With the New Orleans Saints’ impending switch to a 3-4 defense, the team is in need of some new talent on the defensive side of the football—players who will start from Day 1 in the Crescent City. It’s possible the Saints could find ideal fits in free agency.
Assuming they do not, though, the NFL draft will be an incredible opportunity to bring in some talented players to fill immediate holes.
What are those holes where starters must be found?
Nose tackle, outside linebacker (opposite Martez Wilson), inside linebacker (opposite Curtis Lofton) and offensive tackle are four key spots where new starters must be found. Each position has players in this draft who would fit the Saints nicely.
Luckily, not all of those perfect fits are guys who will be drafted in the first round, meaning the Saints have an opportunity to secure the services of more than one of these players.
Besides the obvious LSU connection, Barkevious “Keke” Mingo would be an incredible fit for the Saints and an immediate fan favorite in New Orleans. He would also be an immediate star for the Saints.
Consider that of the NFL’s current top pass-rushers, it’s safe to say that all but one of them—DeMarcus Ware—are still on their initial NFL contracts. In other words, young legs in today’s NFL is the primary requirement for pass-rushing success.
Mingo has all the prerequisites to become the best pass-rusher from this year’s draft class. Though perhaps undersized for the 4-3 defensive end spot he inhabited at LSU, the 3-4 scheme allows for players his size to find great success.
Incredible initial burst and closing speed, though, are what make a pass-rusher elite. Mingo possesses both to the -nth degree.
The only problem is Mingo seems unlikely to last until the 15th selection in this draft. The young man is much too talented to go 15th, even in a draft as talent-filled as this one.
Star Lotulelei is a ginormous young man. He has a nice motor. He can one-gap, two-gap or zero-gap if asked to do so. He can do everything you want in a nose tackle, while likely providing some playmaking ability at the position.
There was a time he was considered the top prospect in this draft. For some unknown reason he has fallen down some draft boards, but is still recognized as a certain first-round draft pick in April.
Still, Lotulelei doesn’t figure to be available when the Saints select at No. 15. If he is, though, he is the ideal fit and most likely selection.
The ultimate pie-in-the-sky choice on this list, Eric Fisher has risen up draft boards quicker than A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb, found a place in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and became a reporter covering the Super Bowl for “Inside Edition.”
Fisher was considered a late first-rounder heading into the offseason. He is now a lock for the top-five of the draft (in my opinion) after dominating the Senior Bowl.
Fisher would instantly start at left tackle for the Saints. Assuming he stays healthy, he’d become a multiple Pro Bowl left tackle who gives Drew Brees more protection than he’s ever had in his time in New Orleans.
Although Dion Jordan is recovering from an odd injury he suffered in October, which has caused him to miss out on many of the early NFL draft events, the Oregon product is destined for big things in the NFL.
Jordan would benefit from an aggressive scheme, which creates separation for him simply because of the scheme. Jordan can use his natural gifts—namely tremendous speed—to run around offensive tackles and make life a living hell for opposing quarterbacks.
He also possesses the ability to handle coverage responsibilities. He is adequate against the run, but it is not his strength. He likely could be had near the end of the first round, meaning Jordan would be a selection that comes as a result of a trade down.
Desmond Trufant solidified himself as a top-five corner in this draft with his performance at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. this past week. He instantly became known as a brash confidence guy, which is a hugely important trait for any NFL corner.
He also showed tremendous physicality, an ability to stay with any type of receiver in man-to-man coverage and a willingness to get involved in the run game.
In today’s NFL, a nickel corner is essentially considered a starter. That is the role Trufant would likely find himself in with the Saints in 2013.
Forget the off-the-field stuff. At the end of the day, Manti Te’o figures to become a better-than-average starting inside linebacker (or middle if in a 4-3). He plays the run at him well and has good vertical motion skills to be able to cover deep.
He is generally a solid tackler, and he is a leader. His presence in the Saints’ new 3-4 defense would make them a better unit from Day 1 in New Orleans.
The only reason the Saints may shy away from him is the potential media circus that would most likely follow the player. Such distractions may be avoided at all costs in 2013 due to the circus that surrounded the Saints in 2012 as a result of the Bounty sanctions.
The Saints appear to have interest in Leon McFadden after interviewing him twice at the Senior Bowl. McFadden brings tremendous versatility as he excels in both man-to-man and zone coverages.
He is not the most gifted corner in this draft, but he is a technician who reminds scouts of a player like the Tennessee Titans’ Alterraun Verner. Both were extremely productive college players. Verner has been the lone bright spot in the Titans’ secondary over the last two seasons.
Look for McFadden to follow in a similar manner.
Chase Thomas is an absolute beast of an outside linebacker. He has a tremendous motor, and plays the game the right way.
Thomas is old school. He can rush the passer from both a rush end (outside linebacker) spot or with his hand on the ground. He can hold the point of attack in the run game and not give outside leverage to a running back.
He is a good tackler, and can operate in space.
Thomas can improve in coverage, but given everything he would bring to the team, his deficiencies are less concerning. He is already a more NFL-ready player than Junior Galette at the 3-4 OLB spot, and would surely start ahead of Galette opposite Martez Wilson.
Missouri Southern’s Brandon Williams was one player who took the Senior Bowl in Mobile and made it his personal coming out party. Williams entered the week as an intriguing prospect. He leaves it as the buzz for teams who need a nose tackle—a la the Saints.
Even at 341 pounds, Williams has a tremendous motor and can get sideline-to-sideline when he applies himself. More importantly, he can hold the point of attack in the run game by requiring regular double teams.
If Williams goes somewhere else, the Saints will have to search for another less enticing option.
Few players present the discipline and practical experience of Nico Johnson. Plus, he’s played in what is essentially a professional defense at Alabama, in what promises to be a similar scheme.
It will carry over to the next level and will allow Johnson to start from Day 1, assuming his new team needs him to do as much.
David Hawthorne could start at inside linebacker, but appears to be less of a fit for the defense than Curtis Lofton. The opposite may be true as well.
It’s too early to tell. What is obvious, though, is that the Saints will be looking for draftable players to come in and start from Day 1 in the 2013 draft.