With news of Jairus Byrd’s release, Sean Payton’s comments about the draft indicate that the New Orleans Saints may look toward the draft to fill the hole at safety.
When Sean Payton spoke with John DeShazier about the upcoming draft, gave some indication as to how the New Orleans Saints might approach the offseason. On the subject of offseason “musts,” Payton had this to say:
"If you have a must, and a “must” means you must fill this spot – let’s say it’s a certain position – do you feel like that’s available in the draft, and what kind of depth do you think exists at that position in the draft? If it’s not, then you pay a little bit closer attention to free agency at that position."
This would figure to be a pretty basic philosophy for free agency. If a position is deep in the draft, you can let free agency pass without filling the need because you’re comfortable with the idea that you’ll be able to find a player in the draft.
And on the subject of deep positions in the 2017 draft, Payton brought up five specifically.
"I think it’s deep on safeties and also on corners. It’s got some depth at running back. I think there’s a handful of defensive ends. It might not be as deep in the offensive line position."
When Payton first made the comments, no reports had come out of Byrd’s impending release. Safety seemed a relatively solid position for 2017, even if it had some questions looming down the road. So most took him to simply be expounding on the depth in the draft class.
But now that safety is back on the menu, it’s easy to note that all five positions he mentioned are positions of need or at least of interest to the Saints. Most figure they’ll take a DE early in the draft. Their need for youth at OL is a growing concern among Saints fans. Corner is a need if only for the injury history of the players currently on the roster. And running back is a somewhat unheralded need, a component that’s been missing from Payton’s offense for a few years running.
And now safety.
If I had to guess, I’d say the Saints will make sure to come out of the draft with a player at each of these positions: a DE, a CB, a S, and a RB. They have six picks in the draft.
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Defensive End is an obvious need, especially with so many quality EDGE rushers landing the franchise tag. At this point, even if they sign someone, they’re going to need to bring in some youth and potential.
Cornerback I see as a less secure position in this group. There’s still a great number of quality CBs available in free agency. That said, with such a deep group of CBs I’d expect the Saints to look that way in one of the later rounds. Assuming they do manage to sign some potential starters before the draft.
Running Back I think is a pretty sure thing at this point. There aren’t many options available in free agency to fill that satellite back role that Payton so covets. And the Saints have a history of finding rookie talent at RB late into or even after the draft. Look for the Saints to add some speed here, and maybe another shot at a return man.
Safety has a similar situation to cornerback. There are a number of talented free agent safeties, including John Cyprien and Tony Jefferson. I could see the Saints making a run at either of these players, but their price tag might be hard to swallow for the Saints this year with so many holes along the defense. Barring a top-tier signing, I’d say the Saints bringing in a young safety is a pretty sure thing. Safeties can typically play on special teams, and with the Saints favoring 3-safety sets there’s always room on the field. The Saints can’t have too much depth.
That’s not say that the Saints won’t take a LB or QB in the draft. If Reuben Foster drops to the 11th pick, I figure the Saints will pull the trigger. And if there’s a young prospect they like at QB, I’d be happy with that too. Both OL and TE could use some upgrading or youth injections. Anything can happen on draft night. But between the Saints six picks, I expect they’ll come away with prospects at each of those four positions.