LAST SEASON Rush Offense - 98.6 ypg (25th)
Pass Offense - 312.3 ypg (1st)
Total Offense - 410.9 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Offense - 28.8 ppg (3rd)
Rush Defense - 147.6 ypg (32nd)
Pass Defense - 292.6 ypg (31st)
Total Defense - 440.1 ypg (32nd)
Scoring Defense - 28.4 ppg (31st) MOST PRESSING NEEDS Offense: Tackle, wide receiver depth and a backup for Drew Brees
QUARTERBACK The Draft Board
5th round Landry Jones, Oklahoma (6-4, 225) 6th round Colby Cameron, La. Tech (6-2, 212) 7th round Sean Renfree, Duke (6-3, 219)
Drew Brees isn't going anywhere, but there isn't anyone behind him. Literally … no one. Chase Daniel is an unrestricted free agent and the Saints should bring him back. But the team has little money to spend to fend off suitors and, well, there are suitors. The Saints can't afford to have a rookie backing up Brees, but they'll need to find one on Day 3 to do just that.
Landry Jones piled up huge numbers in the no-huddle offense at Oklahoma the past four years, but against good opponents, he struggled mightily. Colby Cameron is not a physical marvel, but he ran Tony Franklin's offense to a 'T' at Louisiana Tech, throwing the ball all over the yard. Sean Renfree is a developmental project who learned under well-respected quarterback guru David Cutcliffe at Duke.
If there is one certainty this offseason, it's that the Saints won't draft a running back. They have five guys who can ably carry the football, including 2011 first-rounder Mark Ingram, and there's no reason to add another at this point.
Wide receiver The Draft Board
5th round Aaron Mellette, Elon (6-2, 217) 6th round Connor Vernon, Duke (6-0, 196)
Lanear Sampson, Baylor (5-11, 204) 7th round Devonte Christopher, Utah (6-1, 200)
Russell Shepard, LSU (5-10, 190)
For years, Brees has thrown to one of the deepest and most dynamic receiving corps in the NFL. But, that group's depth has eroded over the past two seasons. Robert Meachem took his talents to San Diego last year as an unrestricted free agent. Deep threat Devery Henderson is an unrestricted free agent this season. Now, don't weep for Brees and the Saints; Lance Moore, Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham all return. That said, the team needs depth and a young receiver that has the potential to eventually become one of Brees' top two or three targets in the future.
Aaron Mellette reminds many of former Appalachian State star and current Ram Brian Quick. He's a smooth route runner who can catch the ball in every area of the field. Connor Vernon is one of the most skilled receivers in this draft. He does things to get open that you can't coach, but doesn't have blazing speed. Lanear Sampson was overshadowed by Terrance Williams, but can be explosive after the catch.
TIGHT END The Draft Board
6th round Michael Williams, Alabama (6-6, 269) 7th round Justice Cunningham, S.Carolina (6-3, 258)
Jimmy Graham is one of the best tight ends in the league, but there is little on the depth chart behind him. There are a couple of potential in-line guys in later rounds of the draft, which matches when the Saints should be looking for a complementary tight end on draft weekend.
Williams is the best run-blocking tight end in this class, even though he didn't get an invite to the combine. Given his blocking acumen, Michael Williams provides tremendous value for a team that can't afford to sign a free agent to perform that task. Justice Cunningham is not quite as good a blocker, but he'll mix it up physically and is worth a look in the seventh round.
OFFENSIVE LINE The Draft Board
3rd round T Oday Aboushi, Virginia (6-5, 308)
G/T Justin Pugh, Syracuse (6-4, 307) 4th round T Jordan Mills, La. Tech (6-5, 316) 5th round T Chris Faulk, LSU (6-5, 331) 6th round T Reid Fragel, Ohio St. (6-8. 308)
T Jordan Devey, Memphis (6-7, 317)
LT Jermon Bushrod is an unrestricted free agent and likely not returning given the Saints' financial situation. The team drafted former USC product Charles Brown in 2010, but hasn't seen enough from him to warrant confidence that he can slide seamlessly into that key left tackle position. And that's one problem; the right tackle spot is another. RT Zach Strief struggled throughout the season, so the team must address the overt need at tackle during the draft. The interior is solid as long as restricted free agent center Brian De La Puente returns in between star guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs.
Oday Aboushi played left tackle at Virginia, but he's not equipped to play the position at the next level. He could, however, play the right side for a decade or more. Justin Pugh played for former Saints offensive coordinator Doug Marrone at Syracuse. He dealt with nagging injuries throughout the season, but made it back late in the year to play in the bowl game and the Senior Bowl. Chris Faulk is a high-risk, high-reward selection as he sat out all season due to a knee injury. He was a projected second rounder prior to the injury, so perhaps the value outweighs the risk.
DEFENSIVE LINE The Draft Board
1st round DE Datone Jones, UCLA (6-4, 283)
NT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio St. (6-3, 320)
NT Jesse Williams, Alabama (6-3, 323) 3rd round NT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern (6-1, 335) 4th round DE William Gholston, Mich. St. (6-6, 281) 5th round NT Montori Hughes, UT-Martin (6-4, 329)
DE Abry Jones, Georgia (6-3, 313) 6th round NT T.J Barnes, Georgia Tech (6-6, 369)
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, N.D. (6-4, 298)
As Rob Ryan moves to the Big Easy to lead the defense, the biggest question is whether the team has the personnel to run his 3-4 defense. The answer to that question is tricky. Cameron Jordan is a prototype 3-4 defensive end, but Brodrick Bunkley as the team's nose tackle is a poor fit. The team's first selection in last year's draft, Akiem Hicks, has the potential to be that disruptive force over the nose, but he could also slide out to defensive end. With Sedrick Ellis likely gone as an unrestricted free agent, Hicks could play opposite Jordan at DE. Either way, drafting a nose tackle will be a priority, even as early as the first round if the right guy is there.
No. 15 is a bit high for either Datone Jones, Johnathan Hankins or Jesse Williams, but if the Saints love one guy that much, he'll be worth the pick. Jones has climbed up draft boards after a strong Senior Bowl week and he's an explosive, dynamic force no matter where he lines up on the defensive line. Hankins is more of a gap-plugger than disruptive force, but he can move in small space well. Williams is as strong as an ox, plays with tremendous technique and would give the Saints defense a presence inside for the first time in a while.
LINEBACKER The Draft Board
1st round OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia (6-3, 245)
OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU (6-4, 241)
OLB Ziggy Ansah, BYU (6-5, 271) 3rd round OLB Michael Buchanan, Illinois (6-5, 255)
OLB John Simon, Ohio St. (6-1, 257)
ILB/OLB Sio Moore, UConn (6-1, 245) 4th round OLB Cornelius Washington, Georgia (6-4, 265) 5th round ILB A.J Klein, Iowa St. (6-1, 250)
ILB Nico Johnson, Alabama (6-2, 248) 6th round ILB Jonathan Stewart, TAMU (6-4, 242) 7th round ILB Etienne Sabino, Ohio St. (6-2, 247)
Similar to the defensive line, the linebacking corps is one part good, one part bad. The inside linebacker position is set with David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton going forward, but the Saints cannot go into the season with Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma at outside linebacker. OLB Martez Wilson and Junior Galette are well suited to play outside in this defense, but that position still needs a game changer on the edge. The team must add an OLB early in the draft and then target inside linebacker depth in the later rounds.
All three potential first rounders could be gone, which has to be the worst-case scenario for the Saints on draft weekend. Jarvis Jones' neck issues are well documented, but most teams have deemed it to be a non-issue. Still, Jones didn't work out at the combine, which may force teams to shy away. Berkevious Mingo has unmatched speed, but he's raw, as is Ansah, who has only played football since 2010. That said, it's not every day a team has the opportunity to mold a guy with Ansah's God-given gifts.
SECONDARY The Draft Board
1st round CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida St. (6-2, 215) 2nd round CB Desmond Trufant, Washington (6-0, 190)
S Matt Elam, Florida (5-10, 208) 3rd round S Jonathan Cyprien, FIU (6-0, 217)
S Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse (5-9, 213)
S D.J Swearinger, S.Carolina (5-11, 208) 4th round CB Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech (5-11, 189)
CB Tharold Simon, LSU (6-2, 202) 5th round CB D.J Hayden, Houston (5-11, 191)
S Zeke Motta, Notre Dame (6-2, 213)
The secondary isn't in any better shape than either of the two other units on the field. S Roman Harper is a liability and needs to be replaced, but Malcolm Jenkins wasn't much better next to him. At cornerback, it's not that much better, and the question will be whether Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson and Corey White will fit into Ryan's scheme in Year 1. Expect the Saints to highlight the secondary, perhaps as early as the first round.
The Saints don't have a second-round selection, but if all the edge rushers are off the board at No. 15, trading down to accumulate picks makes sense. Now, it takes two to tango, but No. 15 is a strong trade possibility to find a player that has fallen down the board. Ryan may bang the table for a press man corner like Rhodes before that trade happens. To win this division, the Saints are going to have to stop Atlanta and WR Julio Jones. Xavier Rhodes is the only player with the size and strength to frustrate him in the future.
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