2013 first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro had a solid rookie season.
The 2014 NFL draft draws closer, and the three-day event is vital to the New Orleans Saints' chances of returning to the Super Bowl. The Saints advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs last season, but their defeat at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks still stings.
In order for the Saints to unseat the Seahawks as the NFC’s team to beat, they’ll need to make significant roster upgrades in a number of areas. Recent roster cuts have made New Orleans’ dicey salary-cap situation much more manageable, but the Saints will still need to draft well in order to become true Super Bowl contenders in 2014.
Here is the latest version of the Saints' 2014 mock draft, complete with picks for all six rounds (New Orleans has no seventh-round pick) with player scouting profile videos.
With the recent release of veteran starter Jabari Greer, New Orleans has a big hole to fill at the cornerback spot.
Lockdown corners aren’t merely helpful in Rob Ryan’s aggressive scheme; they are required. The Saints already have one in Keenan Lewis, but the other corner spot is now a chief concern of this offseason.
Corey White, who replaced the injured Greer midway through the 2013 season, is tall and rangy, and he demonstrated flashes of potential last season in relief of Greer but was largely inconsistent.
As for the Saints’ cornerback depth chart, it’s certainly on the thin side. Patrick Robinson was also injured for the better part of last season, but he’s never lived up to his billing as a first-round selection in 2010. In many instances last season, New Orleans used safeties and even linebackers in nickel and dime situations. This won’t get it done against the NFC’s upper-echelon wide receiver units, especially with Greer out of the picture.
After Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett of TCU is one of the draft’s top cornerbacks. Whoever drafts Verrett will be adding not just a top-notch cover man but also a solid, all-around football player.
If one word must be used to describe Verrett, it would be tenacious. He’s been a relative underdog for most of his football career, and he wasn’t even offered a scholarship coming out of high school. After three outstanding seasons at TCU, however, he proved his worth as a true shutdown cover man.
The ever-confident Verrett plays the game with a chip on his shoulder, and he battles on every play until the whistle blows. He’s a hard hitter who genuinely enjoys the physical aspect of the game, which isn’t always true of the modern cover corner.
While he has superb skills as a tackler, his most impressive attribute is his ability to lock up with opposing receivers in press coverage. This skill meshes nicely with what the Saints like to do defensively, as the blitz-happy Ryan relies on solid man-to-man cover skills from his corners.
The Saints have a number of pressing personnel issues to address this offseason, but if they draft Verrett, they’ll have one less.
There’s a chance New Orleans could go wide receiver in Round 1, depending on which wideouts are still on the board. If it doesn’t, there should still be plenty of viable options available in the second round.
As a group, the Saints receiving corps had a difficult time getting open in 2013, as Marques Colston was the only wideout among the team’s top four receivers.
This year's wide receiver draft class is extremely deep, and Jarvis Landry would be an excellent choice in the second round.
Landry is one of the most polished NFL-ready receivers in this class. At LSU, he made the spectacular look routine. His highlight reel of one-handed catches and difficult grabs in traffic has to be seen to be believed. He doesn’t have great size at 6'1", but he has impressive strength and body control and plays much bigger than his frame would suggest.
The second-team All-SEC selection is also a fantastic route-runner with great acceleration, which makes up for his lack of blazing speed. This also makes him a good fit for Sean Payton’s precision-based passing offense.
He was sometimes overshadowed in college by teammate Odell Beckham, who will likely be a first-round pick, but Landry could prove to be a true steal in Round 2.
Turner has been shooting up draft boards since the middle portion of the 2013 season.
New Orleans struck gold in the third round last year with the selection of Terron Armstead, who is now the team’s starting left tackle.
2013 starting right tackle Zach Strief is an unrestricted free agent, and it’s highly possible that the accomplished veteran will score a desirable contract from a needy team with the cash to spend.
If New Orleans opts not to engage in a bidding battle for Strief, that will leave the team with Bryce Harris, who backed up Strief this past season. Harris didn’t play well at all in significant action against the Rams, and the Saints will likely want to bring in someone else to compete with him if Strief walks.
Billy Turner projects as a right tackle and has ideal size at 6’5” and 315 pounds. He enjoyed an impressive week at the Senior Bowl and has increased his stock significantly since the beginning of the 2013 season. Most projections now have Turner, who received late-round grades before the season, as a second- to third-round pick.
Turner’s greatest attribute is his overall athleticism, and if he’s available when New Orleans makes its third-round selection, the Saints shouldn’t hesitate to snatch him up.
New Orleans received solid production at the outside linebacker spot in 2013, as Junior Galette tallied 12 sacks. In 2014, Galette will return, as will Victor Butler, who was a key free-agent signee last offseason. Butler missed the entire season with a knee injury, but he’ll likely nab the starting spot opposite Galette.
The Saints thus have two starters on the outside, but not much in the way of depth. Such a physically demanding position requires plenty of able bodies, and if the Saints have the opportunity to select Adrian Hubbard in the fourth round, then they would be wise to pull the trigger.
Hubbard has great length at 6’6", and he’s able to consistently beat offensive tackles with his speed. He can also utilize the bull rush, and he’s adept at shedding blocks against larger run-blockers. In addition, Hubbard played in a pro-style defensive system under Nick Saban at Alabama, and he was often asked to drop back in pass coverage against stiff competition in the SEC.
Unfortunately for Hubbard, he didn’t make a great impression at the Senior Bowl in January, and that likely caused his stock to drop a bit. But all things considered, he would fit nicely in Ryan’s defense, and he would be a nice take in Round 4 for New Orleans.
Ladler demonstrated a knack for the big play at Vanderbilt.
Starting safety Malcolm Jenkins is another key New Orleans free agent who may receive an offer he can’t refuse and decide to take his talents elsewhere.
Alabama’s “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and USC’s Dion Bailey will all be off the board by the time the Saints make their fifth-round pick, but Vanderbilt’s Kenny Ladler could still be there.
The 2014 Senior Bowl participant is a heavy hitter who can play both safety spots, but his skills are best suited for the free safety position. He forced an eye-popping 10 turnovers in 2013 (five interceptions and five force fumbles) and was named first-team All-SEC. He has ideal size for a safety, and he excels at play recognition.
Ladler’s overly aggressive style of play can sometimes get him into trouble, but there’s always room for confident playmakers in Ryan’s defensive backfield.
Similar to their situation at outside linebacker, the Saints lack depth at the inside 'backer position.
Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne had fine seasons, with Hawthorne perhaps enjoying his best year yet as a pro. After these two stalwarts, however, there isn’t much in Ryan’s cupboard.
Max Bullough is widely regarded as a “thumper” with great instincts for the position. Twice voted team captain for the Spartans, the first-team All-Big Ten selection is outstanding against the run, as he utilizes sound technique in his tackling. He’s capable of holding his own in pass coverage as well and would provide quality depth to the Saints’ linebacking corps.
With free agency just around the corner, the New Orleans Saints have made numerous roster moves recently, including the releases of multiple veteran defensive players. They’ve also re-signed kicker Shayne Graham and appear to be positioning themselves nicely for the upcoming draft.
The aforementioned picks would all be great fits in the team’s offensive and defensive schemes, as the Saints set their sights on a potential Super Bowl run in 2014.