If defensive end Marcus Davenport and wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith both realize their potential, the 2018 draft class will be deemed a success for the New Orleans Saints. But when it comes to depth, this year's haul was a big letdown -- especially coming on the heels of the Saints' historic 2017 class.
The Saints cut fourth-round offensive tackle Rick Leonard, fifth-round defensive back Natrell Jamerson, sixth-round defensive back Kamrin Moore and sixth-round running back Boston Scott before the season started. Seventh-round guard/center Will Clapp was inactive for most of the season. And even though Davenport has shown enticing potential with 4.5 sacks as a rookie, the Saints used two first-round picks to get him -- trading away their first-rounder in 2019 to move up from No. 27 to No. 14.
It is worth noting, though, that the Saints didn't have a second-round pick because they used it to draft running back Alvin Kamara in 2017. If you factor that in, the Saints' draft grade rises significantly.
Best rookie: Davenport, who will ultimately be the one who determines the success of this class since New Orleans invested so much in him. The thinking was that dynamic edge rushers have become the second-most difficult commodity to acquire in the NFL behind quarterbacks. And so far, Davenport has shown flashes of becoming a good one. He has 4.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 6 tackles for loss and a forced fumble in 13 games -- while playing about 30 snaps per game as a situational pass-rusher. The lanky and athletic 6-foot-6, 265-pounder still has plenty of room to grow and develop after making the leap from Texas-San Antonio. And he said his confidence already has come a long way.
Most improved rookie: WR Keith Kirkwood. I had to choose an undrafted rookie for this category since there are so few candidates to choose from in this year's class. The 6-3, 210-pounder from Temple has become a key role player since being activated from the practice squad in Week 10 with a total of 13 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns and solid blocking ability.
Jury is still out on ...: Smith. The third-round pick from Central Florida has shown glimpses of dazzling potential with two 100-yard games and five TD catches. But he has actually gone the other direction in recent weeks while Kirkwood's role has increased. And he has six zero-catch games on the season. The 6-1, 210-pounder admittedly needs to get better at the big-picture stuff like understanding route concepts and defensive schemes as he continues to develop.
Undrafted rookie evaluation: In addition to Kirkwood, the Saints also have gotten some production out of South Carolina nose tackle Taylor Stallworth, who has appeared in 14 games with eight tackles and one sack. Also, Mississippi State safety J.T. Gray made their initial 53-man roster as a core special-teams player, appearing in five games before moving to the practice squad.