Mel Kiper gave the Saints’ 2024 draft class a passing grade

There aren’t many people covering the NFL draft who have been doing it as long as Mel Kiper Jr. ESPN’s keystone draft analyst gave the New Orleans Saints some credit for a stronger 2024 draft class than what he saw a year ago, having addressed their most important need with one of hte best players available in Round 1 (right tackle Taliese Fuaga) before making a small trade for a great value pick in Round 2 (cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry).

And he sees plenty to like in their late-round picks, too. Kiper says he just wishes the Saints hadn’t made so many trades in the past to hollow out their draft in the third and fourth rounds. But he still graded New Orleans with a B this year, which is very solid. Just nine teams were evaluated better with a B-plus or A-grade.

Here’s why Kiper’s higher on this Saints draft class than some that came before it:

The Saints entered this draft with problems at both tackle spots. Trevor Penning, a first-rounder in 2022, has struggled badly at left tackle, while veteran Ryan Ramczyk is dealing with a knee injury that has his NFL future in jeopardy. Their line as a whole ranked 28th in pass block win rate in 2023 (51.3%). I wanted to see them come away with a pro-ready lineman who could compete for one of those spots. That’s exactly what they got in Taliese Fuaga (14), a nasty blocker in the run game with great feet as a pass-protector. He was my top-ranked tackle on the board when New Orleans got on the clock.

Fuaga spent his college career at right tackle, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he got a chance on the left side to see if he could make the conversion. The fact is New Orleans got better on Day 1. On Day 2, it traded up a few spots to snag Kool-Aid McKinstry (41), a really talented cornerback who doesn’t have elite speed. He’s physical in press coverage. He’s going to be a good pro.

The Saints didn’t have third- or fourth-round selections, but their fifth-rounder was one of the most interesting picks on Day 3. There’s a scenario in which Spencer Rattler (150) is their starting quarterback in a few years. He has the arm talent and accuracy to develop behind Derek Carr. Fun fact, via ESPN Stats & Info: There were 137 picks made between quarterbacks being drafted (Bo Nix at No. 12 and Rattler at No. 150), the longest span between QBs being selected in the common draft era (since 1967). I listed Bub Means (170) as my favorite wide receiver before the draft; he was a Round 5 steal. I also like defensive tackle Khristian Boyd (199).

I gave New Orleans a low grade a year ago, but I don’t see much wrong with its haul this time. GM Mickey Loomis did a fine job this weekend.

That’s a fair evaluation. If Fuaga can earn a starting job right away while McKisntry finds ways to get on the field (and those late-round picks like Boyd, Ford, and Means contribute in some form or fashion) this has the makings of a great draft class. The Saints will certainly be leaning on these youngsters while quietly remodeling their roster. But potential is just one thing. Now it’s on them to fulfill it.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire