Saints likely to target defense in 2017 draft

Brent St. Germain
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Listening to various NFL draft experts around the country, the New Orleans Saints could be targeting almost any position in the first round of the upcoming draft.

Some have the Saints addressing their defensive needs, while others have the Saints selecting an offensive playmaker or quarterback to eventually replace future Pro Football Hall of Famer Drew Brees.

Raceland-based NFL analyst Mike Detillier has his thoughts on what side of the ball the Saints need to address and it's all about the defense.

“I hear all of this stuff about offense, but if you don’t get better on the defensive side of the football, you are treading water," Detillier said. "The Saints can continue picking offensive players, but it won’t do them any good. If the Saints don’t get better on defense, they will remain stuck in neutral.”

Defensive woes have plagued the Saints in recent years and played a major role in the team finishing 7-9 in three straight seasons.

Despite having one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL, the Saints' defense has ranked near the bottom in those seasons. The Saints were ranked 31st overall in 2014 and 2015 and made a modest jump to 27th in 2016.

Detillier said it is no secret that the Saints will try to address those needs with their two first-round picks in the draft, which begins with Thursday's first round in Philadelphia. The past two Super Bowl champions -- the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots -- had statistically solid defensive units.

“It’s not reinventing the wheel. You see how other teams are doing it, and you have to be able to do that," Detillier said. "The Saints need to get better on the defensive side of the ball with an edge pass rusher and someone to start on the back end opposite Delvin Breaux.”

Following the trade that sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, the Saints are heading into the draft with two first-round picks -- No. 11 and No. 32 from New England.

Detillier projects the Saints will address their two biggest defensive needs at edge pass rusher and cornerback with those selections.

With the No. 11 pick, Detillier projects the Saints will select Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, who had a school-record 33 sacks, breaking former Volunteers standout and Pro Football Hall of Famer's Reggie White record.

“Derek is the type of player that can make an impact on this defense," Detillier said. "He is a really good athlete who broke Reggie Whites’ sack record at Tennessee, and he was a guy you had to scheme to block. He has been super productive, and I love his effort on the field.”

Another possibility, Detillier said, is Temple linebacker Haason Reddick, who is climbing up many draft boards and has a similar playing style to Oakland Raiders All-Pro Khalil Mack.

“Every year, there is one player who is racing up draft boards, and this year, that player is Reddick," Detillier said. "He has played everywhere on the board from a defensive end with his hands in the dirt to a 4-3 outside linebacker who can even drop back in coverage. You can move him all over the board like the queen piece in chess.”

With the No. 32 pick, Detillier said he is not ruling out the Saints trading it back to the Patriots from cornerback Malcolm Butler. Recent reports have surfaced that the Patriots are leaning toward keeping Butler for the 2017 season.

If they keep the pick, Detillier projects the Saints will select one of the top cornerbacks on the board -- Washington's Sidney Jones, LSU's Tre'Davious White, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey or USC's Adoree' Jackson.

With seven picks overall, including five in the Top 103, Detillier said the Saints could do something that hasn't been done during the tenure of general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton -- trading back in the first round to accumulate more picks. The Saints also have one pick in the second round (No. 42), two in the third round (Nos. 76 and 103) and one each in the sixth (No. 196) and seventh rounds (No. 229).

While Payton is known for drafting offensive players high, Detillier said it is best for the Saints to wait and address the defensive needs first.

“If the Saints pick an offensive player there, it signals the end," he said. "It would be like a form of madness because they would be doing the same thing over and over knowing that it’s not working.”

Following Thursday’s first round, the NFL draft will continue with Rounds 2-3 on Friday and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.