What Could Have Been: Saints draft moments to forget, 1985-87

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Part 1: 1967-69
Part 2: 1970-72
Part 3: 1973-75
Part 4: 1976-78
Part 5: 1979-81
Part 6: 1982-84

Prevoiusly, we have broken down the largest annual New Orleans Saints draft regrets from 1967-1984.

Today, we take a look at the years spanning 1985-87.

1985–There was a new owner on board in native born Tom Benson, erasing the real threat of the team relocating under previous owner John Mecom. It was also the final year of Bum Phillips’ coaching career.

In the first round, the Saints used the 24th overall pick in the first round to choose linebacker Alvin Toles of Tennessee.

While Toles was decent, it was not a good pick. He did start his first two seasons but with Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson arriving from the USFL, Toles saw his playing time diminish greatly. Rightfully so.

Six picks after Toles, the Denver Broncos chose wide receiver Vance Johnson from Arizona. Johnson went on to a fine 11-year career, catching 415 passes with 37 touchdowns. He also returned punts and kicks well.

In the second round, the Saints chose tackle Daren Gilbert of Stanford with the 38th overall pick. Gilbert started just 11 games in four years for New Orleans.

Seven picks later, the Falcons chose defensive end Mike Gann 45th overall. Gann was a solid player against the Saints twice a season for Atlanta, starting 117 games and playing good football for the Falcons.

1986–This was a banner draft for New Orleans, one of the three best in franchise history, along with 1981 and 2006. It came with new general manager Jim Finks, a highly respected NFL executive, and new head coach Jim Mora, a proven winner in the USFL now in charge.

In the first round, New Orleans got an 11-year player in Jim Dombrowski of Virginia, who played tackle and then guard in very solid fashion for winning teams and was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame.

In the second round, the Saints got LSU and Patterson’s Dalton Hilliard, who went on to a good nine-year career and was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame.

In the third round, New Orleans picked running back Rueben Mayes 57th overall out of Washington State. Mayes dazzled the league in his first two seasons with elite speed, turning out to be an excellent pick, as he made the Pro Bowl in both seasons.

Unfortunately, a knee injury shortened his stay in New Orleans and his career but he was very good, earning induction into the Saints Hall of Fame.

New Orleans tabbed Pat Swilling with the 60th overall pick, a great selection. Swilling played seven seasons and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1991 for the first division champion in franchise history. He was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame.

Two picks later, New Orleans chose Barry Word, who turned into a good NFL player but in Kansas City after playing just one year with the Saints. Two picks later, the 49ers, who always seemed to get in right in those days, selected cornerback Tim McKyer, who went on to an impressive 12-year NFL career, amassing 33 interceptions.

The Saints also got a good corner in Reggie Sutton in the fifth round and a productive running back and hometown hero Gill Fenerty of Jesuit High School in round seven.

Shawn Knight1987–While this would be the first winning season in team history, it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a memorable draft.

In the first round, Finks made perhaps the biggest blunder of his NFL career, choosing defensive tackle Shawn Knight of BYU in the first round with the 11th overall pick. Simply put, he was awful. He played in just 10 games with the Saints.

In the second round, the Saints got wide receiver Lonzell “Mo” Hill out of Washington with the 40th overall pick. Hill had two productive seasons in New Orleans but faded quickly after his fourth season here and disappeared.

Nine picks later, the Bengals picked defensive back Eric Thomas of Tulane as the Saints again passed on a hometown talent. Thomas would have been a much better pick. He went on to a nine year NFL career, making the Pro Bowl in 1988 and had 17 interceptions.

In the third round, the Saints picked defensive back Michael Adams, who played just three seasons and started only three games, not panning out.

Five picks later, the Minnesota Vikings selected defensive tackle Henry Thomas of LSU, who went on to a stellar career with 93.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries. Thomas made two Pro Bowls and probably should have made more. Again, the Saints missed on an area product.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

CAO/Executive Producer

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College Hall of Fame, Professional Bowlers Tour) and many state and local awards for his work in the field, Ken currently serves as Sports Director of WGSO, 990 AM and hosts award-winning shows, including Ken Trahan’s Original Prep Football Report and The Three Tailgaters Show with Ed Daniels and Rick Gaille. In 1988, Ken was chosen by the Professional Bowlers Association to receive its annual radio broadcasters national award for…

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