Feb 24, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Kony Ealy runs the shuttle during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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Five Players the Saints Should Draft
The 2014 NFL Draft is just around the corner, which means now is a good time to ponder what the New Orleans Saints could look to do to make themselves better.
While the draft is just a couple of weeks away, the release of the 2014 NFL schedule also gets the pro football juices going, especially when Saints fans realize how tough their schedule is (never mind their own division).
It’s not going to be an easy road back to the playoffs (or back to the top of the NFC South), but New Orleans already got back on track with the return of head coach Sean Payton last season. They’ve shed some weight (traded running back Darren Sproles) and also made a major upgrade (signed safety Jairus Byrd). However, New Orleans still has some holes to fill, while now might be a good time to look ahead to the future at a few positions.
The Saints look very much like a strong playoff team that could make a good run this season, but a few solid pieces added in the draft could go a long way in ensuring that happens.
Let’s take a look at five prospects that could help them pick their game up a bit in 2014:
Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri
New Orleans took a major step forward with their new 3-4 defensive scheme in 2013, but still could use more punch in the pass rush department. That’s where the athletic Ealy comes in. A fantastic athlete with great quickness and a good array of pass-rushing moves, Ealy figures to be a perfect fit for outside linebacker in the Saints’ 3-4 defense.
Ealy will have to answer concerns about his ability in coverage, but physically he has all the tools to be able to make the transition. Worst case, Ealy should be able to rotate in as an elite edge rusher, while he has the upside to be a very effective every down player. If the Saints want him, they’ll have to grab him up near the end of round while. Should they opt for another position in the first round, the Saints could take a look at other 3-4 pass-rushing prospects like Trent Murphy or Jeremiah Attaochu.
Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
While not an immediately pressing concern, the Saints need to find a way to add some talent to their receiving corps. They release slot receiver Lance Moore this off-season, while Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are aging. Kenny Stills and Joe Morgan are explosive deep threats, but neither is ready yet to be a full-time starter on the outside and no one can be sure if they ever will be. New Orleans should look for a long-term replacement for Colston, or at least someone to start lining up across from him from time to time.
Adams has good size and is a dangerous play-maker after the catch. While he’s not a burner or a massive target, he has the makings of a solid possession receiver that can make some plays. The Saints have enough speed already. It’s time to land a receiver who will go up for contested passes and make plays on the ball in tight coverage. Adams can do that for them.
Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
Wisconsin’s Chris Borland would be awesome in round two and we probably can’t completely rule out Alabama’s C.J. Mosley in round one, but Skov should end up being the best value pick at inside linebacker. David Hawthorne can be improved upon and the Saints need to keep working to improve all aspects of their 3-4 defense.
You could make the argument that cornerback is as big of a need, but signing on veteran corner Champ Bailey quiets that down a bit. The 3-4 system in New Orleans is perfect for Skov, who needs to hide on the inside of a 3-4 to prevent exploitation of only average speed and over aggressiveness.
On the bright side, Skov has fantastic size and instincts for the position and is also adept and shedding blocks. Skov might be a slight liability in coverage, but paired with a superior inside linebacker in the Saints’ 3-4, he shouldn’t be beat as often as he would if he were operating in a 4-3. More importantly, he’s a sure tackler and a thumper, and should help improve the Saints’ run defense. That, and he’s another gritty, hard-hitting presence on a defense that is slowly becoming filled with them. The best part is that he could be available in the third or fourth round.
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Darren Sproles is gone, so why not go get a new one? Pierre Thomas is rumored to be out the door soon, while Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson don’t have the versatility to do what Sproles did. There is always the possibility New Orleans begins to stray away from using a running back as a receiver out of the backfield quite as much as they did with Sproles, but that part of their system did work insanely well in the past. Until the draft ends without the Saints taking Thomas, they’ll forever be tied to him due to his game being strikingly similar to Sproles’.
Thomas doesn’t have the size or strength to ever be an every down back in the NFL, but he absolutely has the speed, versatility and overall athleticism to be a real offensive weapon. If anyone can maximize his talents, it’s Sean Payton and the Saints. Thomas could be readily available as late as round four.
Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
Swanson is arguably the best center available in this year’s draft, and even if he’s not he’s easily a top three player at the position. Center is a very specific position and not many teams are in need of one to start the draft, so there is a good chance he slides quite a bit. Hoping for him to slide beyond the third round is probably a little unrealistic, but if he does fall that far the Saints should snatch him up. They currently lack depth at the position and Swanson would be a major steal if he can be gotten in the middle rounds.