Debunking a Myth: The Saints Had a Great 1981 NFL Draft
Let me give my opinion on this once and for all; the New Orleans Saints did not blow it by picking George Rogers with the top pick in the 1981 NFL Draft.
There are some...not all...but some, who refuse to look at the large sample size, who believe that just because the Saints selected Rogers instead of Lawrence Taylor with the top pick that year that they blew it.
To those people, I say; CAW CAT!!! Feel your head, cause I think you've got a fever!
Actually, I think most old school Saints fans realize how good that draft was. It's the people who weren't around in 1981, who go back and look at the history books, and see where the Saints passed on Taylor, then say; "What were they thinking?" who I'm talking to.
The most successful NFL Draft for the New Orleans Saints was arguably that 1981 draft, which was the first under new head coach Bum Phillips.
In that draft, the Saints chose running back George Rogers (first round-1st overall), safety Russell Gary (second round-29th overall), linebacker Rickey Jackson (second round-51st overall), defensive tackle Frank Warren (third round-57th overall), and tight end Hoby Brenner (third round 71st overall) in the top three rounds, who all went on to become starters for the team.
But teams are/were expected to get good players in the top three rounds.
It's actually the players the Saints selected in rounds 5-12 that made that year's draft so good.
In those rounds the Saints chose the likes of offensive lineman Louis Oubre (5th round), defensive tackle Jerry Boyarsky (5th round), offensive lineman Nat Hudson (6th round), cornerback Johnnie Poe (6th round), linebacker Glen Redd (6th round), running back Hokie Gajan (10th round), and defensive lineman Jim Wilks (12th round), all of whom produced for the team.
Wilks is a perfect example; drafted in the last round in 1981, Wilks went on to play 13 years for the team, and was a starter in 12 of those years.
The Saints took, and still do take some heat for drafting Rogers, the 1980 Heisman Trophy winner from South Carolina with the top pick, over North Carolina linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
But did anybody really think that Bum Phillips, who loved to run the football, wasn't going to take Rogers?!?!?
Besides, it wasn't like Rogers was a bust. He rushed for over 900 yards in three of his four seasons with the team, including 1,674 yards in his rookie year of 1981, a single-season club rushing record which still stands today.
Yes, Taylor is arguably the best defensive player of all-time, but in case you've been in a cave, Jackson was pretty good too. Good enough to have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So, when looking at the 1981 New Orleans Saints draft, you have to look deeper than just the first pick, as no one is saying that Rogers was better than Taylor.
Instead of asking; "Who would you rather have; Rogers or Taylor?" You should be asking; "Who would you rather have; George Rogers and Rickey Jackson, or Lawrance Taylor and Marion Barber, Jr.?"
I mentioned Marion Barber because he was the first running back taken in the second round, one pick after the Saints took Russell Gary.
How did Barber do in the NFL? Well, he rushed for 317 yards and three touchdowns over a career in which he never gained more than 148 yards in a single season.
So, while there's no doubt that Taylor had a better career than Rogers, comparing Rogers and Jackson to Taylor and Barber makes things look a little better now, doesn't it?
The bottom line is the Saints took Rogers in the first round, and he still holds the franchise single-season rushing record, while taking Jackson, who is enshrined in Canton, in the second round.
That's pretty good. I'm just telling you what I know.
Looking back at it, the Saints did just fine with those two picks. And if you add in the rest of the selections, it's still one of the best drafts, if not the best, in franchise history.
That's not an opinion, it's a fact. If you disagree with me, you're wrong.
The views expressed but this writer are not necessarily the views of this station, but they should be.