Holes, holes, holes.
At some positions, the roster looks solid. At guard, at defensive tackle. Kicker. Maybe at tight end. Maybe at linebacker. But outside of those positions, the New Orleans Saints have holes that they badly need to fill before the 2017 season. And that means they’ll need to have an outstanding draft.
The most obvious positions of need are defensive end and cornerback. Even if the Saints land Malcolm Butler, they’ll likely look to add another young CB to the wonderfully uncertain and injury-prone group through the draft. And even if the Saints manage to land a top DE with the 11th pick, they’ll likely double dip at EDGE rusher in the later rounds.
The Saints need to find instant contributors at both of these positions in the draft.
But they have holes beyond these two. If they want to put forward a complete roster in 2017, the New Orleans Saints are in the unenviable position of needing to hit on every one of their draft picks.
The most pressing needs beyond DE and CB are at safety and at running back.
With Jairus Byrd’s release, the Saints are virtually guaranteed to go after a safety at some point in the draft. Vonn Bell will join Kenny Vaccaro in the starting lineup, but with Dennis Allen’s tendency to roll out three-safety defensive sets the Saints need another contributor. Erik Harris may very well emerge as that player. Jamarca Sanford, if the Saints resign him, could fill in. But he’s not an ideal starter. Forrest Hightower, Shiloh Keo, Chris Banjo and Robenson Therezie are either Special Teams players or unknowns.
The Saints could look at bringing back Rafael Bush. But even then they need some youth at safety, and Dennis Allen likely wants to select and mold his own player. Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams are enticing options that likely won’t fall to the Saints at 11. Jabrill Peppers doesn’t very well fit the Saints needs. Two popular names linked to the Saints are Obi Melifonwu and Budda Baker. But the position is deep in the draft, and the Saints could look to address the need anywhere down the line. The Saints will have options at how to approach safety.
At running back, on the other hand, the options are more divisive.
Stop me if you’ve heard this name before: Christian McCaffrey.
While the debate on what DE best fits the Saints at the 11th pick is finally settling down—on Derek Barnett—the debate on McCaffrey is just picking up steam.
There’s no debating McCaffrey’s fit. Watch any bit of tape on the RB and you’ll see why Sean Payton might drool over the prospect. It’s easy to imagine him tearing the league up in Black and Gold.
But with the Saints perennially struggling on defense, the debate is not about whether McCaffrey fits in. It’s about whether or not the Saints can afford to spend a high draft pick on offense.
My gut tells me yes. If McCaffrey falls to them at 42 (unlikely) or even at 32 (still uncertain) I’d be okay with them pulling the trigger. Yes, this badly defense needs players. But let’s not forget how far Atlanta’s game-breaking offense brought them last year: one quarter away from a championship. It’s easy to look at statistics and say this Saints offense is already at the top of the league, why invest more in it. But Atlanta should be a testament to the fact that offenses don’t have ceilings. A player like McCaffrey could take this Saints offense over the top. Perhaps even above the 2011 offense. THAT is something to drool over.
If the Saints don’t look McCaffrey’s way, they’ll have options down the draft board. They don’t need a between the tackles runner, so that eliminates a large chunk of the prospects. Someone like OSU’s Curtis Samuel could fill the role if McCaffrey doesn’t fall into place. But honestly, I’d like to see them land McCaffrey.
The next positions that the Saints should address, if the opportunity strikes, are as follows: right tackle, wide receiver, and yes, quarterback.
You’ll note that all three of these are offensive positions. These players don’t need to be instant contributors, so a late-round pick for any would be fine. Save the early round picks for defense (or McCaffrey…).
Right tackle especially can be a project player. Hopefully Zach Strief’s wheels don’t fall off this year. He was one of the better RTs in the league in 2016 but he’s getting up there in age. Andrus Peat was meant to be his eventual replacement, but it looks like Peat’s found a home at LG. He’d likely swing out to RT if Strief goes down with injury, but the Saints would do well to groom a replacement in the wings.
Wide receiver is a more debatable need. Between Ted Ginn, Brandon Coleman and Tommylee Lewis, the Saints can hopefully find players that they’re comfortable rolling out as WR3 and WR4. Especially if they do land a prospect like McCaffrey or Samuel, the Saints might not need to add any more talent on the outside. But if they don’t, or if they like a player, I’m all for a WR. No one will replace Cooks, but a late-round selection on a player that Sean Payton likes could be well worth the move. Payton’s shown a propensity to identify receiver talent.
Quarterback. Sadly enough, it’s just about that time. Drew Brees should have a few more years in him, but there are already reports detailing how his arm lost some zip towards the end of 2016. I don’t think we’ll be seeing his downfall anytime soon. But the wall comes up pretty quick for quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes is easily the most widely accepted target for the Saints at QB. Mahomes is a bit of a project but has the tools to be the best QB in the draft class. A few years under Brees and Sean Payton could turn him into the next big thing. I don’t want him drafted in the first round, with all the holes on this roster. But I’d be fine with anything past that.
The Saints have seven draft picks this year. By my count, they have four positions of need, and three positions that could warrant late-round picks.
That leaves little room for error in the draft class. Fortunately, five of those seven picks come in the first three rounds. There’s reason to believe the Saints could address all four of their need positions in these first three rounds.
But ideally, the Saints would double-dip at DE. And even with the depth already on the roster, they could do with upgrades at LB and at TE. It’s not outlandish to think they might spend a pick here or there to address either of these positions. Not to mention the dilemma if Reuben Foster falls to them at 11.
What I’m trying to say is this: the Saints have too many wants and needs to address them all in the draft. The best situation is that they fill all their needs with instant-contributors, and find project players at others.
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In my ideal world, without consideration of the available prospects, a Saints positional draft breakdown would look like this:
That leaves WR, LB, and TE unaddressed. I think the Saints can live without upgrading there, assuming A.J. Klien is up for the task of starting as MLB.
Let me know what you think. This is a widely debated topic, one that the Saints badly need to find the right answers for. But we’re just fans. So let’s have some fun and speculate.