*SPOILER ALERT!* No matter who the Saints end up drafting 13 days from now, it's all but a certainty that by the end of the weekend I'll have figured out some way to convince myself that it was a great pick. And then I'll try to convince you. Fair warning.

It'll probably be obvious whether or not my heart's really in it, whether or not I've bought into my own spin. Especially since I'm about to tell you ahead of time where I'll be starting from, should the Saints end up with one of the usual suspects not named Mark Ingram.

But first, let's go ahead and dispense with the obligatory off-topic rant. Remember when Draft Weekend used to kick all kinds of ass? (Yes, I do intend to continue bitching about this every year until the NFL fixes what they broke.)

It was a freakin' festival atmosphere. Wake up Saturday morning like a kid at Christmas, make sure the "Previous Channel" button on the remote flips between ESPN and NFLN, get the Deke & Bobby streaming going, put on the Mel Kiper wig, stock the ice chests, get something simmering on the stove, set up the ping pong table and the wireless speakers, and do the Chili Cookoff Dance until people start arriving and you've gotta stop so as not to embarrass yourself (in that particular way, that is.)

First pick mid-afternoon, second pick early-evening, and one more before bedtime. Plenty of time to digest, discuss, debate, and of course, laugh and laugh at Message Board Guy's annual meltdown. LOOMIS!!!!!! Wake up Sunday morning and do it all again. Good times.

Carlin: But then they found out that we like that. So they took it away.

These days? Work all day on a Thursday. By the time they finally get on with it, you're probably already long past being over it. Unless you're a Patriots fan, your team is probably only making one pick (as opposed to, what is it this year, six?) And unless you're a fan of a really crappy team, it's probably gonna be at or past your bedtime when your team finally makes its pick. Tomorrow's a work day, after all. Sigh. You're probably happier about finally being able to turn the tee vee off and get to sleep than you are about the pick itself.

No time to bask in the afterglow, no time to assess the fallout. And god help you if your team trades down out of the first after 3-4 hours of waiting for the pick.

Nice job, NFL. Way to fix what damn sure wasn't broke. Again. Way to reduce what used to be a weekend-long offseason football festival to little more than a Very Special Two-Night American Idol Event. Assholes.

And I swear, if I hear Alicia Keys singing about how New York is what wet dreams are made of one more fuckin' time

Anyway, I regret to inform you that I'm no longer holding my breath for the Saints to steal Mark Ingram at 24. Oh I'm still holding out hope, I've just decided to go ahead and start breathing again in the meantime. No sense in sustaining any (further) brain damage.

I guess I've resigned myself to the near-certainty of Ingram being off the board by 24 anyway, and it'd be difficult (though not impossible, right Message Board Guy? High five!) to muster much pissedoffedness at Loomis for something that's almost completely beyond his control.

And to whatever extent that Loomis could take control of it by trading up, I'd prefer that he refrain. Ingram is "my guy" at 24, but trading up for him (or anyone else) is a whole other thing. The satisfaction of making the purchase tends to be inversely-proportional to the figure on price tag, after all.

Thankfully, at the same time, all the recent chatter about Ingram's knee possibly being held together with duct tape these days has conveniently ensured that my head (probably) isn't gonna explode if he's still on the board at 24 and the Saints pass on him anyway.

Not that I believe any of that knee stuff for a second, actually I'm struggling not to let all that stuff get my hopes up even more that he might end up falling into the Saints' laps a la Dulymus.

(Speaking of which, pop quiz hot shot: If you could do Dulymus all over again, would you? I ask because a friend of mine grudgingly says no. He loves Dulymus as much as the next guy, but when presented with a hypothetical "What if you knew for a fact that Ingram is Dulymus II?" he'd take whatever's behind Door #3.)

At any rate, lately I've been preparing myself for what I'm gonna do once Miami takes Ingram at 15 and, in my head, Diamond Joe Quimby steps to the podium to announce:

The time for panic has come. We must move forward and turn to the town's all-purpose contingency plan.

Plan B? Yes… B.

For now, all I know for sure is that I'll definitely be shouting "D'OH!!!" Pending availability, I might follow that up by strangling a child. Or perhaps I'll just regroup at Red Lobster. I don't know, something along those lines. But there's only so much that unlimited tiny plastic ramekins of clarified butter can do to soothe a soul that's just been kicked right in the nads. (What?!? Of course souls have nads!) Stupid metabolism.

So then the question becomes "What now?" What's the consolation prize? Here's how I've got 'em ranked right at the moment, in no particular order:

A Defensive End in General
Gut Reaction: Meh
I need to retract something I've been saying throughout draft season. One of my objections to a defensive end all along has been that, in my opinion, a rookie defensive end would be likely to ride the pine most of the season, and therefore wouldn't make much of an impact in 2011. Which would be fine, I'm all for "drafting for the future" as a general principle. But, demonstrating once again my firm grasp of the obvious, the Saints are right smack dab in the middle of a championship window. And when you're in a championship window, you "go all-in for this year" every year and take as many shots at the Super Bowl as you can for as long as those shots are still realistic ones. There's nothing wrong with "mortgaging the future" to a certain extent for the sake of taking your shot now, while you can.

Now don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with building the foundation for perennial contention over a long period of time either. And if you're fortunate enough (and good enough) to do both, then.. high five! All I'm saying is that when you're in a championship window, the present should and does trump the future. And if you've gotta take a 4-5 year tailback who can help you from day one over a future Pro Bowl defensive end who's gonna mostly ride the pine for a year or so, then so be it. Bird in hand and all, don't let the prospect of future chances sucker you into squandering a chance you've got right now. Take your best shot now, while you've got it, and worry about the future later.

With that in mind, I've taken the position that Mark Ingram is a better pick than any of the defensive ends would be, if for no other reason than that Ingram is far more likely to make a significant impact this fall than any rookie defensive end would, if only by virtue of getting off the bench and onto the field more often. I still believe that, but I'm no longer dismissing any and all potential defensive end picks as a "see you in 2012" kind of situation.

After all, back in 2004, veteran incumbent Darren Howard and rookie Will Smith combined for 18.5 sacks and 9 forced fumbles at the right defensive end position. Holy shit! Oh, and Charles Grant chipped in from the left with 10.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. And in Grant's rookie year of 2002, he and veteran incumbent Willie Whitehead combined for 10 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Grant also scored a touchdown.

So I guess I'm gonna have to blame the fog of war and/or Rob Ninkovich for my anti-DE stance, because it couldn't possibly be my fault. At any rate, I hereby officially abandon that stance.

On the other hand, I'm still lukewarm at best on all these specific DEs.

Cameron Heyward — DE — The Ohio State University
Gut reaction: Not quite as lathered up as I probably oughta be
Listen chump! If you'd have asked me a couple years ago, I'd have been all over this. And I suppose you could do worse than Charles Grant 2, which is what I think Ironhead Jr. would basically be, only without the 10-sack seasons Grant posted in 2003 and 2004. Hell, I'm not even sure he'll ever post a 6-sack season like Grant did in 2006, when Saints fans were already starting to sigh and roll their eyes in his general direction. He was only able to post 2, 3, 6 and 4 sacks in his four years in the Big 10, after all. (He never forced a single fumble in four years of college either.)

Isn't the whole obsession with taking a DE in the first round this year based on the desire to improve the pass rush? I concede that sacks aren't the end-all-be-all as far as a DE's pass-rushing impact. But Heyward just isn't an outside pass rusher. He's just not.

And while it'd be cute to have Ironhead Jr. strapping a huge f'n black and gold helmet onto that huge head for the next several years, (which I suspect is the main reason both Mike Triplett and James Varney have called Heyward as the Saints' pick at 24) it'd also be a damn shame when Saints fans turn on him, which I suspect would be happening right around this Christmas when he still hasn't posted a single sack. And I'm giving Saints fans the benefit of the doubt here, it could be far sooner than that.

I'm sure he'll end up being a decent NFL player. But he's not gonna give Saints fans what they want, aside from nostalgia. And nostalgia doesn't count. These aren't your father's Saints, and the fact that he's Ironhead's son shouldn't matter. At all.

Ryan Kerrigan — DE — Purdue
Gut reaction: Nice haircut, Biebs
Probably the best consolation prize of the bunch, I guess. But also probably the least likely to actually still be on the board at 24. Which I suppose is a big part of why he's my favorite. It'd be regarded as a bona fide steal, as pretty much everybody has him going in the high teens. He's fast as hell, and he posted 33 sacks, 57 tackles for loss and 14 forced fumbles in college. That includes 12.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last year alone, by the way. This just in: That's pretty fuckin' awesome. He's also got a rep for high character, intelligence, leadership, hustle, and all that other stuff that's freaking great when it's not just a case of those things being code for "he's white." Oh sure, go ahead and deny that it's often precisely that.

Aaron Kampman 2? Yeah, I could go for that. And I suppose if it were to turn out that both Kerrigan and Ingram were on the board at 24, I'd probably stop and think about it for a few seconds before taking Ingram. Which is high praise indeed.

The concern with Kerrigan (and it's a big one for me anyway) is that he's one of those hustle/effort guys who everybody loves in college because he's making plays all over the place, and isn't a complete asshole. He dominates the likes of Western Illinois, Toledo and Michigan (heh) and people want to believe that he's gonna do the same thing in the NFL, because he's just so damned likeable and people are rooting for him to succeed. Then he gets to the NFL and suddenly you realize that hustle and effort are great and all, but all too often not nearly enough.

So who knows? It's probably all academic anyway, as Kerrigan is probably even less likely to be on the board at 24 than Ingram is. Hypothetically though? I'd just as soon roll with Jeff Charleston. Kinda like you'd just as soon roll with Chris Ivory and/or Lynell Hamilton rather than drafting Ingram, so don't even start with me on this. The Vanilla Gorilla is capable, dammit.

Adrian Clayborn — DE — Iowa
Gut reaction: Oh shit.
At the risk of being insensitive, I've gotta admit that I get juuuuust a little freaked out whenever a mention of a player is immediately followed up with the word "palsy." Doesn't even matter what kind of palsy. Sue me, but somebody says "palsy" and I'm backing away slowly. I respect the hell out of the guy for overcoming it and putting himself in the position to be a first round NFL draft pick, despite the fact that doctors have been telling him "You're a fucking idiot for trying to play football" since high school. In all sincerity, good for him.

But the flip side of that coin is that, despite having overcome it so far and being a damn successful football player anyway, he's been on borrowed time for a half a decade now. The assumption has to be that he's a ticking time bomb. I mean, we're talking nerve damage in his neck and right arm, for crying out loud. Shit! Which occasionally results in temporary paralysis in the aforementioned right arm. SHIT!

Meantime, while he posted 11 sacks and a forced fumble as a junior in 2009, he posted 8 sacks and 0 forced fumbles in his other three years combined. This guy is a one-year wonder, and it wasn't even last year.

I'd just as soon wait a little while longer before breaking the Saints-players-named-Adrian deadlock (McPherson: washout, Arrington: Hall of Famer) Should the Saints draft him though, I hereby claim copyright and demand my fuckin' licensing fees on any merchandise which might feature a picture of Clayborn standing under I-10.

JJ Watt — DE — Wisconsin
Gut reaction: Warren Sapp said it best, "The Next Mike Mamula"
JJ What? Let's see here… 5-tech 34 DE, check. (Psst: The Saints still run a 43) Workout warrior, check. Tweener, check. Started out as a tight end at Central Michigan, check. Inexperienced as a DE, check. Suspect tackler, check. Not all that much of a pass-rusher, check. Project, check. Oh yeah, this guy is exactly what the Saints need in the first. Guh.

He sure is white though. Wait, what I meant to say is that he has high character, is intelligent, shows great leadership, hustle, and by golly he's totally not an asshole. Or something like that.

Da'Quan Bowers — DE — Clemson
Gut reaction: Wasn't this guy penciled in as the #1 overall like a month ago? Uh oh.
Setting aside for a second my irrational hatred of Clemson, it's one thing to fall from a potential #1 overall pick to possibly a borderline first-rounder. It's a whole other thing to fall from "The Next Mario Williams!!!" to a borderline first-rounder inside of two months. Freakin' boulders don't drop that fast.

Hey, I'm all for the "value pick" when a guy slips and you can get him a half-round later than you ever thought possible. Hell, that's precisely what I'm hoping for with Ingram. But if Bowers is available at 24, that's not half a round, that's damn near a full round. The first round. A month or so ago, he was supposed to be the first player off the board. Now, he might be the eighth or ninth defensive end off the board. That doesn't just happen for no reason. This guy's got red flags uncontrollably shooting out of his ass.

Not only was he excruciatingly slow at his pro day, he apparently also ran out of gas during positional drills. At his fucking pro day.

He's the very definition of one-year wonder. 16 sacks last year. Holy shit! 4 in the previous two years combined. D'oh!

But 16 sacks last year! 16!!! Yeah, in the ACC. How many triple-doubles did he post? Is he a menace down in the paint?

He's got "a knee." A big huge knee with a big huge red flag wrapped around it. And he's got the "What's this guy gonna do once he's got a million dollars in the bank?" stink on him. Sure, you could put that stink on anybody if you wanted to. Nobody's immune to it. But some are more susceptible to it than others, which explains why some players get saddled with that rap and others don't.

Somebody's gonna roll the dice on this guy. I'd just as soon have it be Atlanta.

Alright, once again I've found myself rambling on far longer than I expected to. I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume I'm the only person on Earth who's actually surprised by that. I guess the pre-emptive trashing of the DT and OLB candidates will just have to wait until sometime early next week. That is, if I can manage to fit them all into one post.

That will then of course be followed by my pulling a complete 180 on whichever one of 'em the Saints end up with. Hey, I may be completely oblivious to my own excruciating wordiness, but at least I'm totally self-aware about my… uh… willingness to adapt? Yeah, let's go with that. High five!

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