This week’s focus centers around the Senior Bowl and the hundreds of hopeful prospects looking to make it to the next level.
The New Orleans Saints 7-9 finish ended on a high note, but the reality is that we’re already looking ahead to the 2016 season after another disappointing campaign. The team needs help on both sides of the ball, but more importantly the priority is to help improve their 31st ranked defense. We take an early look at the pressing needs for the Saints in the 2016 NFL Draft.
If you just look at defending against the tight end, the black and gold’s defense gave up a league worst 1,290 receiving yards. The unit tied for second worst in two categories by giving up 11 touchdowns and 96 receptions.
The “Will” or weakside linebacker position saw many different changes in 2015 due to injury. Veteran Dannell Ellerbe only played in 6 games all season, which caused a shuffling of Ramon Humber, David Hawthorne, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Michael Mauti, and James Anderson.
Gaining a consistent presence at this position may not solve every problem for the Saints, but it’s a vital position of need. In my opinion, it’s the top need of the NFL Draft.
The Saints will likely have a full complement of second year players competing for playing time next season at defensive end opposite of Cam Jordan. However, is that enough? The team’s 31 sacks (T-27th) isn’t much to celebrate about.
Hopefully you’ve been paying attention to the Super Bowl teams, and notice that they both have something in common: being highly efficient at getting after the quarterback. The Broncos finished first overall in the NFL with their 52 team sacks, and the Panthers were sixth in the league with a season total of 44 sacks.
Without question, there’s a glaring need for a pass rusher. That need could be filled through free agency, which would likely shift more of the emphasis to the interior line. Either way, the Saints will need several defensive lineman in 2016.
The New Orleans Saints recently parted ways with offensive line coach Bret Ingalls, and for good reason. Drew Brees was sacked 142 times from 2006-2012. Once Ingalls took over in 2013, the Saints offensive line allowed 97 total sacks on Brees in three seasons. This included a career high 37 sacks in 2013. While Dan Roushar moves back to the familiar role, keeping Brees safe will remain a priority.
However, that might be a little easier said than done with impending restricted free agents Senio Kelemete and Tim Lelito, and unrestricted free agents Tony Hills and Mike McGlynn. Couple that with a questionable future surrounding right tackle Zach Strief, and a major salary cap decision needing to be made in regards to right guard Jahri Evans.
Drafting an offensive lineman who can develop and/or play in multiple roles will be a big commodity the team will need to find in the draft.
- Kicker: I won’t get off my soapbox on drafting the best kicker prospect in 2016, which is Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo. He had a down season in 2015, but still presents one of the best legs to enter the professional ranks in 2016. You’re talking about a franchise kicker presumably for the next 10-15 years. If you aren’t convinced on why the team needs a kicker, then just check out my article on 5 coaches that need to be gone in 2016.
- Tight End: Ben Watson, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Josh Hill are scheduled to become free agents. With the recent addition of Dan Campbell, I’d absolutely want to join the Saints as a tight end. The right fit for Sean Payton’s offense would have a block first mentality.
- Running Back: You rarely see the New Orleans Saints go a draft without finding a running back or two. Now, whether they address the need through the actual draft or through the undrafted rookie free agent pool will be what to keep an eye on. Khiry Robinson is a restricted free agent. Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet are both unrestricted free agents, and C.J. Spiller, Marcus Murphy, and Mark Ingram are coming back from season-ending injuries.
- Cornerback: You can hear some opinions brewing for the need for an extra cornerback given the concerns of Damian Swann, Keenan Lewis, and Brandon Browner. While Lewis is bound and determined to come back better than ever, there could a need to draft a potential Swann replacement.
How the Saints attack free agency will make the ultimate focuses clearer for the NFL Draft.