NFL Draft: Saints’ team needs
Quarterbacks: The Saints have one of league’s best quarterbacks in Drew Brees, and there’s no need to use a pick on this position. There’s an outside chance, however, that head coach Sean Payton could surprise us and use a late-round pick on a developmental project.
Running backs: Payton has said the team is looking for a short-yardage back to replace Deuce McAllister, and it has yet to address that need in free agency. It’s not a high priority with Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell in place, but New Orleans could go for a big, physical rusher at some point in the draft.
Receivers: The Saints have spent a pick on a receiver in each of Payton’s three drafts since becoming head coach, so there’s always a chance the club could take another target for Brees late in the draft. Even though Jeremy Shockey was disappointing last season, the Saints are not expected to target any rookie tight ends.
Offensive line: It appears that New Orleans will return all five starting O-linemen from last season. The team has solid depth at the position and will likely steer clear of O-line prospects this year.
Defensive line: The Saints have invested a lot of money in their front four, doling out lucrative deals to DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith and last year’s first-round pick, DT Sedrick Ellis. However, the group has not provided the kind of pass rush the team needs and expects from it. Although the Saints could use more help here, concerns in the secondary and at outside linebacker probably take precedence in the draft.
Linebackers: With Jonathan Vilma back in the fold, the Saints are in good hands in the middle. At outside linebacker, however, they will be looking to get more athletic. Linebackers will be sent on blitzes frequently in new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ scheme, and the club could tap into this year’s deep pool of DE-OLB hybrid players.
Defensive backs: Cornerback and free safety are the Saints’ two biggest needs heading into the draft. They could use new starters at each position. New Orleans will be looking for fast, aggressive defensive backs who are comfortable playing man-to-man and able to contribute from Day One.
Special teams: After going through the less-than-ideal circumstance of making personnel changes at kicker and punter in the midst of last season, Payton finally settled on PK Garrett Hartley and P Glenn Pakulak. He appears content with that tandem, but for how long he’ll remain so is anybody’s guess. The Saints don’t have needs at kick or punt returner.
Summary: The Saints’ defense is in need of major improvement, particularly in the secondary. Payton will have an eye out for ballhawks with speed and plenty of athleticism.
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