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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Hau'oli Kikaha, who set records for sacks with the Washington Huskies, jokes that he "almost forgot" which knee he blew out twice in college.
Given the way he's played the past two seasons, it doesn't look like his injury history will be a significant liability, and the New Orleans Saints showed their confidence in Kikaha's fitness by making him their second-round draft choice at 44th overall on Friday.
"It was pretty hard for me to take," Kikaha said of the left anterior cruciate ligament tears that sidelined him for most of 2011 and all of 2012. "But they're in the past and I've overcome those things with my family's help and support, and coaching and friends that brought me through those times.
"I'm glad those are long in the past and I've been able to excel since then."
The Saints used their first of two third-round draft picks on Colorado State's Garrett Grayson, a possible heir apparent to 36-year-old record-setting quarterback Drew Brees.
"I'm just extremely excited to get behind him and learn as much as I can," Grayson, taken 75th overall, said of Brees. "I have no problem sitting behind a (potential) Hall-of-Famer like Drew Brees just like Aaron (Rodgers) did with Brett Favre. This really is — and I'm not just saying this — it really is a dream come true for me."
Payton dismissed the notion that Brees should feel threatened just because the Saints drafted a quarterback in the third round.
"It would be different if all of a sudden we're taking a quarterback in the first round," Payton said. "But in our case it's pretty clear: We love our starter."
The Saints then took Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams with the 78th overall choice acquired from Miami, along with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, in a trade that sent receiver Kenny Stills to the Dolphins.
"He's got a really good football IQ," Payton said of Williams. "I see him being a guy who'll come in and compete with the rest of these guys on the outside. I do think he's someone that ought to be able to play in the nickel."
In addition to his 4.45-second time in his "pro day" 40-yard dash, the 6-foot, 196-pound has a 41-inch vertical leap. He said he's been able to dunk a basketball since ninth grade and perfected a standing backflip long ago."
"Growing up, I used to flip off of everything," he said. "I have always had a lot of athleticism."
The 6-foot-2, 253-pound Kikaha gives the Saints a powerful pass-rusher from the edge, something the club could use after its defense ranked 23rd in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt last season.
In 2014, Kikaha led all Division I Football Bowl Subdivision players in sacks with 19 en route to finishing his Huskies career with a school record 36 sacks, and was named Associated Press first-team All-America.
Kikaha had a sack in 13 of 14 games last season and his 25 tackles for losses ranked second nationally. He also had 13 sacks in 2013, when he was named first-team All-Pac-12.
His Washington school records also include: Career tackle-for-loss yards (275), single-season Sacks (19 in 2014), single-season tackles for loss (25 in 2014) and single-season tackle-for-loss yards (139 in 2014).
Kikaha has advanced training in martial arts, including judo, which said has helped him as a football player.
"The core fundamentals of those sports are based on balance and power and angles, not to mention hand-fighting — all of those things go into what a pass rusher does," Kikaha said.
Kikaha also has a friend on the Saints, offensive lineman Senio Kelemete, a fellow Hawaiian and former teammate at Washington.
The Saints top pass rushers last season were Junior Galette, who had 10 sacks, and Cameron Jordan, who had 7½ sacks.
Both saw a drop in production last season from 2013, when Jordan led the club with 12½ sacks and Galette had 12.
Jordan is also entering the final season of his contract, while Galette signed an extension before last season.
Now both will be pushed to outperform Kikaha, who was widely regarded as one of the most accomplished pass-rushers in the draft.
The Hawaii native was New Orleans' third overall pick, following Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat at 13th overall and Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony at 31st overall.
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