It's just over a month since the New Orleans Saints lifted the Lombardi trophy and already the team looks to have a few different faces for the 2010-2011 season.
Scott Fujita, OLB, has found a new home in Cleveland. RB Mike Bell has left for Philly. DE Charles Grant is testing free agency and so is FS Darren Sharper. To the average person, these may seem to be easily replaceable names, but each of these guys played a huge role in getting the black and gold to their first ever Superbowl appearance.
Darren Sharper is probably the best known of the four due to his playmaking abilities on the defensive side of the ball. However, he could actually prove to be the easiest of the four to replace due to the position he plays.
Mike Bell, although the lesser known of the two, was arguably just as valuable on the other side of the ball as Sharper due to his hard nose running and hunger to be on the field. Luckily, his replacement should also be easy to find due to a deep running back class this year.
Charles Grant and Scott Fujita could prove to be the hardest of the four to replace. The defensive end class is riddled with guys that have underachieved, overachieved, have weight problems, or legal troubles. It's going to be a "pick your poison" type of feel for this position.
Scott Fujita should be a little easier to replace than Charles Grant because of a very deep OLB field. For that reason, I think it will be in the Saints' best interest to address the DE position very early in the draft and concentrate on replacing Fujita in round three or later.
The main thing that worries me going into the draft, is that with four key guys leaving the team and only six draft picks, it doesn't leave us much room to add depth at any position. It also means that we have three picks, (DE, OLB, FS) that we must get right, if we want to have a chance for a repeat this season.
First rd: Brandon Graham DE/OLB Michigan 6'1" 268 or Everson Griffen DE, USC 6'3" 273
With the Saints' biggest need definitely being someone who can rush the passer, we must look at DEs Brandon Graham or Everson Griffen. Here is a classic, undersized/overachiever vs. good size/underachiever scenario. For me, it's no debate, I'll take the guy who's had success over the guy who should have had success any day.
Brandon Graham has been downgraded by some, due only to his size. However, I have seen enough 6'1" 268lb DE's have success at the NFL level. It would be a no-brainer to take him here. He is a disruptive guy that can play either DE or OLB, both which are top needs of the Saints going into the draft.
Everson Griffen is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Many have said that he has great size, speed, and all-around athleticism for the position. For some reason though it hasn't really shown on the field. Brandon Graham has dominated him in every statistical category, including sacks and tackles for loss.
However, other than Griffen, Carlos Dunlap would be the only other consideration here, and he has issues of his own.
Second rd: Lamarr Houston DT, Texas 6'3" 305 or Jonathan Dwyer RB, Georgia Tech 5'11" 229
With the much needed DE position secured with the first pick, the Saints must address the need at DT.
Sedrick Ellis was their best player at the position last year but has missed a few games due to injuries. Not only do they need depth at DT, but they need someone who can be the main force if Ellis were to get injured again. Lamarr Houston, at 6'3" 305 out of Texas, has compiled 103 Tackles, 25 TFL and 9.5 sacks over the past two years.
If Payton were to feel the need to draft a RB in the early rounds, I would hope that he would take a look at Jonathan Dwyer from Georgia Tech. He was recently downgraded due to his slow 40 time (4.59) at the combine and that could be great news for the who-dats. Dwyer is an agressive runner that would be great between the tackles. The Saints could use a hard nosed runner down near the goal line, and Dwyer fits the bill perfectly.
Third rd. A.J. Edds OLB, Iowa 6'4" 246 or Linvall Joseph DT, East Carolina 6'4" 328
Assuming the Saints are drafting needs first, that would most likely mean that the DE and DT positions are addressed by round three.
With Fujita leaving for Cleveland, the next biggest need will be at the OLB position. A.J. Edds is very similar in size to Fujita at 6'4" 246 lbs. I'm not big on 40 times, but he did post a 4.67, which was faster than a lot of the smaller guys. He also notched 72 tackles and four TFL as a senior.
Assuming that Dwyer was scooped up in the second, we still have to address the DT position.
Linvall Joseph is a tackling machine who recorded 60 tackles last year with 13 of those going for a loss. He also stands an impressive 6'4" at 328 lbs and managed to bench 225 lbs a total of 39 times at the Combine. He should do a decent job in helping Ellis plug up the middle.
Fourth rd. 128th overall- Dennis Pitta TE BYU 6'4" 245lbs. or Jimmy Graham TE Miami/6'7" 260
Most of the defensive needs should be taken care of by now. That allows us to start focusing on weak spots in the offense.
Although it is very hard to find many weak spots in the leagues' top scoring offense, there is one glaring spot. Jeremy Shockey has been great for the team since coming over from New York although he has fought through injuries almost his entire career.
But there is only so much a man can take and I wonder if Shockey might be getting close to that point. Adding a TE in the fourth round will allow the Saints to grab someone that will be around for some time to come.
Dennis Pitta has been on my list since the first mock. Any tight end that amasses over 1,000 yards and 82 receptions in one year is worth looking at. One that does it at 6'4" 245lbs, while running a 4.63 40 is worth putting on top of your list. My guess is that he'll be around for a very long time, regardless of what lucky team nabs him.
If Pitta is missed here, we have to take a long, hard look at Jimmy Graham of Miami. He only played one year of college football, but stands in at 6'7" 260 lbs and registered a 4.56 in the 40. He only caught 17 passes last year, so he does come with some risk. He will have to be evaluated very closely to make sure the hype is for real. If he proves to have good hands, then he should be a great fit for our pass heavy offense.
No Fifth Round Pick
Sixth rd. Charles Scott RB LSU, 5'11" 231 or Stevenson Sylvester OLB Utah 6'2" 225lbs.
If not for a broken collarbone, Charles Scott would be off the board by now. He rushed for 1,174 yards, 18 touchdowns with a 5.4 ypc average two years ago. Being from Louisiana, I got a chance to watch him a few times last year.
He doesn't have crazy break away speed or the agility of a top back, but he does have the ability to put his head down and plow over guys for the tough yards. That's something the Saints have been lacking for the past two or three years. He also ran a surprisingly fast (for his size) 4.54 40 at the Combine. He would be a great addition to the Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush tandem.
If we somehow miss out on A.J. Edds in the third, it could be late in the sixth when we finally address the LB position.
Stevenson Sylvester has been a consistent tackler for the Utah Utes. Managing 86, 73, and 81 over the last three years, 22 of which went for a loss. He stands in at 6'2" 232 lbs, managed an impressive 4.63 in the 40, and put up 225 a total of 23 times at the combine. Not bad for a sixth rounder.
Seventh rd. Aaron Webster FS, Cincinnati 6'1" 207
With all but one need wrapped up by now, our only problem is at FS.
Webster would be a great choice here even if Sharper stays with the team. He has great size for a FS at 6'1" and 207 lbs, and clocked a 4.48 on his pro day. What impressed me the most though was an impressive 21 reps on the bench press. He managed 69 tackles and four picks as a senior.
There you have it. This is my third, and most likely final, mock for the franchise before the NFL draft begins on April 22. Feel free to add any comments you would like, or any players that you feel would be a better fit for the team.