A shocking loss to this Seahawks in their opening playoff game quickly put an end to the Saints' hopes of repeating their appearance in the Super Bowl. Still, their football team is among the best in the NFC and their offense led by Drew Brees is still one of the most dynamic in the NFL.
However, in this upcoming draft, they need to address the depth of their defense. Despite the creative schemes of defensive coordinator Greg Williams, they need to add some playmakers and situational guys at each of the three levels of the defense if they hope to get back to the top of the NFC.
In the NFL nowadays, defensive lines need to be able to generate pass rush with only four rushers. And while Greg Williams is known to be a creative blitzer, this defensive line has to do a better job with four if they hope to be productive rushing five or six. Nose tackle is good, but a pass-rushing defensive tackle would be good.
This Saints linebacking corps has fit in well with Williams' system, but they don't have the speed, youth or depth to be effective, and as it showed in the Seahawks loss, they need improved tackling in that linebacking corps. Look for that to be a need that is filled early and often in the draft.
Malcolm Jenkins is likely their free safety of the year and can be a rangy, productive center fielder for this team. But for the future, Darren Sharper is all but done in his career, and Roman Harper played awful in the loss to Seattle and his lack of speed is well documented.
First-Round Pick, Option One: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
A junior who declared already, Ayers was outstanding for UCLA this year despite a very lackluster front seven. He has good length and hand use for a linebacker, and flows to the ball with quickness and good form. With his athletic ability, he could be a perfect fit for this attacking Saints defense. Also at outside linebacker, Bruce Carter of North Carolina or Greg Jones of Michigan State could be other options at linebacker in this spot.
First-Round Pick, Option Two: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
If Ayers is gone, which is very possible, look for them to find a safety to help this secondary. Barron is a favorite of mine because he has good instincts with receivers across the middle, and tracks the quarterback's eyes well with good tackling technique. Rahim Moore of UCLA and DeAndre McDaniel of Clemson could also be targeted at safety if they don't like Barron or if he doesn't declare.
The Saints have become known for using late-round or undrafted running backs, but they really struggled this year in the running game with Chris Ivory and/or Pierre Thomas out. With that said, I think Evan Royster of Penn State could be a late-round option for them as he can be a third-down back to start for this team.
On defense, they could use some defensive line help, and Andrew Lewis, a defensive tackle of Syracuse, is a guy who can play in many scenarios. Plus, his ties to former Saints assistant and Syracuse head coach Doug Marone could help in the transition.
At linebacker, Washington's Mason Foster is an aggressive tackler who can blitz well, and in the second to third round, he could really fit in well in Greg Williams' system. Finally, to add safety depth, Temple's Jaiquan Jarrett can be a nickel safety and is a sound tackler, and would fit well as a backup and special teamer.