There is perhaps no NFL team more aggressive about securing the specific players it wants in the NFL Draft than the New Orleans Saints. New Orleans has routinely traded up over the last several years, looking to nab high-quality players to fill holes on its roster who will become premium contributors.
In 2022, New Orleans did it again, trading up twice in the first round in order to land former Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave at No. 11 overall and former Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning with the No. 19 pick. When you hear Saints director of college scouting Jeff Ireland’s pro player comparisons for the two players, you understand why they seemingly moved heaven and earth to get them.
For Olave, a 6-foot, 187-pound receiver who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds after racking up 163 catches for 2,505 yards and 32 touchdowns in his three seasons as a starter for the Buckeyes, Ireland cited a Hall of Famer who spent his entire career in Indianapolis.
“I liked that he was a three-year starter at a major university,” Ireland told The Advocate of Olave. “I liked that he was very productive in each of those years. I like that he’s a great kid. And I like the way the staff talked about him in terms of his intelligence. The fact that they could use him all over the field. The fact that he was consistent. The makeup was what we looked for. Size. He has the height and the speed. We’d like for him to be a little stronger, and we got to put some strength on him and some muscle, but every time you would turn on the tape you would see Chris Olave making a play in that game. And I like that. And so he reminds me of some players that have played in our league, the Marvin Harrisons, that were just silky smooth and effortless. And same body type. It doesn’t look like they were running fast, but when we turn on the clock, it’s like 4.3 (seconds). So there’s some really good aspects to that player.”
Harrison made eight Pro Bowls, three All-Pro first teams and five All-Pro second teams, led the league in receptions and receiving yards twice each, at one point had four consecutive seasons with at least 100 catches for 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns, and is third all-time in double-digit receiving-touchdown seasons (eight) behind only Jerry Rice and Randy Moss (nice apiece). If Olave comes anywhere close to replicating what Harrison did in his career, the Saints will be quite thrilled with their selection.
As for Penning, Ireland compared him to a former No. 1 overall pick.
“When I was in Miami, my first pick as the general manager of the Dolphins was Jake Long. He was the first pick out of Michigan. Jake was 6-7 and 325 (pounds). I remember the press conference after the draft, and I was, like, well, he’s technically a little flawed, and we’ve got to get him better technically. Immediately, I heard, ‘Wait a second, you just took him as a first pick in the draft.’ I’m like, well, every player coming into our league is technically flawed, even if he’s playing at Michigan. And he ended up going to four straight Pro Bowls. I see this guy (Penning) having the same technical flaws, but also having the same ability as someone like a Jake Long. He just didn’t play at Michigan.”
Long was a four-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro (one first team, one second team) who saw his career cut short due to injuries, but if Penning can approach that level of play, New Orleans will be quite thrilled with its selection of Terron Armstead’s successor at left tackle. Of course, as is the case with Olave living up to a Harrison comparison, that’s easier said than done.