Saints go with a center from Michigan as No. 1 pick.
Five LSU players taken — none to Saints
The NFL draft set up perfectly for the New Orleans Saints to break their puzzling streak of never having drafted a home-state LSU player in the first round.
And the opportunity was there.
But the Saints chose instead to go with Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz, the second straight year they’ve taken a center with their first pick.
“One of the areas that we thought was important in this draft was the interior of the offensive line,” head coach Sean Payton said. “Those guys are hard to find later in the draft. We had a very high grade on Cesar.”
Linebacker was also a stated need for the Saints, and it was a mild surprise that LSU’s Patrick Queen, the defensive MVP of the Tigers’ national championship win over Clemson, was still available for the 24th pick.
Queen went four picks later at No. 28 to the Baltimore Ravens.
Erik McCoy started all 17 games as a rookie for the Saints at center last year, but Payton indicated that either McCoy or Ruiz might move to guard.
“Obviously, one of them is going to be a guard because we weren’t drafting someone that high to be a backup,” Payton said of the selection of Ruiz.
The Saints will try to address other needs, such as linebacker and wide receiver, when the draft continues Friday with rounds two and three.
The Saints do not have a second round selection and aren’t scheduled to pick again until the third with the 88th overall pick. But Payton said it’s possible they may try to trade up to get back into the second round.
“We know we’ve got a need position at linebacker. We’ve got to fill that some way, shape or form. Now that may not be through the draft, but it would be nice if we could fill it through the draft.”
The Saints passing on Queen didn’t hurt LSU much as the Tigers landed a school-record five that was most by any program.
In fact, the opening round began and ended with LSU players.
Joe Burrow to the Bengals with the first overall pick was the biggest foregone conclusion since the LSU quarterback won the Heisman Trophy.
But his best friend on the team, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was viewed as more of a second- or third-rounder before the Super Bowl champions took him with 32nd and final pick of the draft.
In between, in addition to Queen, edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson went to Jacksonville with the the 20th pick and Justin Jefferson, another potential Saints target, went with the 22nd pick to the Minnesota Vikings.
The five Tigers made up one-third of the 15 SEC players taken in the first round, which was the most ever by one conference