Thursday, April 25, 2013

Saints enter NFL draft hoping to improve defense

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 10:45 AM


Draft day is upon us. A day where NFL fans everywhere feel as if it’s Christmas and anticipate their favorite team’s selection that will certainly help them win a championship. It’s practically covered like a presidential race as team’s needs and possible selections are talked about basically after the current draft ends.

New Orleans Saints fans no doubt see the start of the NFL Draft as finally a turning of the page to a forgettable and gut wrenching season. As Saints players conclude their second week of “voluntary” offseason condition programs, the team is hoping to once again find talent that will help build a winning football team.

The Saints have five picks as they head into the draft. The 15h overall pick in the first round, the 75th overall pick in the third round, the 109th pick overall in the 4th round, 144th overall pick in the fifth round and in the sixth round the 183rd overall.

A QUICK LOOK BACK

Saints quarterback Drew Brees

The Saints finished 7-9 last season despite a calendar year filled with turmoil. Don’t worry it will be the only time the situation that starts with the let “B” will come up in this piece. Point is that even with all of that that took place the Saints lost four and I would argue didn’t play their best ball and against the Chiefs and Packers had chances to win those games in the second half. 2-2 heading into the Chargers game and Bucs (both) wins and the Saints could have been 6-2 heading into Joe Vitt’s return.

No point in saying what if and could of this and that I know but what I’m trying to get at is the Saints aren’t in rebuilding mode. Okay I know that a defense that gave up statistically the most yards in NFL history at 7,042 yards of total offense. The Saints defense was alarming giving up and average of 292.6 yards passing and 147.6 yards rushing per game!

I truly believe Steve Spagnuolo’s defense didn’t fit the personnel as evident by his firing. One can clean house and completely rebuild the defense if life was a video game but salary cap restrictions and limited draft picks limits the Saints in realistic terms of what they could do this offseason. The Saints have a championship caliber offense as only the Patriots had more yards this past season with 6,846 to the Saints 6,574 yards. New Orleans was only one of three teams to average over 400 yards of offense, Detroit being the other, this past season. Saints quarterback Drew Brees help lead the offense to the top passing offense in the NFL thanks to his league leading 43 touchdown passes despite Brees leading the league in interceptions, perhaps thanks to the team having the 25th best rushing attack.

So reshaping the defense and adding some talent to the defense should allow the Saints to realistically strive for a 10 win or more type season. Let’s not forget that the 2009 championship season saw the Saints field a defense that was ranked 25th at season’s end.

OFFSEASON SO FAR

Saints head coach Sean Payton is back

New Orleans entered the offseason knowing that head coach Sean Payton would be back. The captain returned to his badly wounded ship on January 23, 25 days after his team concluded the regular season with a 44-38 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The scene was the Senior Bowl practice field in Mobile, Alabama and his chat with media members left no doubt Payton was ready to get back to work and knew changes had to be made. Since that day the Saints have a new defensive coordinator in Rob Ryan to go along with several other staff changes.

The Saints entered Free Agency on a budget that a typical college student could relate with as the team was over the salary cap so trimming salaries via restructuring and saying goodbye to players needed to take place.

The Saints released tight end David Thomas and waived cornerback Johnny Patrick. Starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod received an offer to good to pass up from Chicago and is now a Bear. Players that restructured their contracts include linebackers Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Jonathan Vilma along with receiver Marques Colston and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Defensive linemen Will Smith and Brodrick Bunkley also agreed to make their contracts more cap friendly allowing the team to have more flexibility to pursue players in free agency.

General Manager Mickey Loomis found ways to get some money into the coffers and was able to sing a total of 8 free agents. Corner back Keenan Lewis, linebacker Victor Butler, tackle Jason Smith, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, quarterback Luke McCown, tight end Ben Watson, quarterback Seneca Wallace, and safety Jim Leonhard.

Lewis and Butler potentially could be new starters. Smith will compete with Charles Brown for the left tackle spot left vacant by Bushrod’s departure while the other players fill depth holes while hopefully upgrading overall talent.

The Saints defense gave up 7,042 yards last season. The most in NFL history.

DRAFT NEEDS

You don’t need to be a professional draft analyst to know that the Saints need help on defense. New Orleans has five picks overall and no picks entering the draft in the second and seventh rounds. Pass rushing is what everyone in the NFL is looking for but for the Saints it is a needed asset. Not only do the Saints lack a legitimate pass rusher but a look at the NFC South tells you that acquiring one is as needed as ever. Atlanta has done a solid job of mirroring the Saints offensive attack with multiple options on offense. Carolina despite a sophomore slump of a year still has a talented quarterback in Cam Newton that can hurt you with his legs and arm. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman passed for 420 yards in a loss at Tampa and in the shutout loss in New Orleans the Bucs still put up close to 400 yards of offense.

Loomis and Payton publically sought cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha who chose San Francisco instead. They also made a serious attempt to sign linebacker Paul Kruger in the early day of free agency before the Browns won that bidding war. So there is no secret the Saints are looking to pressure the quarterback and defend the pass better.

The Saints philosophy in the Sean Payton era has been to select the best player available many times despite the position. I still feel the Saints can maintain that way of thinking only should amend that to apply that thought to the best defensive player available. They have five picks and four of them should be defensive players. I can see them looking for offensive line help with the other pick.

WILD DAY AHEAD

The first round is setting up to be a wild ride so buckle up your chin straps. Kansas City and Jacksonville seem all but sure to pick one and two. Seven of the next 13 picks however is anybody’s guess as to who will actually make them as Oakland (#3), Philadelphia (#4), Detroit (#5), Cleveland (#6), Buffalo (#8), Miami (#12), and the Jets (#13) all have reported expressed a desire to trade down. Loomis in his pre-draft media session back Tuesday that the Saints would be willing to trade back but not too far back if the right deal presented itself. In other words, if a team is willing to give the Saints a second round pick they’ll move down.

San Francisco has made no bones about their desire to move up from their 31st pick all the way up into the top five to secure defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The 49ers are armed with 13 draft picks so packaging the right deal likely won’t be difficult. Atlanta also has expressed their desire to move up just as high leading one to believe that they too would like one of the top defensive tackles like Florida’s Sharrif Floyd. The Dirty birds are armed with 11 picks and have already made a splash in free agency with the acquisitions of running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

Running back Chris Ivory signed his restricted free agent tender with the team last Friday in what appears to be a move to facilitate in trading him. Ivory visited with the New York Jets the previous Friday and the New York Daily News reported that the team wanted the running back but were not willing to pay the second round draft pick price. So in signing him the teams can negotiate on a trade that involves a lower pick. Loomis on Tuesday said the team has had discussions with several other teams as well. Ivory could be dealt by drafts end perhaps as part of a package that helps the Saints get additional pick or picks.

WHO’S YOUR NEW SAINTS FIRST ROUNDER

The million dollar question of course is who will the Saints select in the first round. Well with the chance of a lot of movement prior to the Black and Gold’s pick it’s hard to nail down one name. There is a good idea however of who could be there with the 15th selection.

Let me say this, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Saints with so many teams itching to move down don’t at least explore the possibility of moving up. With as many as seven teams already saying publically they are fielding calls the price to move up likely won’t be as expensive as in years past if a team wanted to move up. The Saints may look at the first round and say hey, we need to win now. Brees isn’t getting any younger and our “championship” window is three seasons smaller than from when we won the Super Bowl.

Atlanta has won the division and secured the top seed in the post season two out of the last three seasons and they appear poised to move up and pick a defensive tackle to come after Brees. San Francisco was in the Super Bowl and they want to move up early enough to select a star defensive tackle as well. So why not have the Saints beat them to the punch, move up and grab defensive tackle Star Lotulelei out of Utah or Ezekiel Ansah from BYU. I could see the Saints wanting to move up as well to pick up offensive tackle Lane Johnson out of Oklahoma who is likely to be the third of the three top tackles available, with Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher going in the top three. Johnson could set the team up at left tackle for the next few years.

The problem is do the Saints have the ammo to move up? With no second round pick to offer and only four other picks in the draft that could be a problem. They may need to pony up next year’s top pick to move high enough to get the two defensive linemen, but then again you worry about next year, well next year.

A more likely scenario is that the team stays put or moves down. If they stay at 15 most mock draft have Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones going to the Saints. Jones is 6-3 and 245 pounds. He led the SEC in sacks with 13.5, tackles for loss with 19.5 and recorded 70 tackles which was two shy from the team lead. The Bulldogs played a 3-4 defense in which Jones was the pass rusher, well the Saints are going to a 3-4 this season under Rob Ryan and while the team resigned Junior Galette, signed Victor Butler and have Martez Wilson, Jones if drafted would come in and immediately compete for one of the starting positions. Jones in 2009 was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and is the reason he could be available at 15. Jones has talent but his okay workouts this offseason for teams and medical history has scared some teams.

Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro could also be a possibility here at 15. Vacarro is 6-0 214 pounds registered a career-high 107 tackles to go with five turnovers. The turnovers being a pair of interceptions, a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Richdarson out of Missouri and his 6-3 294 pound frame could be the pick as well. At Mizzou in 2012, Richardson had 75 tackles, with 10.5 of those going for a loss and picked up four sacks.

Now some Saints fans wouldn’t mind seeing West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin being selected by the team yet that move would have other fans wondering if Sean Payton hit his head and lost his mind. If the team trades down a few spots look for names like; defensive tackle Sylvester Williams our of North Carolina, Cornellius Carradine defensive end from Florida State, linebacker Alec Ogletree from Georgia and maybe even Eric Reid the safety out of LSU.

One thing is for certain. Tonight’s first round of the NFL Draft will be must see TV. Enjoy!

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