The Super Bowl champs usually don’t have many needs and don’t look to the draft and free agency as crucial pieces to return to the playoffs.
But with an aging defense and some lackluster performance by a variety of positions, the Saints need to take this draft class very seriously if they hope to continue their success for next year and seasons to come.
We’ll take a look at the best case selections (guys who they’d be lucky to get), the worst case selections (guys who they’d have to deal with because of lack of value), and the most likely pick (guys that they are likely targeting and should get from their current position.)
Best Case: Earl Thomas, S, Texas
Even with Darren Sharper getting the team’s franchise tag, it’s very unlikely he’ll be around for more than two years. And when he’s gone, the Saints will desperately miss his big play potential and his game changing interceptions.
The Saints would love to plug in a guy like Earl Thomas, who can play centerfield, reads the quarterback well, and has enough speed and quickness to make a break on the ball and get the big play interception.
Worst Case: Sean Lee, ILB, Penn State
I’ve seen far too many mock drafts with Sean Lee in the first round. While he isn’t a bad fit for the Saints and could really help their run support on the strong side, he isn’t the star potential player they need to really keep this defense productive.
Lee can help this team if he would be around later in the draft, but with his demand likely in the range of Pick 30-50, they likely won’t get another shot at him.
Most Likely: Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina
Norwood fits their needs perfectly.
They lacked a great pass rush from their linebackers all season and that doesn’t fit Greg Williams’ system all that well. Norwood is one of the best pass rushing linebackers to come out in recent years and uses his speed and athletic ability along with his blitzing instincts to get to the quarterback.
Greg Williams will have fun moving Norwood around and creating havoc.
Best Case: Sean Witherspoon, OLB, Missouri
If they can’t get Norwood in round one, which I wouldn’t be surprised about because I feel scouts “secretly” really like him, then Witherspoon is the next best fit.
Witherspoon has the speed and range to play outside linebacker in a blitzing scheme because he can both rush the pass with some effectiveness as well as recover for when the defensive ends stunt.
Worst Case: Torrell Troup, DT, UCF
Myself and a few scouts I’ve talked to really like Troup as a long term prospect. He has shown potential to really impact games and honestly when I started watching UCF for the first time, I hadn’t anticipated scouting Troup.
He clogs up the middle so well with his drive and quickness, and could be dominate in one on one situations if given some better coaching and time to develop.
Still a little bit of a reach here though.
Most Likely: Nate Allen, S, South Florida
While I feel Allen is first round talent no question, I don’t think a team will take him all that high because this safety class is so very deep.
Allen can do everything the projected “top” guys can: he reads the play well, can deliver a big hit, can turn and run well, and has great ball skills. The only reason he might slide is because he doesn’t have the elite athletic ability that some other safeties have.
Still, if he’s here at the end of round two, the Saints should be all over him.
Best Case: Jon Asamoah, OG, Illinois
In a draft full of guards that I feel could be productive, Asamoah may be the second most athletic in the bunch, outside of the renown Mike Iupati of Idaho. Asamoah is a mauling guard with great size, but has surprisingly good feet and can pull well and handle pass rushers from either side.
The Saints' offensive line still isn’t complete, and with great value here and depth always needed, Asamoah would be a good fit.
Worst Case: Kurt Coleman, S, Ohio State
Coleman is a bit of a reach here in the third round because he doesn’t make a lot of great plays deep and can get beaten over the top.
But, as opposed to the other safeties on this list who would replace Sharper, Coleman is more of a fit to be the heir to Roman Harper. Coleman can play in the box well, but can still cover some tight ends and play in a zone.
He’ll take some coaching, but I feel he could be a solid starter two or three years down the road.
Most Likely: Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
In arguably the best defensive tackle crop in the past 10 years, Atkins may be a first rounder some years. Unfortunately, this class is loaded and he’ll have to drop only because of the lack of need for defensive tackles. Atkins is a solid pass rusher who can add depth to this defensive line as they try to search for a consistent set of starters who can be productive.
Best Case: Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee
With Reggie Bush either getting cut this offseason or being let go after his contract is up in 2011, the Saints are likely going to look to replace him.
The way Pierre Thomas runs, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t face injuries much of his career, so it’s safe to say that they’ll need a back to carry the load at some point.
Hardesty is a hard runner who has good vision and can accelerate very well. Likely a second or third rounder, he’d be a great value here in round four.
Worst Case: Sergio Render, OG, Virginia Tech
As said before, the Saints could use depth at guard and along the whole offensive line. Render was once viewed as the top guard in this class, but after some inconsistent play and the rising of many other guard prospects such as Asamoah, Iupati, and Vladimir Duccasse, he’ll likely fall in the draft.
Most Likely: Jamar Wall, CB, Texas Tech
I think Wall compares pretty well to Tracy Porter, he is not as fast as scouts would like in a cornerback of his style, but he can definitely make plays.
You may wonder why they would look for another young guy with Tracy Porter and Malcolm Jenkins the projected starters and Usama Young for depth. But, Wall is a great nickel corner who can make some big time plays against spread offenses.
Best Case: Brandon Gillebeaux, DT, Delaware
What a great value this would be if Gillebeaux is here.
I’ve seen a few games on him and one of the scouts from my department, Optimum Scouting , David Wothers and I really like his potential. Though he might struggle to get drafted according to some, I feel that scouts have to be intrigued with his ability to take over a game, regardless of his level of play.
Worst Case: Daniel Porter, RB, Louisiana Tech
A back from Louisiana, Porter is a hard-nosed runner who fits the bill as a solid career backup at the next level. He could come in as relief duty on occasion, but won’t be viewed as a guy who should get any more than five to 10 carries a game. Still, if the Saints keep Thomas and Bush long term, Porter could be a solid third option.
Most Likely: Dennis Landholt, OG, Penn State
The former tackle for Penn State, Landholt would be wise to make the switch to guard as the draft process continues. He showed great power and push at tackle and when he did pull in space; he showed good ability to set himself on the move and drive open the hole. He could make the transition similar to how Jahari Evans did out of Bloomsburg.
Best Case: Mike Kafka, QB, Northwestern
In my opinion, I think every team should at least take in one quarterback every draft, regardless of who your starter is or where you take him in the draft or in free agency.
A guy like Kafka, though a favorite to some since the East-West Shrine game, will struggle to get drafted because he’s more of a long term guy. Still, the Saints have time with Brees as the starter, and Kafka could be an interesting project for Sean Payton.
Worst Case: Mitch Petrus, OG, Arkansas
I think it’s obvious that I feel the Saints could use depth at the guard position. Petrus likely won’t get drafted and isn’t a great prospect altogether. But, he has the strength and motor to probably stick with a team, and in the seventh round, regardless of position, you’re looking for a guy who will stick around.
Most Likely: Darius Marshall, RB, Marshall
From what I’ve scouted this season, I really like Darius Marshall as one of the Top 15-20 backs in this draft. However, I’ll understand if he falls in the draft because he doesn’t have great deep speed and isn’t all that shifty. But that sounds an awful lot like a Pierre Thomas to me, and with the seventh round being a tough place to find guys to help your team, Marshall can provide some solid depth at running back.