New Orleans Saints mailbag: Vaccaro and Byrd rebound, trading up, and Ryan Griffin as heir?


The New Orleans Saints are in for a good April. Things are starting to mold into promise for the 2015 campaign. We went from a flurry of news last month to getting little tidbits lately, like the contract extension of guard Jahri Evans and signing of cornerback Kyle Wilson. At this point, most efforts are now centered around the NFL Draft at the end of the month, and the Saints will look to capitalize on having two first round selections.

We asked our social media outlets for their New Orleans Saints questions, and I selected several of them to answer.

Special thanks to our following on Facebook and Twitter for taking the time to interact, and ask us questions! As always, keep them coming!

Do you think Vaccaro and Byrd will bounce back after a down year? (Keith A.)

Two words for you: Brandon Browner. I’ll never forget the tweet that Browner sent to Jairus Byrd after his excitement for bringing him on board. Browner mentioned that things could happen, but it’s going to take work. That sets the tone for everyone, in my opinion. Browner brings leadership and accountability to this secondary, and more importantly the entire team.

That being said, it’s easy for me to think that Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd do rebound next season. I think the secondary assignments were blown all over the place last year, and there was clear miscommunication. I look for the Saints to have more three corner sets with the two safeties as opposed to the three safety looks from last season. That’s where a guy like Kyle Wilson, who was recently signed from the New York Jets, comes in. Wilson plays slot, Keenan Lewis plays man coverage, and Brandon Browner plays press coverage.

The whole scheme has the makings for safeties to shine and help over the top. Vaccaro hit a major sophomore slump, and Byrd and Rafael Bush have to be somewhat determined after sustaining season ending injuries. Naturally, we want to see it all work.

What’s the deal with Ryan Griffin? Is he a viable replacement for Drew Brees? For the future, of course! (Angela M.)

I’m glad someone remembers Ryan Griffin is still on the Saints roster. This is where I can’t wrap my head around the quarterback talk. Last year, we were sitting in the preseason saying how good Ryan Griffin looked, and that he should be the backup to Drew Brees over Luke McCown. Suddenly, that all changed?

I think there’s going to be a lot of talk about Ryan Griffin over the next few months. Even if the team does draft a quarterback (which would be late), or brings one as an undrafted rookie (like Logan Kilgore last year), I can’t read too much into it.

I believe there’s eventually going to be a succession plan, but Brees has two years left, that’s the reality. There’s no guarantee that he goes anywhere after 2016 either. I loved what I saw out of Ryan Griffin, and I believe that he’s only going to get better. However, saying he is going to be the replacement at this point in time? That may be a little far-fetched.

Will Hawthorne and Ellerbe be enough in the middle, or do the Saints need a play making middle linebacker? (Keith A.)

It’s going to be interesting to see how David Hawthorne fares by filling in for Curtis Lofton. Not many remember, but he was at tackling machine at Seattle during 2009-2011. He finished with 116, 107, and 115 tackles (all team-leading) during his stint with the Seahawks.

The biggest issue with these two linebackers are durability. Dannell Ellerbe is coming off an injured hip which forced him to miss the 2014 season. All reports and signs show that he’s good to go, but you wouldn’t be wrong to not feel uneasy about the middle.

I could see the Saints looking at a middle linebacker spot post draft, as their current depth options are Ramon Humber, Kyle Knox, and Jerry Franklin. The bigger picture has me looking at defensive assistant/linebackers coach James Willis. I believe he’ll be a huge difference maker for the linebacking corps.

Who do you think our breakout offensive star is this year? (Mario C.)

I think it’s a toss-up between Brandin Cooks and Josh Hill. I’d even give C.J. Spiller a vote. Hill has some large shoes to fill with the departure of Jimmy Graham, and Sean Payton has gushed a lot about his abilities. Hill already carries a large chip on his shoulder because he was undrafted. With an opportunity of a lifetime, so to speak, I have to give him the slight edge.

However, Brandin Cooks has a hunger and desire to perform, and it’s evident if you follow him on Twitter and such. He’s eager to hit the field, and it killed him to miss action. He’s a weapon, plain and simple. He was on pace to be one of the best rookie wide receivers of 2014 up until his thumb injury.

Either way, we have a lot of players to watch out for in 2015, and that’s not a bad thing by any means.

It appears the Saints are going to trade up, because in my opinion, they’re not selecting nine players in the draft. So, who do they go up and get? (John P.)

I wouldn’t be so quick to believe that the Saints will trade up in the draft. You have to think about this. Over the next few seasons, a lot of the beloved players we treasure so dearly are likely not going to be on the Saints roster. They’ll either retire or go elsewhere.

Coach Sean Payton’s philosophy is all about the best player playing, so why not have draft picks come in to challenge others? A sense of entitlement from tenure is meaningless playing for the New Orleans Saints. I love the fact that this team will potentially have nine new faces through the draft.

Look at it like this. Fans have harped on Nick Toon for years, he simply hasn’t lived up to the hype in such a short three-year span. If the team were to draft receivers for the like Phillip Dorsett (Miami), Sammie Coates (Auburn), or Devin Smith (Ohio State), then we suddenly wouldn’t have to settle for having Toon line up. There’d be some heavy competition for all receivers involved.

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