The New Orleans Saints turned in a very solid season in 2010 after winning the Super Bowl the previous season. Their season ended on a pretty sour note, as they were upset by the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
This team still has a very good core of players, and I expect them to continue to challenge for another Super Bowl title in the next few seasons.
Drew Brees had another extremely good season, throwing for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns. As long as Brees is still at the helm, the Saints are going to be a dangerous team in both the regular season and playoffs.
The Saints had a revolving door at running back in 2010, and there are serious questions heading into 2011. Pierre Thomas is a free agent, and Reggie Bush is owed $11.8 million so he may not be back. Chris Ivory looked good as an undrafted free agent, and he could enter the season as the starter.
The wide receiver group the Saints have is one of the best in the league. Marques Colston is the top dog, but Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, and Lance Moore give Brees a nice stable of weapons.
2010 rookie Jimmy Graham will most likely take over the tight end spot, since Jeremy Shockey was released after the season.
The offensive line has a ton of talent, led by Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. Jermon Bushrod and Jonathan Goodwin are free agents, and if they leave this line could become a problem area.
The defensive line has some talented players on it, but it could be an area the Saints target early in the draft. Will Smith and Alex Brown are both solid players, but Brown isn’t much of a pass rusher so he could be replaced. Sedrick Ellis is an anchor on the inside of the line, and Remi Ayodele played pretty decent in 2010.
Jonathan Vilma is a playmaker at inside linebacker, but the outside linebacker position could use some help. Scott Shanle is an adequate starter, but look for the Saints to upgrade the Danny Clark and Jo-lonn Dunbar tandem.
The secondary is the strong point of the defense. Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter are very good starters and 2010 first round pick Patrick Robinson has a lot of potential. At safety, Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper are a young starting tandem that performed very well in 2010. Darren Sharper missed the beginning of the season, and he didn’t make a big impact. He most likely will be elsewhere in 2011, so the depth could be addressed either in free agency or the draft.
1. (32) CB Patrick Robinson, Florida State: He didn’t make much of an impact in 2010, but he will continue to develop into a starter for the next year or two. 11 GP/ 4 GS
2. (64) OT Charles Brown, USC: Didn’t play much of the season, but he could be thrown into the fire at left tackle next season. 3 GP/ 0 GS
3. (95) TE Jimmy Graham, Miami: He is still very raw, but he will most likely be the starter here in 2011 due to Jeremy Shockey’s release. 15 GP/ 5 GS
4. (123) DT Al Woods, LSU: He didn’t even make the team, but he ended up playing in nine games for the Buccaneers. 0 GP/ 0 GS
5. (158) C Matt Tennant, Boston College: Played well on special teams, but he could get the starting nod at center if Jonathan Goodwin doesn’t return. 16 GP/ 0 GS
7. (239) QB Sean Canfield, Oregon State: A developmental player who will get a shot to overtake Chase Daniel as the backup to Drew Brees. 0 GP/ 0 GS
Summary: Jimmy Graham looks like he is a keeper at the tight end position, but Robinson didn’t make much of an impact. Brown also didn’t get to play much, but the success of this class will have to be fully judged in the next year or two when guys like Robinson and Brown get more playing time.
Will Smith is still a very solid player despite a down year in 2010. He has excellent pass rush ability, and he is also very respectable against the run. On the other side, Alex Brown provides good run defense but he isn’t going to offer you much of a pass rush. The Saints need to get more consistent pressure on the quarterback to help improve the overall effectiveness of the defense.
Even if the Saints hang onto Alex Brown for next season, they still need to find a pass rush specialist at some point in the draft. The defense would work best with Alex Brown playing on running downs, and a pass rush specialist coming in to play on obvious passing downs.
Round One: Ryan Kerrigan, Robert Quinn
Round Two: Jabaal Sheard, Jeremy Beal
Round Three: Sam Acho, Greg Romeus
Round Four: Ryan Winterswyk, Ricky Elmore
Kerrigan and Quinn would be excellent pickups if they are still available in round one. Kerrigan is the more likely of the two to be available, and he’d be an instant upgrade to the Saints pass rush. They could take a chance on Romeus in round three or four, as he has a lot of talent despite his injury problems.
The talent of the outside linebackers took a hit when Scott Fujita left following the 2009 season. Scott Shanle played very well in 2010, and while I don’t think he’s a great player, he has enough talent to be an adequate starter. Danny Clark, however, really shouldn’t be a starting linebacker in this league and I think that the Saints need to look for an upgrade. Both of these players are free agents, and I don’t expect both of them to be back.
Even if both of these linebackers return, the depth isn’t very strong so it’s a position that I expect the Saints to address at some point in this draft. Look for Shanle to return to one starting spot, but look for a rookie to be starting at the other linebacker spot in 2011.
Round One: Akeem Ayers
Round Two: Bruce Carter, Mark Herzlich
Round Three: Chris Carter, Colin McCarthy
Round Four: Ross Homan, Doug Hogue
Round Five: Scott Lutrus
Ayers is projected to be a 3-4 linebacker by most, myself included, but I still think he could be productive in a 4-3 defense. If Bruce Carter is still available when the Saints pick in round two, he’d be a slam dunk pick in my opinion. He is the best pure 4-3 outside linebacker in this draft and he could come in and be productive right away.
The Saints currently have a strong stable of running backs on the roster, but a lot could change before the start of the 2011 season. Pierre Thomas is a free agent, and it’s unclear at the moment if he’ll be back next season.
Reggie Bush is still under contract for next season, but he is due a lot of money and I highly doubt the Saints will pay him that much. He is either going to have to restructure his contract, or he could be with another team in 2011.
Chris Ivory surprised a lot of people with his performance in 2010 as an undrafted rookie. However, he is coming off of foot surgery and the Saints are going to need to improve their depth if Bush and Thomas aren’t brought back.
Round One: Mikel Leshoure
Round Two: Ryan Williams, Daniel Thomas
Round Three: Kendall Hunter, DeMarco Murray, Dion Lewis, Shane Vereen
Round Four: Jordan Todman, Delone Carter, Bilal Powell
Round Five: Roy Heju Jr., Darren Evans
Leshoure has a lot of potential, but the Saints may have to reach for him in round one if they want to get him. However, he has the ability to become a starter in his rookie season. Guys like Hunter, Murray, and Carter would be solid compliments to Chris Ivory.
Sedrick Ellis is one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the game, and he has No. 1 spot locked down on the interior of the line. Remi Ayodele played pretty well last season, but he may not be back next season. He could also be upgraded as I’m not sure how much potential he has long term as the starter.
The depth for this position will also need to be addressed. The Saints thought they may have addressed the depth by drafting Al Woods in last year’s draft, but he didn’t even make the team. The Saints most likely won’t use a high pick on this position, but I think they’ll take one at some point in the draft.
Round One: Corey Liuget, Christian Ballard, Muhammad Wilkerson
Round Two: Stephen Paea, Drake Nevis, Jurrell Casey
Round Three: Jarvis Jenkins, Kenrick Ellis
Round Four: Terrell McClain, Sione Fua
Round Five: Ian Williams
The Saints won’t likely target a defensive tackle in the first round, but Paea, Nevis, and Casey would all be good fits in round two. If the Saints are looking for a big run stuffer, Ellis and Fua would be very good options in the middle rounds.
The Saints have a very strong starting safety combo in Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins. Harper ranked second on the team with 99 tackles last season, and Jenkins finished with a team high 11 passes defended. However, Darren Sharper will most likely not be brought back next season after an unproductive year, meaning that the depth is a problem.
This is far from a top need, but the Saints really need to consider drafting a safety in the mid to late rounds to provide some depth in case Harper or Jenkins suffers an injury next season.
Round Three: Tyler Sash, Quinton Carter
Round Four: Jeron Johnson, Robert Sands
Round Five: Joe Lefeged, Will Hill
I didn’t want to put round one or two options because I just don’t see the Saints taking a safety that early. The most likely spot the Saints will take a safety is round four or five, where guys like Sands and Lefeged would be good picks who would help provide depth right away.
Center: Jonathan Goodwin could leave as a free agent, leaving a big hole at center. Matt Tennant could take over, but if he does, that means there is no depth at all at the position.
Quarterback: Chase Daniel was going to be the backup to Brees next season, but I think the Saints could draft a quarterback at some point to compete with Daniel for the backup position.
Tight End: Jeremy Shockey’s run with the team is over, so the Saints could look to add a backup to Jimmy Graham and David Thomas.
This team is a very talented team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. I think the Saints will try hard to restructure Reggie Bush’s contract, because he adds a whole new dimension to the offense so it’s very important to try and bring him back. The offensive line could be in trouble if Bushrod and Goodwin leave, but in my opinion, I think we’ll see both of them back in New Orleans next season.
The defense is the weak spot of this team, particularly the linebackers and the defensive line. The Saints need to look for players in the draft who can help put more pressure on the quarterback. I expect this to be a defense heavy draft for the Saints this year. The Saints will yet again be in the running for a spot in the Super Bowl next season, especially if they are able to fill the few holes that they have on the roster.