Can the New Orleans Saints build upon a record breaking 2011 season, or is this team facing a huge regression in 2012? Inside today's New Orleans Saints 2012 mock draft, we're going to try and not only pinpoint what needs this team can fulfill through the 2012 NFL draft, but we'll also speculate a little bit as to what other needs could arise through free agency.
The Saints are in a sticky situation, friends.
New Orleans already has the dark ominous free agency cloud looming above, but they also have the normal nagging necessities that must be dealt with.
The key free agents for New Orleans (presently) are Drew Brees (QB), Marques Colston (WR), Robert Meachem (WR), Tracy Porter (CB) and Carl Nicks (OG).
Meachem, and Colston are sure to be looking for the big payout while Nicks has already made it abundantly clear he's looking for more money than the Saints should pay.
The immediate team needs for New Orleans really is housed at linebacker and corner, but keep in mind this team could also use a few more positional players.
So let's see who they need, and how this draft could help the Saints.
Round 2: Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Virginia
6'4", 267 pounds
I think it was abundantly clear that New Orleans lacked a true impact player at linebacker last season, but the DE position may also take as much precedent leaving the Saints with much to consider with their first pick.
Cam Johnson could be that player that helps the Saints kill two birds with a single stone.
The Saints do need an impact backer on the outside who can not only apply pressure through the blitz, but also help sure up a defense that was shredded on the ground in 2011.
The Saints also, however, need a quality DE who can do much of the same. To complicate matters, veteran Will Smith may wind up being a casualty of cap, so the need here is paramount. .
Johnson is best suited for teams running a traditional 4-3 set, but this kid has additional experience out of the 3-4, and also has 2 years playing-experience at linebacker.
In high school Johnson was a standout receiver, defensive back and safety which speaks volumes about his athleticism.
Round 3: Tommy Streeter, WR, Miami (Fla.)
6'4", 214 pounds
Both Marques Colston and Robert Meachem helped New Orleans break a ton of records last season, and both are free agents this season.
Meachem is expected to draw interest primarily from teams who can't afford a higher tier veteran receiver (I:E: Vince Jackson) and the latest news regarding Colston comes from the National Football Post:
[box type="info"] "...It’s possible Marques Colston will be a former Saint in the near future. The Saints have made no attempts to re-sign the star wide receiver up to this point. The front office has been pre-occupied with trying to work out a new deal for Drew Brees. If the Saints can’t sign Brees, they likely will use the franchise tag on him, giving them one less way to retain Colston. Also complicating the issue is the pending free agency of guard Carl Nicks. Given the cash outlay this team will be facing, the Saints may have to choose between Colston and Nicks." - NFP.com[/box]
The Saints will more than likely be forced to grab a quality WR prospect this early to cover their potential losses, while adding insurance for the future.
Streeter is a little on the unfinished side but he is a younger, faster version of Marques Colston. Streeter will need to learn better separation off the snap, but his size, speed and route running abilities are more than average.
Remember kids, the last time the Saints took a chance on a player from Miami in the third round was Jimmy Graham and ya'll know how that turned out.
Round 4: Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
6'5", 305 pounds
The Saints could also be looking to sure up the DT slot, and they could certainly use a big workable presence with tons of upside.
Kheeston Randall could be that guy.
The Saints didn't have much pressure from their D-Line period, so whether you're talking about outside pressure, or interior pressure, it's all the same ball of wax.
Randall is the type of player who was used more for taking on blocks rather than forcing ahead, but when he was used in such a bullish manner, he was rarely stopped and in the pros Randall will see more work penetrating the gaps.
The other great upside for the kid is his ability to stuff the run—a HUGE plus—and his ability to stay on his feet even when taking on the toughest opponent.
For a fourth round pick, Randall has all the makings of a value selection.
Round 5: Donnie Fletcher, CB, Boston College
6'0", 201 pounds
Another player who could become a casualty of cap is corner Tracy Porter, and while the Saints do have a serviceable "bench" to speak of, the fact of the matter is they will need to grab themselves some future talent, and I would hate to see them pass up on Donnie Fletcher.
Fletcher is an all-around corner who is likely to fall through the cracks unnoticed, which is a shame for a guy who has exceptional skills as a zone specialist, and off-man corner.
Think about it. If the Saints can get better work out of the pass rush on the line, then they can better utilize traditional cover corners, and the schemes that suit them best.
Grabbing Fletcher for such an event would only help the Saints get that much better on D over time.
Round 6 (first pick): Rhett Ellison, TE, USC
6'5", 250 pounds
I can easily see the Saints considering another TE at this point in the draft for a variety of reasons. After Jimmy Graham, the Saints only have one other TE on the depth chart (Doug Thomas) who ended his season in 2011 on IR with a concussion.
Grabbing a TE for depth makes perfect sense.
Ellison is also a pretty good route runner and pass-catching TE who was used on the line of scrimmage, in the slot and even on the outside (or Z position). Ellison was also a serviceable blocker which always comes in handy.
With their second sixth round selection I think the Saints target Mitchell Schwartz, OT from California.
The Saints need to grab another tackle now for the future, and to counter any further decline from veteran Charles Brown. Schwartz is the type of bullish run blocker that has no trouble creating lanes and holes, and his pass-blocking abilities are definitely workable.
One note, this is the same guy who dealt with Quinton Couples at the Senior Bowl and shut him down for nearly all of practice, so it does say something about his potential.
Round 7: Tank Carder, OLB, TCU
6'2", 237 pounds
Since linebacker is such a needy position, I think the Saints could double up in the draft, especially if they can grab Tank Carder.
Most positional players in the seventh round wind up being projects only, but Carder could wind up being that underrated back-end draft selection—the proverbial diamond in the rough.
Carder has enough speed to handle coverage in the flats, while enough movement to settle into zone duties, and was known for being an excellent run defender.
If you read up on this kid, there is plenty of already established talent (he was even a return specialist), so the kid could turn out to be something more than just a seventh round "project".
Have another player in mind you think the Saints might target? Let me know below and get the debate going.