Previously, we have detailed previous draft regrets of what could have been for the New Orleans Saints in the draft process from 1967-1993. Today, we take a look at 1994-96:
1994–The Saints did a good job with the selection of defensive end Joe Johnson with the 13th overall pick. Johnson played seven years for the Saints, missing the 1999 season with a knee injury and promptly won NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2000, when the Saints made the playoffs and won their first ever playoff game.
Johnson recorded 50.5 sacks, forced 13 fumbles and recovered seven fumbles in the black and gold. He made the Pro Bowl in 1998 and 2000. He was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame for his outstanding work.
In the second round, the Saints chose running back Mario Bates of Arizona State with the 44th overall selection. Bates was an average player, who had one good year in 1995, when he rushed for 951 yards and seven touchdowns. He played four years with New Orleans before heading to Arizona, where his production faded.
While Bates was okay, the Saints basically blew a chance at one of the elite linemen in NFL history. Two picks after Bates, Dallas picked guard Larry Allen out of little known Sonoma State.
Allen played 14 years in the NFL, was a six time first-team All-Pro and made 11 Pro Bowls while winning a Super Bowl in Super Bowl XXX. Allen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
The Saints chose inside linebacker Winfred Tubbs of Texas in the third round (79th overall). Tubbs played four years with the Saints and led the team in tackles in 1997 before leaving for San Francisco. Of course, in his first year with the 49ers (1998), he was voted to the Pro Bowl.
A better choice at linebacker would have been James Gildon, who went nine picks later to Pittsburgh. Gildon played 11 years in the NFL, there first 10 with the Steelers, and recorded 80 sacks, was a first-team All-Pro in 2001 and made three Pro Bowls.
1995–The Saints used the 13th overall selection in the draft to pick linebacker Mark Fields of Washington State, a freakishly fast athlete.
Fields played 10 years in the league, the first seven in New Orleans. He made the Pro Bowl in 2000, when the Saints won a division title and their first-ever playoff victory. He had 23 sacks, two interceptions, eight forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries for the Saints.
It is hard to argue with the Fields selection but he took a while to learn the defense and become the player the Saints thought he could be. 10 picks after Fields, the Patriots chose defensive back Ty Law of Michigan.
Law had a brilliant 15-year career in the NFL, winning multiple Super Bowls with the Patriots. He amassed 53 interceptions, 22nd in NFL history. Law also had seven forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He was a two time first-team All-Pro and made five Pro Bowls and was inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.
In the second round, New Orleans chose running back/fullback Ray Zellars of Notre Dame with the 44th overall choice.
Zellars was decent, playing four years with the Saints, rushing for 1,351 yards and catching 57 passes. He scored 11 touchdowns.
Five picks after Zellars, the Oakland Raiders picked bullish center Barret Robbins out of TCU. While Robbins had issues, he was an elite center for nine seasons with Oakland, starting 105 games and earning first team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2002 and was a prominent part of a Raiders squad that reached a Super Bowl.
1996–In the final year of Jim Mora’s reign as head coach of the team, New Orleans did not fare well with the 11th overall choice of cornerback Alex Molden of Oregon.
Molden never played like a No. 1 draft pick in his five years with the Saints. He had eight interceptions and was in on 199 tackles, modest numbers.
Three picks after Molden, the Houston Oilers picked running back Eddie George of Ohio State. George went on to a brilliant nine-year career in the NFL, rushing for 10,441 yards and 68 touchdowns while catching 268 passes for 2,227 yards and 10 touchdowns. George rushed for over 1,000 yards in seven of nine seasons.
George was a first-team All-Pro in 2000 and made four Pro Bowls and was part of a Super Bowl team with the Tennessee Titans. George is still 27th all-time in rushing yards in NFL history. Simply put, the Saints blew it.
They blew it again in round two, going with safety Je’Rod Cherry of California with the 40th overall selection. Cherry played nine years in the league, just four in New Orleans and never earned a starting job. In four seasons, he had no interceptions, recovered one fumble and was in on just 55 tackles.
If you wanted a defensive back, rather than Molden or Cherry, how about going with former Archbishop Shaw and LSU star Tory James?
Picked four choices after Cherry by the Denver Broncos, all James did was to play 10 years in the NFL, picking off 39 passes, forcing five fumbles, recovering four fumbles and he was in on 402 tackles. James was a Pro Bowl player in 2004.
In the third round, New Orleans went with defensive end Brady Smith 70th overall from Colorado State.
Smith played four years with the Saints, recording 13 sacks. He did not earn a permanent starting job until 1999, his final year in New Orleans.
16 picks later, New England went with linebacker Tedy Bruschi out of Arizona.
Bruschi played 13 distinguished years with the Patriots, winning three Super Bowls. He was in on 1,063 tackles, had 12 interceptions, forced 17 fumbles and recovered seven fumbles. He made the Pro Bowl in 2004 and was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2005