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The New Orleans Saints locked up the 18th overall draft pick in 2022 on Sunday night with their win over the Atlanta Falcons, and it’s a slot they’ve only ever been in once before. Back in 2004, the Saints were on the clock at No. 18 and went to one of their most frequent wells: the Ohio State Buckeyes.
They selected rookie defensive end Will Smith with the pick, and he went on to have a terrific career. Despite only being named to one Pro Bowl, Smith started 120 of the 139 games he played in New Orleans, ultimately ranking fifth in the team record books with 67.5 sacks. He also helped lead the Saints to a championship in Super Bowl XLIV. Known for his bullying size on the field and steady demeanor, Smith was a pillar of Sean Payton’s locker room in the early years of his coaching tenure.
The work ethic and standard Smith established has endured a decade later, with his former protégé Cameron Jordan surpassing him to rank second-best in the Saints’ all-time sacks leaders (his 107 total now trails only Pro Football Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson’s 115 official sacks). Jordan has often credited Smith for mentoring him early in his NFL career, and the results speak for themselves.
It’s just a shame that Smith still isn’t with us. He was killed in a 2016 shooting and was posthumously enshrined in the Saints Ring of Honor in 2019, survived by his wife and children. He had planned to return to the team as a coaching intern that summer, as his former teammates like Jermon Bushrod, Zach Strief, Dan Campbell, and Aaron Glenn have done. Who knows what he could have done, and whose lives he could have touched, had he lived to pursue a coaching career?
Hopefully the Saints can find a prospect who can follow in Smith’s footsteps. They’ve done a better job drafting in the middling rounds than early on, but they’re at a critical juncture in team history and could really use a hit. Adding a nine-year starter like Smith to a team that just found a winning record despite all the challenges on their plate would be fantastic.