Seeking another big target, Saints draft WR Toon

Published 2:18 pm Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Former NFL star Al Toon answered the phone, handed it to his son, Nick, and watched his face light up.

The New Orleans Saints made Nick Toon a second-generation NFL wide receiver on Saturday, a move aimed at providing quarterback Drew Brees with another big target to go with receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham.

Soon after drafting the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Toon in the fourth round out of Wisconsin, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt mentioned that New Orleans liked Toon’s pedigree and polish.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We like the way this guy can run routes right now,” Vitt said. “He’s competitive. He’ll fight you for the ball. He’s a good blocker. He’s in good shape right now. He’s excited to be here, so we’re expecting the best.”

Toon comes to a Saints team that lost one of its top receivers when Robert Meachem left for San Diego in free agency. Adrian Arrington is expected to be first in line to step into that void as he enters his fifth year as a pro, but Toon, a favorite prospect of Saints wide receivers coach Henry Ellard, could provide some competition.

“We like Adrian a lot,” Vitt said, adding that Toon was simply “the next best player” on club’s draft list, as well as someone Sean Payton spent time with at the NFL combine before the head coach’s season-long suspension began in connection with the NFL’s bounty investigation.

After taking Toon, the Saints added Samford cornerback Corey White in the fifth round and Syracuse guard Andrew Tiller in the sixth round.

For the elder Toon, it seemed like fate that his son would end up playing in the Big Easy.

A few days earlier, his wife, Jane, had dreamt her son would become a Saint, he said. Then there was the fact that Toon appeared on a football card with Ellard, back when both led their respective conferences in receiving in 1988 — Ellard with the Los Angeles Rams of the NFC and Toon with the New York Jets in the AFC.

“I told Nick I have to pull one of those out,” Al Toon said of the football card. “It’s actually pretty … I wouldn’t say strange, but I don’t know what word to use right now.”

Speaking by phone from Madison, Wis., Nick Toon said Payton talked to him about his family’s football background. Toon credited his father for influencing his development as a football player.

“My dad was a great football player and a great resource of mine growing up,” Toon said. “He has been a great sounding board for me throughout my career, my entire life — a great blue print as far as a football player. Just a good person and a good leader.”

Taken 122nd overall, Toon was the second player drafted by New Orleans, which did not have a pick in the first two rounds. The Saints’ first-round pick had been traded away last year so New Orleans could draft Mark Ingram and this year’s second-round pick was taken away as part of the club’s punishment in the bounty probe. New Orleans did not pick until Friday night’s third round, when they took Regina (Canada) defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who had briefly been with LSU before being ruled ineligible for receiving improver transportation and housing benefits in Baton Rouge.

Last season, Toon led the Badgers in receiving with 64 catches for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“Henry Ellard has coached people like Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt, and Henry was really fired up about his route running ability — a polished route runner right now,” Vitt said. “He’s big like we like to have in our systems. … This is a guy that Sean met at the combine extensively because Sean likes big receivers. So it worked out perfect.”

Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. compared Toon to Colston and noted that “he can run faster than people give him credit for.”

“He’s a real smart guy, so he’s going to be able to play more than one position for us,” Carmichael said. “We can put him inside, we can put him outside.”

Toon liked the Colston comparison and said his offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, Paul Chryst, had said the same thing. He said he takes pride in “having good hands and being consistent in catching the ball.”

New Orleans also got a versatile defensive back in White, who played cornerback at Samford but could also play safety. The 6-foot, 206-pound White led Samford in interceptions last season with four, returning one for a touchdown. Although he is from Atlanta, he said he was a San Diego Chargers fan and could not wait to practice against Brees, who played five years in San Diego.

“It’s going to be fun picking off some balls from Drew Brees,” White said. “I’m real confident in my game, you know, you’ve got to be confident to play this game.”

The Saints entered the draft looking for depth at defensive back after the departure of free agent Tracy Porter to Denver.

Having also lost All-Pro guard Carl Nicks in free agency, the Saints added depth at that spot with Tiller, an All-Big East lineman who started 25 games in the last two seasons for the Orange under coach Doug Marrone, a former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Payton in New Orleans.