NFL Combine 2012: New Orleans Saints' 5 Biggest Takeaways from Combine

Zayne Grantham@ZPGSportsContributor IIIFebruary 29, 2012

NFL Combine 2012: New Orleans Saints' 5 Biggest Takeaways from Combine

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    As the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine finishes up, the New Orleans Saints have undoubtedly noticed some of the players that performed well over the weekend.

    Every team uses the combine to scout some of the country's top collegiate athletes and it is certainly a great tool in deciding what players are going to be drafted and in which rounds.

    In recent history, the Saints have been one of the best teams in the league in regards to drafting players. New Orleans has been able to draft solid, quality starters in the early rounds, but they have also gotten amazing talent in the later rounds.

    The Saints have needs in certain areas, especially on the defensive line. New Orleans could use a quality pass-rusher and interior lineman that can rush the passer as well. However, the Saints could also use some depth in certain areas, especially if they are unable to re-sign key free agents this offseason.

    Like any other team, the Saints surely have takeaways from the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. Let's take a look at five things that the Saints should have learned over the weekend.

Justin Bethel Could Be a Solid Selection in the Late Rounds

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    Safety/Cornerback, Presbyterian

    The New Orleans Saints will likely look for some safety depth in this draft, and after the combine the Saints may look at Justin Bethel.

    Bethel played for Presbyterian during his college career and was a very productive player in that time. However, there are questions concerning the level of competition he played against and how he will adjust in the NFL.

    At 6'0" and 200 pounds, Bethel is a player that has the ability to play either cornerback or safety at the professional level. The Saints would likely choose to play Bethel at the safety spot because he fits that mold with his frame.

    At the combine, Bethel was able to impress teams with his great showing in the bench press, vertical jump and broad jump. In fact, Bethel had the best vertical out of all corners, jumping at 39.5". That leaping ability makes Bethel a big threat, especially considering that he is already 6'0" tall.

    The concern with Bethel is not only the competition level, but also that he will need some time to develop in the NFL. The Saints will be able to do just that for this young playmaker.

    On the bright side, Bethel has shown all of the skills necessary to be a great run defender in the secondary, but he can also play well in man coverage and in the zone. His strength is working on the line of scrimmage in man coverage and he also has the speed to close gaps in zone coverage.

Ron Brooks May Be the Best Cornerback Prospect for the Saints

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    Cornerback, LSU

    The New Orleans Saints will be looking for depth at the corner spot in the draft. New Orleans could use some more players here even if Tracy Porter is somehow re-signed in the offseason.

    Brooks fits the type of player the Saints have gone after in the past and could end up replacing Porter very well.

    At the NFL combine, Brooks measured in at 5'10" and 190 pounds, which is a good size for a cornerback. The Saints love going after good-sized, fast corners.

    Patrick Robinson, Jabari Greer and Johnny Patrick are all around 5'11" and 180 to 190 pounds. Brooks not only has good size, but he is a blazer as well.

    At this weekend's combine, Brooks was the second-fastest corner running a 4.37 40-yard dash.

    One of the best parts of Porter's game is his ability to not get beat deep. Porter is great at using his speed to catch up and limit separation between himself and opposing receives. Brooks will be able to do the same at the next level.

    The Saints will also be able to bring Brooks along slowly, starting Robinson and Greer next year with Patrick playing the nickel.

    However, Brooks is not just a blazer. He also performed highly in the broad jump and the vertical.

    Brooks' athleticism will allow him to contribute immediately on special teams, which is an important factor when drafting secondary players in late rounds.

    The only weakness with Brooks' game is that he is very inexperienced as a starter, but he has performed well when given opportunities.

    Brooks would be perfect for the Saints because he is also projected as a late-round prospect. The Saints have limited early picks and bigger needs than cornerback, which means in the late rounds they will likely be looking for someone, and Brooks just may be available.

Andre Branch Is a Prospect That Should Be Strongly Considered

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    Defensive End, Clemson

    Andre Branch is a solid defensive end prospect, and at the NFL combine he showed his athleticism at a high level.

    This Clemson product was a top performer in the 40-yard dash and broad jump. Branch was able to run a 4.70 40-yard dash, which really showcases his speed.

    Branch is currently seen as a second- or third-round prospect, and the New Orleans Saints may be able to grab him with one of their early picks. This is a player that they should definitely consider.

    The Saints have a strong need for a solid pass-rusher, especially since they have a chance of losing Will Smith in the offseason. In fact, Branch's strength is getting past offensive linemen on passing downs and pressuring the opposing quarterbacks.

    Branch's weakness is that he is not near as good against the run, but the Saints have plenty of ends capable of stopping opposing teams from running the ball.

    Although Branch is weaker against the run, he is still able to set the edge and contain against opposing teams. The Saints also have a great defensive line coach in Bill Johnson that can take Branch under his wing and really show him how to play against the run.

Alshon Jeffery Could End Up Replacing Marques Colston

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    Wide Receiver, South Carolina

    Alshon Jeffery reminds me a lot of Marques Colston just by reading the scouting reports.

    Jeffery measured at 6'3" and 216 pounds, which is very similar to Colston's 6'4" and 225-pound frame. Jeffery has also been questioned about his speed and route-running ability.

    In 2006, when Colston was coming out of Hofstra, scouts thought that he may be better suited to play the tight end position because of a lack of speed and possible problems with his route running. However, we all know that Colston has gone on to start every season since his rookie year and has had plenty of success as a wide receiver in the NFL.

    This offseason there is a possibility that the Saints will lose Colston, and if they do then they will undoubtedly be on the search for a replacement.

    Jeffery fits that bill perfectly.

    There has been a recent drop in Jeffery's stock mainly because of the rise of other receivers and the questions surrounding Jeffery's speed. Now, he will not drop to the seventh round like Colston did, but Jeffery may be available for the Saints in the third round.

    If the Saints do lose Colston, or even Robert Meachem, then they may pursue Jeffery to play a similar role in the New Orleans offense.

    Jeffery has extremely long arms and giant hands that give him the ability to go up and catch passes in the middle of the field. The Saints love using Colston and Jimmy Graham to do this, and Jeffery would be a great addition to a team that could need some help at the receiver position.

    The Saints and Drew Brees are also known for back-shoulder fade routes, and that just so happens to be what Jeffery is best at. He is great at setting himself up to succeed in the red zone, and any NFL team loves a strong red-zone threat.

The Saints Should Take a Chance on Ladarius Green

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    Tight End, Louisiana-Lafayette

    If you have not seen Ladarius Green play football, then do yourself a favor and YouTube him right now.

    This kid can flat-out play the game, and it would not hurt the Saints to target a solid No. 2 tight end in this draft.

    Of course, Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham is solidified as the Saints starter, but there are some questions concerning the depth at the tight end spot for the Saints.

    They have David Thomas, Tory Humphrey, John Gilmore and Mike Higgins currently on the roster. I would not be surprised to see Gilmore and Higgins gone relatively quickly. Both of these guys were brought into the season after injuries to Thomas and Humphrey.

    Thomas is a solid tight end, but has dealt with some injuries in recent years. Humphrey is the only real blocker in the Saints tight end group, and he may stick around for just that purpose.

    The Saints have been known to carry at least three tight ends and possibly four throughout a season. Green can come in and be the Saints' third or fourth tight end for a year.

    A reason that Green has seen his stock drop recently is because of how raw of a prospect he is. At 6'6" and 238 pounds, this kid measures up to be a monster on the field, but he needs to develop in a lot of areas before he can become a big threat.

    Does that sound like Graham to anyone?

    In 2010, when Graham was coming out of Miami, scouts said that he was a physical freak, but would be nothing more than a project in his first year in the league. That came out to be somewhat true.

    Graham had a solid rookie campaign, but broke out last year, and we could see similar results from Green.

    The Saints are not desperate at the tight end position, but if Green is available in the middle rounds, then Sean Payton and the Saints front office may decide to add to their arsenal of weapons.