NEW ORLEANS: Saints trade up twice in third round to take Baun, Trautman
NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints traded up twice in the third round of the NFL draft on Friday night, moving up 14 spots to and take Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun 74th overall and trading back into the third round again to select Dayton tight end Adam Trautman 105th.
“If we have a vision and an affinity for someone we'll put a target on them and then we'll go get them,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. “So, that fits in with the philosophy that we've had.”
The Saints traded with Cleveland in order to select the 6-2, 238-pound Baun. He was the second overall draft choice by New Orleans, which took Michigan center Cesar Ruiz in the first round and did not have a second-round choice.
The Saints also got a seventh-round pick from the Browns in exchange for New Orleans’ 88th overall pick in this year’s third round and a third-rounder next year.
New Orleans then used its seventh rounder (244th overall) from Cleveland, along with its own fourth- (130), fifth- (169) and sixth-round (203) picks in a trade with Minnesota in order to draft the 6-5, 255-pound Trautman.
The deal left New Orleans with no slated picks on the final day of the draft, barring yet anther trade for either current players or future years' draft picks.
“It’s difficult to make our roster, so I think for us it’s more about quality over quantity,” Loomis said. “Sometimes there's a little bit of a downer when you only add three players. I don't look at it that way.”
Baun was a dual-threat quarterback in high school who converted to linebacker at Wisconsin and rounded into dominant form as a senior in 2019, when he had 19 1/2 tackles for losses, 12 1/2 sacks, intercepted a pass and caused two fumbles. He also was named second-team AP All-America and first-team All-Big Ten last season.
“We lost a lot of production after the 2018 season and I just knew that someone had to step up as a leader and in production on the field," Baun recalled of his mindset entering his final season at Wisconsin. “I went up to my position coach and I said, ’Hey coach, I’m trying to be the best player I can be and I know I have the athletic ability and gifts to be one of the top players in this league and I’m going to do whatever it takes, whether that’s getting stronger in the weight room, extra film study, NFL study. ...'
"I did that all throughout the season and it really paid off,” Baun said.
While Baun's 2017 season was wiped out by a foot injury, he was viewed by some analysts as a prospect who could have been drafted earlier than the middle of the third round.
“I really don’t have any idea and as a matter of fact I don’t really care what the reason was," he said. “But I’m just so happy I’ve gotten picked and fulfilling a lifelong dream.”
Trautman never played any position but quarterback before he arrived at Dayton. He also played basketball, however, a sport — particularly as it pertains to rebounding and agility — that requires skills known to translate well to the tight end position in football.
Last season, Trautman was named AP FCS All-America as a senior this past season, when he caught 70 passes for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns. Loomis said the Saints had ranked Trautman among its top 40 overall prospects.
“I feel like I'm polished in several areas as it is, but I definitely have a very high ceiling and have a lot of room to grow and a lot of potential,” Trautman said. "It was kind of like a mindset switch I had to have when I switched positions my freshman year.
“I definitely pride myself on I took huge leaps and bounds over the last three years,” Trautman said.
The Saints have most core players back from the past three seasons, all of which included NFC South Division crowns — and 13-3 records each of the past two regular seasons.
With no glaring holes on the roster, the Saints had the flexibility to choose the player they liked best, regardless of position.
However, it appeared that a playmaking linebacker or receiver could help New Orleans most in the short term.
While linebacker Demario Davis has emerged as a defensive leader in New Orleans, the Saints lost fellow linebacker A.J. Klein in free agency, while two of their other top linebackers — Alex Anzalone and Kiko Alonso — both are recovering from injuries.
The Saints ranked 11th defensively last season, allowing 333.1 yards per game. They ranked fourth in the NFL against the run, yielding an average of 91.3 yards on the ground. New Orleans gave up 241.8 yards passing per game, which ranked 20th.
-- By Brett Martel, AP
ATLANTA: Falcons keep focus on defense, pick Auburn's Marlon Davidson
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons added help for their offensive and defensive lines on the second day of the NFL draft.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn hope the versatility of each of the Falcons' draft picks adds to their value.
The Falcons maintained their focus on defense by taking defensive lineman Marlon Davidson from Auburn in the second round on Friday night. They added Temple center Matt Hennessy in the third round.
“It’s a line of scrimmage game,” Quinn said. “We wanted to address how those specific areas could improve.”
The Falcons addressed what Dimitroff said was the team’s biggest need by taking Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell in Thursday night’s first round.
Davidson (6-3, 303) will join edge rusher Dante Fowler, who signed as a free agent, as additions to Atlanta’s pass rush. The Falcons ranked near the bottom of the league with only 28 sacks in 2019.
Davidson had 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss for Auburn in 2019. The four-year starter at Auburn has the potential to contribute as an edge rusher or play inside on Atlanta’s defensive front.
“Wherever they put me I’m going to play it, because I’m just that versatile with my talents," Davidson said. “I can do it all. Coming off the edge. I can do whatever move you want me to.”
Davidson may see more playing time at defensive tackle. Quinn said Davidson also will have opportunities at defensive end.
Hennessy could be developed as a future replacement for starting center Alex Mack. For 2020, at least, his best path to playing time could come at left guard.
“They just talked about position flexibility and being able to play all three interior spots,” Hennessy said of his conversations with the Falcons.
Quinn said no decision has been made about Hennessy's move back to center after the 2020 season.
For Dimitroff, the versatility of each lineman was important.
“The versatility, the leadership on and off the field is something we look forward to in the future,” Dimitroff said.
Terrell will be expected to make an immediate impact, perhaps as a starter. Veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant, Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2013, was released in a cost-cutting move on March 16.
Davidson said he was impressed by the Falcons' early draft moves.
“They’re getting some great guys,” Davidson said. “... The defense is going to be good next year, I promise you that.”
Terrell, an Atlanta native, joins Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver, selected in the last two drafts, as the leaders of a young cast of cornerbacks. The youth will be tested in the NFC South against two of the NFL’s most accomplished passers — Drew Brees in New Orleans and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady.
Adding Terrell addressed only one item on Dimitroff’s defense-heavy priority list for the draft. Other needs included defensive tackle and another edge rusher.
The Falcons also could add a linebacker on Saturday, when they have two picks in the fourth round and one in the seventh.
Dimitroff filled the team’s most glaring holes on offense earlier in the offseason by trading with Baltimore for tight end Hayden Hurst and signing running back Todd Gurley to a $6 million, one-year deal. Gurley, who played five seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, replaces Devonta Freeman, who was released.
The Falcons’ most expensive addition was Fowler, the outside linebacker who was signed to a $48 million, three-year contract.
Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn are looking for players to make an immediate impact after the Falcons’ second consecutive 7-9 finish. Quinn saved his job with four straight wins to finish 2019. The pressure is on the coach and GM to make the playoffs this season.
-- By Charles Odum, AP
TAMPA BAY: Bucs acquire more help for Tom Brady on Day 2 of NFL draft.
TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to stockpile help for Tom Brady, including a player who's dad once intercepted the six-time Super Bowl champion.
The Bucs used the 45th overall pick in the second-round of the NFL draft Friday to take safety Antoine Winfield Jr., after a standout career at Minnesota. He’s the son of three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield, Sr., a 1999 first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills who played had a 14-year pro career.
“I’ve dreamed about this moment ever since I was a kid watching my dad play,” said Winfield, who was part of a stunning turnaround at Minnesota in 2019, when the Gophers had their most successful season in decades.
He said he wasn’t aware his dad had an interception against Brady during a career that spanned five seasons with the Bills and nine with the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s crazy that my dad played against him,” Winfield added. “”That’s crazy to think about.”
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound safety lined up all over the secondary in college, and the Bucs were attracted to that versatility.
“They’re getting a relentless football player with an incredibly high IQ. He’s a lot in a little frame,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said.
“Everybody talks about his frame, but I think that’s what gives him an advantage,” Fleck added. “You’re getting a linebacker-type tackler. You’re getting a corner coverage person. And then you’re getting a wide receiver with the catch radius and the catch-ability.”
Tampa Bay also acquired another offensive playmaker in the third round, selecting Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn No. 76 overall.
Evans and Vaughn join first-round selection, tackle Tristan Wirfs, as the latest players brought in to improve a roster the Bucs feel will be good enough to finally end the club's long postseason drought.
Tampa Bay has missed the playoffs 12 consecutive years, the second-longest stretch of futility in the league.
“You’re playing with the greatest quarterback of all time, you can’t help but be happy,” Vaughn said of the opportunity to play with Brady.
“I believe I have home run ability as a runner ... and as a receiver,” the 5-foot-10, 218-pound running back who began his college career at Illinois added.
Drafting Wirfs in the first round addressed a glaring need on offense, where Tampa Bay has a chance to be among the best in the league after adding Brady and one of his favorite targets, Rob Gronkowski, this offseason.
Coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht re also confident the Bucs will be improved defensively, too, after placing the franchise tag on NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett and re-signing linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The final day of the draft, which ends Sunday, are mostly about bolstering depth.
Vaughn will be paired with third-year pro Ronald Jones at running back. He began his college career at Illinois before transferring to Vanderbilt in 2017 and rushing for 2,272 yards and 21 touchdowns in two seasons with the Commodores.
Winfield will compete for playing time in a young secondary that finished last season with three rookie starters. He's thrilled to be joining a team with expectations of making a deep playoff run in 2020.
“My dad and I were talking about that," Winfield said. “I.m just ready to come in and be that additional piece to help win a Super Bowl."
Fleck is confident his former player has what it takes to be successful in the NFL.
“Just because you have NFL bloodlines doesn’t make you a great NFL player, but he’s got natural instincts. He is so aggressive and so instinctual, and he loves the game," Fleck said.
“They’re getting a great teammate. He’s going to love the game, play the game the right way, respect his teammates, and one thing people don’t ever talk about enough is respecting the organization, respecting his head coach, respecting his GM, his owner, the reputation of the organization," Fleck added. “They’re getting a gem, that’s for sure.”
-- By Fred Goodall, AP
CAROLINA: Panthers get defensive in NFL draft to battle NFC South QBs
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Panthers are doing everything they can to bolster their pass rush knowing they’ll be facing division foes that feature Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan at quarterback.
Carolina selected defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State with the sixth pick in the second round Friday night after taking Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown in the first round.
The Panthers then traded back up into the bottom of the second round to select versatile safety Jeremy Chinn from Southern Illinois at No. 64 overall. The Panthers gave up their a third-round (No. 69) and fifth-round (148th overall) picks to Seattle to move up.
“We have to be able to affect the quarterbacks that we're going to face," Panthers coach Matt Rhule said.
The 6-foot-5, 266-pound Gross-Matos had 35 tackles for a loss and 17 1/2 sacks in two seasons as a starter for the Nittany Lions.
He was a first-team all-conference selection as a junior at Penn State, recording 40 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks. He is expected to compete for a starting job with last year’s first-round draft pick Brian Burns and new free agent acquisition Stephen Weatherly from the Vikings.
“We are always looking for pass rushers and he is guy who can get on the edge and turn the corner," Rhule said. “He can also play inside and rush the quarterback.”
Carolina previously selected Brown with the No. 7 overall pick, a sign the team is making a considerable effort to upgrade a defensive line unit that was devastated by free agent departures like Mario Addison, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Vernon Butler.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said entering the draft the team's focus needed to be on upgrading the defense after addressing mostly offensive needs in free agency. Carolina is looking to replace nine starters from last year's defense that allowed 29.4 points per game, second-most in the league.
“Coming in if you had told us we could have gotten these three guys we would have been really ecstatic,” Hurney said.
Gross-Matos’ childhood was marred by family tragedies that he said have shaped who he became as a person.
When he was 2 years old, he fell off the side of a boat during a family outing. His father, Michael Gross, saved Yetur but drowned in the process. He was 29. Nine years later, Gross-Matos’ brother, Chelal, died after he was struck by lightning while the the brothers were playing outside.
“It put the rest of my life in perspective,” Gross-Matos said on a video conference call. "It’s about taking advantage of opportunities every second, every day. Give your best and love the people around you. Me and my family are a very close group. ... I’m just happy to be in this moment with these people and I can’t wait to celebrate with them.”
The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Chinn brings size, speed and versatility to the table and Rhule views him as a “positionless player,” meaning he can float to several spots. Chinn will play safety, but also see action at nickel and dime and spend time covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.
“You don't find guys that big that can run that fast,” said Rhule, who was clocked at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
The 6-5, 326-pound Brown figures to play a big role in Carolina's defense and will help free up players like Gross-Matos to make plays.
Viewed as a three-down player, Brown gives the Panthers a legitimate run-stuffer who takes up multiple blockers and can free up other defenders to make tackles while also making plays on his own.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Friday the Panthers got a “steal” with Brown at No. 7.
“There was a decent chance he would go in the first round last year (but) he chose to come back to get his degree, to finish with his teammates," Malzahn said. "And his goal was to be a top 10 pick. First of all, I think that’s real special. He accomplished his goal. He came back and is a Top 10 pick.”
The Panthers have one pick in each of the final four rounds on Saturday.
-- By Steve Reed, AP