saints didn’t necessarily need a running back, with Mark Ingram and recently acquired veteran Adrian Peterson on the roster.
But Loomis coach Sean Payton envisioned Kamara — who also is adept at catching the ball and returning punts — filling the type of role Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles had when they played in New Orleans.
Kamara said when he worked out for the Saints, Payton asked him to run a variety of pass routes.
“I am guessing he saw what he needed to see to be comfortable with picking me,” said Kamara, who also has a background as a punt returner.
The 6-3, 241-pound Anzalone was regarded by draft analysts as a player with the size, speed and versatility to play at any linebacker spot. But he comes to the Saints with some history of injury problems. He missed 2015 with a shoulder injury and had last season cut short by a broken left arm. He started eight games in 2016 and made 53 tackles, with four tackles for losses and three sacks.
“He’s a play-maker. The only issue is durability,” Loomis said. “But we feel comfortable with the (medical) reports we got.”
Hendrickson has recorded 23 sacks over the past two seasons combined. The 6-4, 266-pound defender also blocked four kicks last season.
New Orleans entered the draft with an apparent need for a pass rusher. The Saints’ defense had 30 sacks last season — more than only five teams — and ranked 27th in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt.
The Saints have drafted two offensive players, including Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk with their second of two first-round picks.
New Orleans headed into the draft’s final four rounds on Saturday slated to pick just once more, in the sixth round.