The Saints will pick 15th in the 2013 NFL Draft, and though they lack a bounty-scandal related second round pick, have a full set of picks with which to staff a defense that will be gutted like a fish. In the wake of the worst defense in NFL history and with dire salary cap straits ahead, each level of the Saints' defense will desperately need an infusion of talent from the draft. Losses on the defensive line could be severe, with Will Smith a likely cap casualty and Sedrick Ellis and Turk McBride set for free agency.
The Saints have never drafted with the 15th overall pick before, though two 14th overall picks have been solid defenders - current starting safety Malcolm Jenkins (2009) and All-Pro DE Renaldo Turnbull (1990).
The last of five 7-9 teams to draft in the first round, the Saints owe that to their opponent's winning percentage being the highest of the five.
The only trade that could potentially impact the Saints' 2013 draft class is the acquisition of LB Barrett Ruud from the Seahawks in August 2012 for an undisclosed draft pick. The conditions of the trade were never made public, and could potentially result in a late-round pick going from New Orleans to Seattle. The Saints cut Ruud in October, he joined the Texans.
1. Kansas City Chiefs - Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel* - Desperate for a quarterback, the Chiefs find none worthy of the top pick. Joeckel is the best offensive lineman available and with many teams hungry for a star left tackle, taking him first overall is the only way to guarantee him.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones* - A special talent, Jones could give Jaguars defense identity and pass rush, paired with or replacing Daryl Smith at outside linebacker.
3. Oakland Raiders - Utah DT Star Lotulelei - Gives the Raiders hope for a future without Seymour and Kelly in the middle, and could start at nose tackle immediately.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - Florida State DE Bjoern Werner* - Eagles would have loved Joeckel or Michigan's Taylor Lewan, who stayed in school. Instead, they'll take best available. All-American German national is the complete package and tied for the national lead with 13.0 sacks in 2012.
5. Detroit Lions - Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore* - Lions need something across from Cliff Avril. The All-American pass rush specialist had 12.5 sacks against top tier talent in the SEC and could be picked higher than this. Should be as good as his close friend, former Aggie and current Bronco LB Von Miller.
6. Cleveland Browns - LSU DE Barkevious Mingo* - Aside from an amazing name, Mingo brings pure speed to the Browns defense and should team with Jabaal Sheard to terrorize quarterbacks. If Mingo can contribute, the Browns defense will be formidable.
7. Arizona Cardinals - West Virginia QB Geno Smith - The strong-armed passer is now Larry Fitzgerald's best friend.
8. Buffalo Bills - Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o - New ownership in Buffalo picks the biggest name in college football to rebuild his defense, likely bumping the aging Nick Barnett.
9. New York Jets - Alabama G Chance Warmack - Bit of a nightmare for the Jets, having missed on the top tier of pass rushers. Perhaps the best thing for the offense would be to solidify the offensive line then. With Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson set to hit free agency and a bad cap situation, Warmack isn't a shock. Despite his low-priority position, Warmack is universally one of the highest overall rated prospects in the draft.
10. Tennessee Titans - Alabama CB Dee Milliner* - Tennessee defense suffered in 2012, Milliner is the perfect addition where Cortland Finnegan's ghost still haunts the Titans secondary.
11. San Diego Chargers - Eric Fisher OT Central Michigan* - Chargers must add to the offensive line, and 6'7 Fisher is a natural left tackle and is pro ready. Playing in the lesser MAC didn't prevent him from being All-Pro by Sports Illustrated.
12. Miami Dolphins - Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks - Dolphins add talent to the arms race with the Patriots. If they don't keep LT Jake Long, they may reach for an offensive tackle or trade up.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins* - Desperate for bulk inside the defensive line, the Bucs look for Hankins, whose 335 pounds would pair with Gerald McCoy perfectly.
14. Carolina Panthers - Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson* - Disruptive pass rusher from Mizzou is a great fit for the Panthers, who struggled against the run in 2012.
15. New Orleans Saints - Four defenders pulled off the board in previous five picks, but still a shelf full of defensive talent for the Saints to pick from here. Any of the defensive tackles would have been a great pickup here to replace DT Sedrick Ellis, who will unlikely re-sign in the offseason. Senior Georgia DT Johnathan Jenkins is a massive nose tackle, though Mickey Loomis has already been burned by one massive DT from Georgia named Johnathan. North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams will put on a good show, but has has too long a history of slacking off to earn the love of the Saints here. 2012 third round pick Akiem Hicks helps alleviate the desperation for Ellis' replacement.
Assuming the Saints retain LT Jermon Bushrod via a new contract or franchise tag, left offensive tackle isn't an emergency need. Since the top two blockers are off the board, no player seems a great value at 15 to help resolve the Saints' problematic right tackle position, though two are intriguing. Texas A&M Jake Matthews has the pedigree (something the Saints value), experience, size and durability to be a solid right tackle. Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson is intriguing - the 6'6 juco quarterback who shut down Damontre Moore in the Cotton Bowl, at the end of only his second year playing offensive line. He is likely to have a wide range of grades from NFL teams given his limited experience, but what do the Saints think about their poor right tackle position?
Defensive end is the next logical place of need, with the team likely to lose longtime starting RDE Will Smith as a cap casualty. Many feel that Junior Galette deserves a chance to start, but his injury-limited 2012 season raises doubts. Former second round pick Martez Wilson is in the wings at RDE but the converted linebacker will never become a three-down starter. If the Saints go for an end, 6'5" Texas DE Alex Okafor is a good pick here, especially after a strong showing in the 2012 Alamo Bowl against Oregon State. Oregon's Dion Jordan is a 6'6 blazer and terror off the edge, but will see his stock drop because of persistent durability issues. LSU's "Sonic" Sam Montgomery would be a strong popular pick, an underclassman pass rusher who added 30 pounds of muscle while coming back stronger from a knee injury. Montgomery is as fiery and intense a lineman ever offered by LSU and would be a great addition to a defense looking to emerge physically and emotionally from a dismal season. We'll go with LSU DE Sam Montgomery here, projecting that the Saints lose RDE Will Smith and keep LT Jermon Bushrod.
2nd round (14th pick) - forfeited as punishment for the bounty scandal and coverup
3rd round (13th pick) - Southern Miss LB Jamie Collins - 6'1, 240 pound switched from defensive back in 2010 and was a shining star on the bottom-feeding Golden Eagle defense. Recruited out of Franklin County High School (MS) as a three-star dual threat quarterback, Collins is a Senior Bowl invite listed at linebacker and an All-CUSA selection. Smart and tough, Collins will impress at the Senior Bowl. Great coverage ability and a physical a playmaker on defense and special teams. 10 sacks, four forced fumbles, five passes defensed, 20 tackles for loss among 92 as a senior - on a team that did not win a game.
4th round (12th pick) - Syracuse S Shamarko Thomas - Led the Orange in tackles this season, comes with the imprimatur of former Saint coach Doug Marrone, and has blazing speed to go with an excess of aggressiveness. Not even 5'9, but built to play strong safety with elite speed and power, he hits like a truck and compares to a Bob Sanders.
5th round (11th pick) - Rice TE Vance McDonald - At 6'4, 260, McDonald was a primarily a receiver for the Owls. He ground out high school as a blocking tight end, but at Rice, he added more weight and became a receiver, learning from former Lions and Saints TE David Sloan. Listed as a senior by Baylor as a wide receiver and has 15 career touchdowns Earned Senior Bowl invite, where he is sure to wow. Can also long snap. Slowed by toe injury as a senior, and durability has been an issue, capping his draft stock to third day.
6th round (15th pick) - Purdue CB Josh Johnson - Very productive tackling cornerback at 5'11, 195 who collected 10 tackles in a game vs Penn State, and 9 tackles and four passes defensed in a game vs Notre Dame as a senior. Started for three seasons for the Boilermakers, 36 consecutive games.
7th round (14th pick) - West Texas A&M OT Manase Foketi - Would be nice to see the Saints come away with a Texas A&M offensive lineman, but might have to settle for a West Texas A&M prospect. A Kansas State starter at left tackle in 2010, Foketi graduated and sought a transfer to play his final year of eligibility after losing his 2011 season to an Achilles injury. Bill Snyder refused his transfer, which would have let Foketi play his redshirt senior season at a Division I school - the same rule that Russell Wilson used to play at Wisconsin. So Foketi left school and enrolled at West Texas A&M. Foketi is the type of third-day, massive (6'5, 320), raw athletic, and coachable player that the Saints love to develop. In the mold of Jahri Evans, Zach Strief, Carl Nicks, and Jermon Bushrod. Dominant in Division III football.