New Orleans Saints Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

Will OsgoodAnalyst IMay 8, 2014

New Orleans Saints Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The first round of the NFL draft is the only one in which an owner such as Tom Benson is paying much attention. In today’s NFL, first round picks are rewarded handsomely, but not to the extent they were even five years ago.

    Still, a first-round player represents the hopes and dreams of the franchise’s future. That’s what gets owners excited, not the day-to-day grind of developing players most people have never heard anything about.

    In 2014, the first round represents the future as much for New Orleans as any first-round selection has in the Sean Payton era. The Saints have no significant needs. All needs are depth or for competition at a spot.

    But if the Saints had zero draft picks this year, there would still be no reason to think the 2014 team would not make the playoffs. That’s the beauty of this draft for Benson, Mickey Loomis, Payton and the fans of the New Orleans Saints.

    Still, a receiver, pass-rusher or corner would not be a horrific first-round selection. At each spot that player could probably compete for playing time in 2014, assuming he’s the right guy.

    Most analysts are in agreement that the Saints must also address the center position in this draft. And there are a handful of other positions where increased depth would be nice.

    But the Saints are lucky that need is more like want this year.

Departures and Additions

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    Heather Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints entered the 2014 offseason with seemingly very little cap space and an enormous bill due to franchise tight end Jimmy Graham. Somehow, Mickey Loomis managed to add tremendous value while losing only players who the team was ready to let move on.

    Because of the financial constraints, the Saints chose to rid themselves of five veteran defensive players who played a huge role in bringing New Orleans its first Super Bowl title. It also let go of a once-promising offensive tackle and two fan favorites who made plenty of big plays for Drew Brees and the offense in their time in New Orleans.

     

    Departures

    LB Jonathan Vilma

    LB Will Smith

    S Roman Harper

    S Malcolm Jenkins

    CB Jabari Greer

    OT Charles Brown

    WR Lance Moore

    RB Darren Sproles

    As hard as it was to let go of so many fan favorites, the Saints clearly improved their roster through free agency by bringing a still young, All-Pro-caliber safety and a veteran defensive back who is just hungry for one more Super Bowl run. They did all this while holding on to key veterans on cost-efficient deals.

     

    Additions

    S Jairus Byrd

    CB Champ Bailey

    FB Erik Lorig

    K Derek Dimke

Team Needs

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints are fortunate in that the team possesses very few needs in the 2014 NFL draft. Only the center position has no obvious starter on the roster as it stands today. For that reason, that position comes in as the Saints’ No. 1 need.

    The other positions listed here (in order from greatest need to least) are positions where depth is desired and future starters are hoped to obtained over the next few days.

     

    Center

    As of today, undrafted second-year lineman Tim Lelito would be the presumed starter for the New Orleans Saints as Drew Brees’ personal caddy (my new favorite analogy). The Saints brought in one of the men who used to handle that role, Jonathan Goodwin, for a visit this offseason but did not sign him.

    There is no player the Saints should target for this spot until at least the third round, despite it being the position of greatest need.

     

    Cornerback

    Many analysts, yours truly included, were critical of the Saints when they selected Samford defensive back Corey White in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft. In his first two seasons in black and gold, White has shown promise but is admittedly better as a nickel or dime defensive back.

    Champ Bailey was brought in, but even if he starts, he is merely a temporary placeholder until the Saints find a fortress to pair with the most underrated player in the league, Keenan Lewis.

     

    Outside Linebacker

    The Saints brought back Parys Haralson and should be regaining a healthy Victor Butler to pair with 2013 breakout star Junior Galette at outside linebacker. The first two will be in contract seasons with zero guarantee of being re-signed in the 2015 offseason.

    Finding a player who can play a moderate number of defensive snaps in 2014 while learning the defensive scheme and contributing on special teams seems to be a high priority for Mickey Loomis and his staff.

     

    Wide Receiver

    The wide receiver position was enhanced by re-signing both Joe Morgan and Robert Meachem. Between the two of them—and the occasional deep hookup with Kenny Stills—the Saints figure to regain the explosive element of the offense which went missing at times in 2013.

    Still, the Saints receiving corps as a whole is in a bit of no-man’s land. Marques Colston is still a physically imposing receiver who can do things no one else can do in this offense. The presence of Jimmy Graham as a flex tight end helps too.

    But if the Saints can find a young guy who can really stretch a defense while not compromising his ability to make key catches on short and intermediate routes, they must take that player.

     

    Inside Linebacker

    With the solid veteran presence of Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, the Saints do not need a player to come in and start at inside linebacker on day one—save for the possibility of an injury or two prior to the first week.

    Ramon Humber is the only proven backup at the spot. 2013 undrafted free agent Kevin Reddick shows a ton of promise for the future, but adding one more body at the spot would do this roster a lot of good.

     

    Tight End

    Sean Payton and the Saints remain constant in their assertion that a long-term deal for Jimmy Graham will get done prior to the start of the 2014 campaign. After him, though, is Benjamin Watson—who is likely ready to retire in the next few seasons—and Josh Hill—who did little a year ago to prove he is ready to become the second tight end on the roster.

    Finding a player who can handle double duty as a blocker and pass receiver is important for the Saints, even if it takes place in the undrafted free-agency period.

Top Targets

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    As great as Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack would look in black and gold, neither will be New Orleans Saints after Thursday night’s first round is completed.

    Selecting 27th, the Saints face a conundrum of not knowing which of their first-round targets will be available when they select. It’s actually a positive conundrum though, since they know if they stay put at No. 27, they’ll almost certainly have the option of selecting at least one of their favorite players in this draft.

    However, it makes it incredibly difficult for prognosticators to determine what direction the Saints will go on Thursday night. There are 10-15 players who seem like realistic targets for the Saints if they stay put at No. 27 to make their pick.

    Making it more difficult is the possibility of a trade up or down. Let’s start by eliminating Clowney, Mack, any of the supposed first-round QBs, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and any offensive tackle being considered a first-round pick. Throw in defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley and you’ve eliminated approximately half of the projected first-round selections.

    It’s also unlikely the Saints will go tight end in the first round, so eliminate Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro.

    That leaves us with the following players as realistic targets in the first round, assuming the Saints don’t shock the world and make a significant move on draft day to grab one of the aforementioned players.

    (Ordered from most desirable to least desirable.)

     

    Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

    Gilbert figures to be a top-15 selection, meaning if the Saints really want him they’ll likely have to trade up to get him. On the slight chance he’s around at No. 27, he should be the pick.

    The Saints brought in seven defensive backs for visits on April 15, including Gilbert. Based on film and official workout numbers, it is assumed here the Saints liked what they saw.

    The lanky corner is a playmaker who possesses above-average coverage skills to go with a brash bravado essential for success at the cornerback position in today’s NFL. He is the ideal pick for the Saints in the first round.  

     

    Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

    Anthony Barr was considered a near lock to be drafted in the top 10 when the scouting process began in earnest back in January. Now his name is being floated as a mid to late first-round pick.

    If he falls to No. 27, he’s another rather obvious selection. Though he needs to be coached up, the talent Barr possesses is quite unique. He only played defense for two years at UCLA after beginning his college career as a fledgling running back.

    New Orleans would be the perfect spot for Barr, where he could take essentially a redshirt season to learn the position at the NFL level and develop in time to start in 2015.

     

    Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

    Fuller has the full gamut of skills, measureables and playmaking ability to be a top-10 pick. If not for an injury that cost him much of his final season in Blacksburg, Fuller would probably be the No. 1 corner on the board.

    He could become a turnover machine who also produces defensive touchdowns. He could easily play safety with his size and skill set.

    He will be better in zone and off coverage at the pro level, as his technique is a bit shaky and he seems to get twisted around often. His recovery speed, though, is incredible, as is the way he always fights for the football at the point of the potential catch.

     

    Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU

    Odell Beckham figures to go no later than pick No. 23 to Kansas City, meaning the Bayou Bengal's only real chance of wearing black and gold is via a trade up.

    Beckham is one of the most well-rounded receivers in this draft—combining incredible speed with great route-running, solid hands and the ability to haul in throws in traffic and/or make things happen with the ball in his hands.

    Saints fans should not get their hopes up in acquiring Beckham, though he would be a great fit in New Orleans—as he would be in nearly every NFL city.  

     

    Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

    Dennard looks a little stiff-hipped on film, yet still manages to stick with any and every receiver he’s matched up against. He is extremely physical at the line of scrimmage—sometimes to his own detriment—and a risk-taker.

    He has the potential to become a lockdown corner for a decade, but could also be out of the league in a short number of years. He is a high-risk, high-reward prospect.

     

    Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville

    Smith’s athleticism and natural abilities as a whole are enough to make scouts and coaches alike become very excited. His production as a junior at Louisville was ridiculous—14.5 sacks, four passes defensed and seemingly thousands of QB pressures—and cannot be taken lightly.

    Smith has been considered by most analysts a second-round prospect, but given the Saints’ needs and overall roster composition could be an ideal target for the “reach” pick. It wouldn’t actually be a reach since he is actually a first-round talent.

     

    Marcus Martin, C, Southern California

    With the rumors running wild that Marcus Martin will be the Saints' pick at No. 27 on Thursday night (more on that in a later slide), it would be a huge mistake to not list him here. 

    Martin is a great athlete for his size—6’3”, 320 pounds—who plays with tremendous awareness. He excels in zone run blocking and while working in concert with the rest of the line in pass protection.

    There’s little doubt Martin could start from day one, if asked to do so, and would immediately improve the Saints offensive line.

     

    Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn

    Dee Ford is very similar to Marcus Smith in some ways, yet so different. Ford looks quite stout on the field—a stark contrast to the lanky, basketball-type body that Smith possesses. The production, however, is quite similar.

    Ford excels with great pass-rushing technique and a violent use of his hands unrivaled among this class of rush ends. He lacks the elite burst that Smith and some of the other “elite” rush ends have, but makes up for it with a non-stop motor.

    Like many of the others, he has experience standing up on a number of plays, even being asked to cover backs and tight ends from time to time.

     

    Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California

    Lee is Robert Meachem 2.0. The resemblance is uncanny. Meachem looked taller in college than his sub-6’0” frame indicates. He did it all as a receiver.

    When really breaking down the film, though, Lee’s only NFL-transferrable skill is his ability to get open down the field, a la Meachem.

    Players like Lee are valuable in today’s NFL, but should be taken in the second round, not the first. But that doesn’t mean the Saints won’t take a serious look at Lee.

     

    Kyle Van Noy, OLB, Brigham Young

    Kyle Van Noy is simply a really good football player. He lacks a lot of the flashy athleticism and workout numbers that many other first-round prospects produced over the last few months. But he’s a smart football player who makes plays.

    He’s the No. 8 rush end on my board (and the last among the group of “elite” rush ends in this draft on that board) and a second-round prospect who some team—could be the Saints—might fall in love with in the back end of the first round.

     

    Jason Verrett, CB, Texas Christian

    If Verrett were a couple inches taller, we may be talking about a top-10 pick. At 5’9”, he’s more likely a second-round pick. In something resembling an ideal world, the Saints could trade back into the top of the second and pick up Verrett as their “first-round pick”.

    Verrett is nowhere near the Saints' top target, but trading down to accumulate more picks while still getting a really good player is always ideal.

     

    Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

    Bradley Roby was one of the seven defensive backs mentioned above as visiting the Saints’ facilities on April 15. Roby is a really good player who had a disappointing final season in Columbus.

    He seems to have the right demeanor (cocky) and skill set to find NFL success at the cornerback position. Still, something has rubbed scouts wrong about Roby. It may lead to him falling down boards this weekend. And that may or may not be to the Saints’ benefit.

     

    Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana

    Latimer is among 30 players who were invited to the draft in New York City on Thursday and Friday. That’s pretty impressive since he was far from a sexy name in draft circles until the past month or two.

    Recovering from foot surgery, Latimer ran a 4.39 and 4.43 40-yard dash at his pro day last month. He was also very productive in his three seasons in Bloomington for the Hoosiers.  There are some noticeable issues with Latimer’s game, but he has great hands.

    The positives outweighed the negatives for Mel Kiper in his April 17 mock draft (subscription required). He mocked Latimer to the Saints at pick No. 27 overall. It could happen.

What Are the Experts Saying?

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Todd McShay on Dee Ford (subscription required)

    New Orleans would love to add a speed rusher like Ford who could have an impact coming off the edge,taking advantage of the crowd noise and turf at the Superdome.

     

    Dane Brugler on Dee Ford

    The Saints ranked top-five in the NFL last season in team sacks, but it’s tough to pass up playmaking pass rushers. Ford used the Senior Bowl as a springboard into the first round.

    Among the analysts selected here, Ford is the only name to come up twice (there were multiple Marqise Lee picks as well). It is rather clear that analysts like the Saints taking one of three positions—receiver, corner or outside linebacker. Ford figures to be available at No. 27 and has experience playing in similar scheme to Rob Ryan’s.

     

    Kiper on slotting Latimer to the Saints at No. 27 (subscription required)

    [He] could go higher based on what I’ve seen from him, and the Saints have a need for a playmaker in the passing game. He gives them some size but also more of a speed threat than they currently have on the roster.

    Kiper slotted Latimer to New Orleans in consecutive mock drafts. If Kiper is good for anything as an analysts, it’s that he often slots players to the correct teams, even if his analysis of a particular player may be off. He may be on to something, though, since Latimer got invited to NYC for the draft festivities.

     

    Mayock on Saints drafting Kelvin Benjamin 27th

    Basketball on grass continues for this team, as Benjamin joins Meachem, Colston and Graham. Along with Evans, he has the best catch radius in the draft and will complement what Sean Payton likes to do.

    Mayock is another analyst who works the phones and uses his contacts in the league to get the best dish. The problem is that NFL front office people are paranoid to the nth degree. It’s hard to imagine the Saints wasting a first-round pick on a receiver who is so similar to Marques Colston.

     

    Charley Casserly on Saints picking Ryan Shazier at No. 27

    The Saints need a cornerback and outside linebacker, but the first-rounders have run out at those positions.

    Casserly put less effort into his selection than I am analyzing his pick. Shazier projects as more of 4-3 outside linebacker, making him an odd fit in New Orleans. It is possible Shazier could slide inside in a 3-4.

     

    Bucky Brooks on Kony Ealy

    Ealy isn’t a polished player, but he shows tremendous promise as a designated pass rusher.

    Bucky Brooks is a wonderful Xs and Os guy and talent evaluator, but his mock drafts always confuse the heck out of me. Ealy is yet another example of him selecting a player totally out of the blue. Ealy is a 4-3 defensive end, which is neither the scheme nor the kind of desired player the Saints are interested in.

     

    Rob Rang on Marqise Lee

    Lee doesn’t have the momentum of other receivers in this draft but savvy scouts haven’t forgotten his dynamic athleticism.

    Some of the buzz as of Wednesday was that Lee would fall out of the first round and into the beginning of Round 2. While that’s possible, Lee would be a better selection for the Saints than a few of the players the aforementioned analysts have slotted to New Orleans.

     

    Pat Kirwan on Bradley Roby 

    The Saints might want a wide receiver here, but a good corner will help the team more. Champ Bailey is penciled in to start and teams like Atlanta will go after him.

    The main reason to give Pat Kirwan’s selection any credence is the fact the Saints brought Roby in for a visit on April 15. Still, bringing a player in for a visit doesn’t guarantee anything. Unless Roby is the last of the top-five DBs available, this selection seems forced.

Latest Rumors, Reports and Analysis

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Martin to Saints a Strong Possibility

    In his sixth mock draft, former NFL scout and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah had the Saints taking Marcus Martin based on this assertion: “There is a lot of buzz around the league that Martin is highly coveted by the Saints.”

    Jeremiah’s assertion has become relatively common knowledge in draft circles in the past few weeks. But it could be a smokescreen. It is possible the Saints do not want to let on what they are thinking, so they went hard on the “We’re all in with Marcus Martin” train.

     

    But a 1st-Round WR not out of the question

    Last week, Mike Triplett of ESPN.com mentioned that despite the talent at the wide receiver position on the Saints’ current roster, the team very well may select a wide receiver in the first round.

    “However, the Saints should absolutely still draft a receiver this year. And I think they will. Maybe even in Round 1 if the draft grades line up.”

    Triplett has always taken the easy opinion, and that remains true here. The Saints could use a developmental wide receiver but as Triplett himself recognized in the full quote, Kenny Stills, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Joe Morgan, Nick Toon and Andy Tanner make for a talented and deep receiving corps.

    In a deep receiver class, it is unnecessary to draft a wide receiver in round 1.

     

    Trade up for Justin Gilbert?

    In NFL.com’s Draft Rumors section, the Saints trading up for Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was brought up as a possibility.

    “Not that the Saints wouldn’t be interested, but they don’t pick until No. 27—and the conventional wisdom is that Gilbert will be long gone by then. New Orleans could always move up if it truly covets Gilbert.”

    Trading up for Gilbert wouldn’t be the worst use of the Saints’ seven picks. We all know they aren’t the type of team that covets picks. Sometimes it seems they just want to get the stupid thing over with as quickly as possible.

    Getting Gilbert would require multiple picks, but he promises to be worth all of them.

7-Round New Orleans Saints Mock Draft

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    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    Round 1, Pick No. 27: Marcus Martin, C, Southern California

    As much as he lacks sexiness and seems to miss the point, Marcus Martin will most likely be the Saints' first-round pick Thursday night. There isn't much reason to fight it at this point. 

     

    Round 2, Pick No. 58: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood

    If the Saints do take a first-round center, they become even more desperate to find a corner in the second round. Desir makes a ton of sense as a player they brought in for a visit on April 15. He's a potential turnover machine and solid cover corner. 

     

    Round 3, Pick No. 91: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

    With all the talk of the Saints taking a receiver in this draft, it figures they'd wait until the third round. But in doing so, they actually get a first-round player who dropped because of workout numbers and certain concerns about height and weight. 

     

    Round 4, Pick No. 126: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

    By taking a first-round center the Saints freed themselves to peruse the QB market in the fourth round. They find Aaron Murray, whom they love and is quite reminiscent to the future Hall of Fame quarterback who currently takes the snaps in the Crescent City. 

     

    Round 5, Pick No. 167: De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/Returner, Oregon

    With the Saints need a playmaker in the slot and as a returner, Thomas is a rather obvious selection. 

     

    Round 5, Pick No. 169: Chris Boswell, K, Rice

    The Saints take the opportunity to go with an all-Texas and former Conference USA kicking duo by adding Boswell to compete with, and likely beat out, Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke. 

     

    Round 6, Pick No. 202: Andrew Jackson, ILB, Western Kentucky

    Andrew Jackson shined in the middle of the Hilltoppers defense for four years. An athletic middle linebacker in Western Kentucky's 4-3 defense, Jackson can transition to the inside in the Saints' 3-4 if he puts some weight on. 

    In the meantime, look for him to become an ace special teams player.