Saints take Oklahoma WR and a DE in the NFL draft
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints scanned the full spectrum of prospects during the final rounds of the NFL draft, bringing in a major college receiver whose father played in the NFL and a little-known Division II defensive lineman.
The Saints selected Oklahoma wideout Kenny Stills Jr. with their fifth round pick, then picked up Tarleton State defensive end Rufus Johnson in the sixth round.
“I’ve kind of been trained that real good football players come from everywhere,” coach Sean Payton said. “Certainly more of them come from the larger conferences. ... That being said, there’s no science to this draft.”
The 6-foot, 194-pound Stills was New Orleans’ first pick on Saturday because the club dealt its fourth-round pick as part of a trade with Miami in order to select Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins with the 82nd overall pick Friday night.
Stills, the son of former NFL safety Kenny Stills, had a 40-yard dash time of 4.38 at the NFL combine. His uncle, Gary Stills, also played in the NFL, at linebacker.
“Since age six, when I started playing football, I dreamed of playing in the NFL, especially being that my dad played,” Stills said. “Now I just have to go out there and prove myself and have a great career.”
Last season, Stills was named All-Big 12 after making 82 receptions for 959 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The selection of Stills marks the third straight season that New Orleans drafted a player whose father played in the NFL. Two seasons ago, it was two in the first round in Cam Jordan and Mark Ingram. Last year, it was Nick Toon.
Stills said he believes pedigree can help.
“It’s the understanding we have about the business. We know how we have to treat it,” Stills said. “We have to come in and work our tails off every single day and nothing less is expected from us.”
Stills, who grew up in San Diego and who during high school ran routes for Drew Brees during Brees’ offseason workouts, started 38 games for the Sooners. He had 2,594 yards receiving and 24 TDs in his three seasons at Oklahoma. His 204 receptions rank third in school history.
Now he looks forward to running route for Brees in a far more meaningful context.
“It’s a prolific offense and a huge opportunity for me to go in and play with veterans, learn and be a sponge,” Stills said.
In 2010, he set Oklahoma freshman marks for receptions with 61 and yards receiving with 786. He also returned punts periodically and ran the ball a few times.
He said he would aim to be the first player in the Saints training headquarters every day and the last one out, something that might be hard to do given the long hours Brees spends in the building.
“He better be riding with him,” Payton said.
The 6-foot-5, 272-pound Johnson played at Division II Tarleton State in Texas. Last season, he had 50 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for losses, 10 of them sacks. He was named the Lone Star Conference defensive lineman of the year.
“One of the things we try to do in these later rounds is look at size, speed and some measurables,” Payton said. “He’s got the physical stature that you’re looking for. We feel like he’s a guy that can rush the passer pretty well. ... You’re looking for some traits that stand out and with him that clearly was the case.”
In recent years, the Saints have mined contributing players and even starters from the likes of the University of Regina in Canada (Akiem Hicks), Division II Bloomsburg (Jahri Evans) and Division II Tiffin (Chris Ivory), so the club is now hopefully of extending that track record with Johnson.
“Our coaching staff has shown the ability to take players with special skills and find a way to fit them in,” general manager Mickey Loomis said. “We are not limited to big schools. We’re looking at some of the smaller schools and guys that have been productive at schools that are under the radar.”
No one was more grateful for that than Johnson, who sounded choked up as he spoke by conference call to reporters gathered at Saints headquarters.
“I can’t even talk right now. My heart is beating fast. I’m sweating and stuff,” said Johnson, who added he was sitting in a park with friends when he got the call from the Saints. “I just broke down and started sweating, I couldn’t even talk to my dad. This is a blessing to me; it really brightened my day. I just want to thank the New Orleans Saints and make sure to go out there and give it my all in everything I do.”
When he gathered himself and gave the news to his family, he said his father, a former Texas Tech player, “just gave me the smile that he’s been giving me since I was six years old, ever since I was playing Pop Warner.”
“He gave me that smile and told me ‘Good job,’” Johnson continued. “He embraced me with a hug, kissed me on my forehead, and told me that now it’s time to go to work.”
Stills and Johnson joined New Orleans’ first-round pick, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and its other third-rounder, offensive tackle Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The Saints entered the draft without a pick in the seventh round, which had been traded previously.