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Sean Payton’s Explanation for the Andrus Peat Draft Pick Is Fascinating and Troubling

Sean Payton’s Explanation for the Andrus Peat Draft Pick Is Fascinating and Troubling

As his career has progressed, Sean Payton’s press conferences have become more interesting — more openly combative and more prone to digressive storytelling than they used to be. The results reveal more than the simple, cooperative answers journalists generally desire. After last night’s first round ended, Payton said little about how the Saints’ first pick, Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat, fits the team’s roster, and less about any specific plans the Saints have for him. Instead, Payton talked about how, in 1981, Todd Peat, Sr, had a superior letterman’s jacket.

Read the entire quote:

His father and I are the same age. His father went to Champagne Central High School which is in the middle of the state of Illinois. The first time I met his dad we were seniors being recruited by Northern Illinois. His dad played guard in the league for a long time. I just remember seeing his dad on that college visit. I can remember it was 1981 like it was yesterday. His dad had one of those letterman jackets on with five varsity letters all over it and I only had played my senior year. I hadn’t gotten my letter yet so I had stuff my mom gave me to make up really my letterman’s coat. His dad went on to have a great career at Northern, he was drafted, played a long time. This guy has all the things you look for. He is smart. He is big. He is very athletic. He is built much differently than his father, his stature.

When talking about Peat, Payton’s sense of nostalgia was so overpowering that the room may as well have gone sepia. That feeling bled over into Payton’s direct evaluation of Peat as a player, starting with the above comparison of Andrus’s body type to Todd’s, and continuing with Payton’s repeated references to his friend “David,” also known as Stanford football coach David Shaw; to Shaw who, Payton said more than once, he has been close to since both men served on the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching staff almost 20 years ago.

“…more than anything it is confirmation of calling David and talking more…” Payton said. “…within five minutes I knew from the phone call that David saw him the same way we did, but I wanted to hear him tell me that.” Payton added: “That was an important call.”

In March, Sean Payton said how much he loves tight end Josh Hill, but at least Hill has been on his roster for a couple years. Now, before Peat even wears a Saints uniform, Payton is saying the same sort of thing about him. “I love the way this guy plays,” Payton said. “I absolutely love it.”

The player Payton loves is, in the coach’s own words, absolutely a tackle, so he’s not playing guard, where a rookie could well start in 2015. He’s a player who, Payton notes, “just turned 21” and “will get stronger” and whose late graduation date from Stanford will “put his clock back a little bit.”

Initially, I figured the Saints might plug Peat in at left tackle and slide Terron Armstead over to left guard, where Armstead could use his great mobility to help re-weaponize the team’s screen pass attack. Payton was clear that the Saints have no plans to do so. They see Armstead as their left tackle of the present and future, Zach Strief as their right tackle of the present, and Andrus Peat as the son of a man Sean Payton became friends with during the tail end of senior year.

Fortunately, Peat could carve out an immediate role on the team even if his clock is set back: He could replace the Saints’ current third tackle, Bryce Harris, who played a lot in 2014 and for whom the measure of success was whether Drew Brees survived the sack. Peat can replace Harris now, and replace Zach Strief in a year or two, and that would be pretty okay.

Fans are not wrong to expect more from a thirteenth overall selection in a draft hyped as particularly crucial, but the Saints have the equivalent of a full slate of picks to go, so we may still get it.

 

Maybe we got it at pick 31, where the Saints took a linebacker in the first round for the first time in two decades. Many sports journalists don’t like the choice of Clemson’s Stephone Anthony. The chorus is singing that Anthony is not a first round talent, but Payton, during one of the few moments he wasn’t narrating the long tale of Peat and Peat, made an excellent point.

He referred to a “clump” of linebackers, which is an accurate way to describe the fact that, while this draft lacks top-end star power at the position, it has plenty of prospects who each carry seemingly interchangeable grades that would have them go somewhere high in the second round. Anthony joined UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney, Miami’s Denzel Perryman, and TCU’s Paul Dawson in a group that has rotated one member at a time into the late first round since the first post-season mock drafts went online.

That the Saints made Anthony the ultimate winner of that game of musical chairs does not mean he automatically fails some litmus test related to his value at 31. It just means the Saints like Anthony’s set of skills more than they like Kendricks’ or Dawson’s.

Maybe that’s because Anthony’s the best combination of size and speed of any member of the “clump”; should he start, he’ll be the first linebacker who can move faster than a brisk walk that any Payton defense has fielded, aside from that brief moment when Jonathan Vilma had healthy knees. And should Anthony start and not suck, he’ll be the team’s first three down linebacker who should actually be a three down linebacker since Vilma.

He’s been penalized because he played with talents like new Falcon Vic Beasley, but who’s to say Anthony didn’t carry Beasley, rather than the other way around? That alone would make the way this first round turned out pretty satisfying.

If nothing else, the choice of Anthony is something new, a departure from a Payton-era draft philosophy that has resulted in zero true linebackers1 taken before the fourth round, and only five total linebackers chosen in nine drafts. The Saints’ recent history of linebacker draft picks is a complete failure, but it’s a game they’ve barely tried to play. Now that they’re trying, maybe they’ll score a win.

And I wouldn’t complain if they took another linebacker from the clump. Play the percentages. It’s the only way to be sure.

 

Author

Bradley Warshauer
As a kid: Once read a newspaper so intently over a candle that I did not notice its ignition.