After a disappointing 2014 performance by the New Orleans Saints, the club has a bit of offseason maintenance to take care of in order to get back on track for 2015. The NFL Scouting Combine is just around the corner, which means the draft is not far behind.
Looking at the previous season, the Black and Gold had some gaping holes on both sides of the ball that need to be addressed via the free agent market and the incoming rookie class. In the past, the Saints have been notoriously superb at discovering late-round gems during the selection process, so here are five newcomers that Sean Payton and company may want to consider towards the end of the draft.
5. Robert Meyers, OG, Tennessee State
At 6-foot-5, 229 pounds, Meyers brings great size and strength to the guard position. The protection of QB Drew Brees, which was a bit subpar in 2014, is critical for the offense’s continued success.
With great footwork, he displays excellent balance in pass protection. Meyers needs to better himself at zone blocking and tends to lose his man during outside runs due to lack of quickness.
However, he shows the characteristics of an NFL starter when shielding his quarterback, and with some extra coaching and work in the weight room to strengthen his arms, Meyers will likely find himself in a starting role sooner rather than later. The Saints could snag this guy up in the fourth or possibly fifth round.
4. Bryce Hager, ILB, Baylor
While Curtis Lofton has consistently led the New Orleans Saints in tackles the past three years, his coverage skills are quite weak. That’s where David Hawthorne comes in, but he took a bit of a backwards turn in 2014.
The 6-foot-2, 235 pound Hager displays good range in both man and zone coverage. He’s a former running with great speed and awareness who can explode to the ball.
He lacks downhill ability, often having trouble against the run, but this is a guy that can be used strictly for passing-down situations. Hager could be picked up anywhere between the fifth and seventh rounds with the slight possibility of going in the fourth.
3. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
5-foot-9 is not the ideal height for a cornerback, but Diggs is certainly not “undersized.” He brings good speed and natural awareness to his position, constantly keeping his head in the game. He played 52 career games at UT with 49 starts, finishing ninth in school history with 11 interceptions.
He is not first-round material, but Texas is known for producing NFL-quality defensive backs, the most recent being Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro. New Orleans is without question in the market for a cornerback — the battle-tested and mentally tough Diggs has played against some of the best receivers in the NCAA.
He has a high ceiling with extraordinary potential as a slot corner. Diggs’ height, lack of top-end speed and vulnerability in vertical coverage will likely limit him to an inside role, but he could be a nice day-three candidate for the Black and Gold.
2. Tony Washington, OLB, Oregon
A potential steal as a late-round prospect, Washington was one of the Ducks’ biggest playmakers on defense this year, helping lead Oregon to a championship appearance. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, the senior linebacker is an effective pass rusher in both the two-point and three-point stances.
His broad shoulders, weight and explosiveness could also earn him a spot on the line as a defensive end. Guys that possess the skill-set to switch positions are ideal for Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme and the Saints are definitely in the market for a pass rusher.
New Orleans lacked a consistent playmaker in 2014 — Washington is a day-two, day-three prospect that can be a steal and help add some toughness back into the equation. His inexperience shows on occasion, but I like him as an underrated prospect in later rounds.
1. Jermauria Rasco, DE/OLB, LSU
Suited for a blitz-happy 3-4 scheme like Rob Ryan‘s, Rasco boasts great position flexibility, but will likely find more success standing up at outside linebacker. The LSU Tiger shows incredible awareness, rarely being fooled.
He has some work to do in order to become a consistent pass rusher, but his toughness, change of direction and excellent pursuit abilities will make the Shreveport, LA native tough to pass on in the later rounds.
With some good coaching in Baton Rouge under defensive coordinator John Chavis, Rasco is well-prepared for life at the next level and would be a great fit for the New Orleans Saints.