February 24, 2007

Saints Team Needs in the 2007 NFL Draft

Version 1.0 - Before Free Agency Season Opens

Here is NOPF's of the Saints' team needs. This page will be updated througout the offseason leading up to April's NFL Draft.

Top Needs

1. Cornerback - The Haslett administration neglected the position almost criminally - they did not spend a first day pick or a high profile free agent dollar on the position, unless you include the disaster that was Dale Carter. The 2004 acquisition of Mike McKenzie was the only high-profile, high-impact move the team made at the position, and it was during the season.

Now is the time for the Payton administration to take their shot at improving the position. Not by adding talent to the defensive line to indirectly help coverage, but by adding talent to the actual players out on the island. Mike McKenzie had a solid 2006 campaign, despite a dearth of interceptions. Fred Thomas struggled mightily at times, but other times he was stellar. Even at his age, Thomas has speed and quickness, but it is his recovery ability that was his downfall. It's not an excuse, but Bernard Berrian and Donte Stallworth are two the fastest and best deep threats in the league, so its not a sin that he was beaten by both in the playoffs, plays which resulted in a trip to the bench. Its the intermediate gains when Thomas bit hard on double moves that are the biggest sign that he really needs to move to nickel or dimeback, a move that may not be possible with his $2 million final contract year salary. Jason Craft is due back, while journeymen Dejuan Groce and Curtis Deloatch are unremarkable.

Projected starters at CB: Mike McKenzie, ?
To consider late in the first round: Chris Houston (Arkansas), Fred Bennett (South Carolina), Darrelle Revis (Pitt), Aaron Ross (Texas), Daymeion Hughes (Cal)

2. Tight End - Last time the Saints had a tight end in the Pro Bowl? 1987, Hoby Brenner. For all Brees' success, his tight ends caught only 37 of his 356 passes. That's after Chargers Antonio Gates and Justin Peelle caught over 30% of his passes in 2005. Every quarterback needs a reliable tight end, as does every running game. The Saints haven't had a legitimate two-way TE since Wesley Walls, although Cam Cleeland was pleasant for a short period of time.

Problem with this Saints team is that they ended the season with their fourth and fifth options at the position on the field. Ernie Conwell, when healthy, gives the Saints a real option. But he's scheduled to make $1.9 million in 2007, the last year of his deal, and is not likely to return. Mark Campbell's knee prevented him from making much of an impact, even though Campbell has a history of being a solid contributor on as a blocker and receiver. A top-tier tight end in free ageny or the draft would probably bump Conwell off the team and put Campbell in the #2 spot on the depth chart. Billy Miller played a valuable role as a receiver, but made mistakes. Cut after training camp and signed only after Conwell went down and Nate Lawrie was released, the former receiver has a place in the NFL as a reserve. He's scheduled to be a free agent. The Saints have young John Owens' rights, so he'll probably find his way into Jackson in July.

Projected starter at TE: ?
Draft picks to consider late in the first round: Greg Olsen (Miami) and Zach Miller (Arizona State), are the top tight ends, but after Olsen ran a blistering 4.45 40 at the combine, he's the only prospect at his position worth a first round pick.

3. Two-Gap Defensive Tackle - Hollis Thomas will be a free agent. Rodney Leisle, a restricted free agent, will return if the Saints want him, but he doesn't appear to be ready to defend a starting job. Regardless of Thomas' return, he is no longer capable of being a full time starter.

DT Brian Young should return as a starter, but desperately needs a nose tackle to compliment his three-technique (off tackle) style. The Saints simply need to add bulk at the nose tackle, the defensive tackle that lines up over the center and plays the two A gaps on either side.

Unfortunately, this draft severely lacks depth at NT.

Projected starter at NT: ?
Draft picks to consider late in the first round: DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler (NC State), but he has a second round draft with some scouts. Big men tend to rise in the draft, and Tyler is as big as they come.

4. Defensive End - Take this position off the list if Charles Grant is signed to a long term contract. But that almost certainly isn't going to happen, and the Saints are in need of a new starter at defensive end in 2008.
There are real questions to whether 2006 fifth round pick Rob Ninkovich has the natural ability to start at any point given the limitations of his frame. Whitehead is probably three or four years away from a starting-quality defensive end... in the past, that is. Eric Moore is at best a situational player who will need to fight for a job in camp.

Draft picks to consider late in the first round: Adam Carriker (Nebraska), Tim Crowder (Texas), Baraka Atkins (Miami), Anthony Spencer (Purdue), Quentin Moses (Georgia), Jarvis Moss (Florida), Charles Johnson (Georgia)

5. Wide Receiver - Sean Payton is going to reshape the receiver corps to his liking, and there's a good chance it won't include Joe Horn. You could say that the Saints moved on without Horn in December, and Payton erred on the side of "caution" in sitting Horn over the last month of the season. If the Saints coaching staff is comfortable with Henderson, Colston and Copper, then so be it.

The question is the Saints' intentions for Devery Henderson, the maddeningly inconsistent speedster who scored five touchdowns and averaged 23.3 yards per catch but suffered from drops and mental lapses.

Projected Starters: Marques Colston, ?

Draft picks to consider late in the first round: Robert Meachem (Tennessee), Sidney Rice (South Carolina), Craig Davis (LSU), Anthony Gonzales (Ohio State)

6. Middle Linebacker - Unlike cornerback, the Haslett administration spent six years investing in linebackers, mostly in the draft. Payton spent one offseason dismantling the corps. Only two, Alfred Fincher and Terrance Melton, of Haslett's linebackers survived, and both played only on special teams. Melton was undrafted and Fincher was a third rounder: one of six draft pick linebackers made Payton's team, and Fincher is by no means a lock to be a Saint in 2007.

The Saints are set at outside linebacker for the forseeable future, with the coaches' darling and a rising star in Scott Fujita and newly extended weakside linebacker Scott Shanle. They are under contract through 2009 and 2010 respectively.

On the other hand, MLB Marc Simoneau has one year left on his deal, and was sturdy enough. He's going to be the starter that his team is always looking upgrade, whether it was the Falcons, Eagles or now the Saints. Playing with a bad hand the final eight games of the season, Simoneau's time was unremarkable and probably didn't cement a permanent job. None of the Saints current backups are prospects, although Melton has special teams value and Clark has starting experience.

Projected starters: SLB Scott Fujita, MLB Marc Simoneau, WLB Scott Shanle
To consider late in the first round: Patrick Willis (Ole Miss), Buster Davis (Florida State), Paul Posluszy (Penn State), David Harris (Michigan)

What If?

The Saints move RB Deuce McAllister? Runningback is a definite need, but likely not in the draft. It may happen one day, possibly sooner than later. A counterpart for Reggie Bush probably wouldn't come in the draft, since the Saints would want a proven veteran to replace McAllister.

In McAllister's absence, sleeper Jamaal Branch would be an alternative, and Aaron Stecker in spot duty.

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