Exactly one month from the 2014 player selection meeting, otherwise known as the NFL Draft, organizations across the league are entering crunch time in regards to their final preparations ahead of the May 8 shindig in New York. Personnel departments are poring over scouting reports, video tape, background checks and combine measurables while scouts and coaches observe pro day workouts and meet with players individually. Executives make the last call, and with 30 days until round 1 kicks off, months of hard work are in the final stages of coming to fruition.
Owners of seven draft choices (for now), the New Orleans Saints will look to add a fresh injection of young talent across the board to a roster which has improved on paper from last season. A flurry of free agency moves has seen the likes of Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey enter the fold, while important veterans such as Zach Strief and Parys Haralson have been retained. With the majority of the team's free agency maneuvers seemingly made, we turn our attention to the draft and the opportunity for the Saints to build off the momentum they have created thus far in 2014.
The Saints added Jairus Byrd in free agency.
It could be said that the team still has several needs to address. Most teams do. Assuming the Saints stand pat with their quota of seven picks, on the surface, the team needs in no particular order could read as follows: Cornerback, Wide Receiver, Linebacker, Defensive Line, and interior Offensive Line. This list could be dwindled to three, with CB, WR and OL at the top. Let's examine these postions and possible players that could emerge as candidates to be selected by New Orleans from a need standpoint.
Saints Draft Picks as of now
- 1st round (27th)
- 2nd round (58th)
- 3rd round (91st)
- 4th round (126th)
- 5th round (167th)
- 5th round (169th) *
- 6th round (202nd)
*- from New England via Philadelphia
Having lost last year's starting Center Brian de la Puente to the Bears via free agency, the Saints will likely be looking closely at interior linemen to bolster their options on the inside. Tim Lelito is the likely in-house candidate to step in and compete for the starting job at Center, though the team will surely seek to add either a veteran or draft pick to provide competition.
The Saints also have plenty of money invested in the Guard position between Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. They could look to add another interior lineman to groom as a future replacement and cheaper option to a player like Grubbs. I would expect the Saints to focus on the best player available rounds 1-3 before exploring this route. That said, an interior lineman may well fall into that BPA scope for the Saints during those rounds depending on how things shake out with the teams selecting ahead of them.
Fresh off agreeing to a new five-year deal, Zach Strief will be back, but the team has lost Charles Brown in free agency and could explore adding another Tackle prospect at some point. Some names to keep an eye on include USC Center Marcus Martin, Alabama G Anthony Steen, LSU G Trai Turner, Florida State C Bryan Stork, Vanderbilt Tackle Wesley Johnson and Missouri Tackle Justin Britt.Saints RT Zach Strief
The Saints are in need of some depth at the corner position. Jabari Greer has been released, but Keenan Lewis and Corey White will be back in 2014. Patrick Robinson will also return, but is still recovering from a major knee injury. The team has also brought in 12-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey, who expects to play both corner and nickel, as well as Safety if needed.
One could argue that an additional corner could be the Saints' most pressing need. An early round draftee could not only contribute right off the bat, but be groomed as a future starter. Bailey is in the twilight of his career, Robinson is rehabbing, and White may be best served as a sub-package corner. Could Keenan Lewis's future partner-in-crime be selected in this draft? TCU's Jason Verrett, Florida's Marcus Roberson, Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Oregon's Terrance Mitchell could be candidates to be taken at some point between rounds 1-3.
I would not rule out a possible return of Greer, perhaps on a short-term deal that is team-friendly from a financial standpoint. Assuming Greer can rehab his knee and is unsigned heading into the summer, it is a route New Orleans could keep in mind, though after bringing in Bailey, they may want to get younger in terms of depth. An early round draft choice could satisfy that need.
The Saints like to throw the ball. A lot. While the team may be considering putting an emphasis on a more viable running game, the x-factor on offense for New Orleans will likely still be Drew Brees' ability to spray the ball around the field to his playmakers.
With Lance Moore cut and now in Pittsburgh, Robert Meachem an usigned free agent and Darren Sproles in Philadelphia (not to mention franchised Tight End Jimmy Graham still unsigned) there is a glaring dearth of pass-catchers in contrast to last season. Marques Colston will be back to lead the line, so to speak, with the impressive Kenny Stills poised to make a big leap. Joe Morgan and Nick Toon are hoping to take advantage of their opportunities, but injuries and inconsistencies between them may stress the need to pluck a decorated prospect early on in the draft.
Some players that could be selected include LSU's Jarvis Landry, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, Mississippi's Donte Moncrief, and Texas's Mike Davis. There is still a chance that Meachem could be an option for the Saints if he continues to experience a cool market over the next several weeks. The team could also look to kick the tires on a player like Miles Austin should he still be available and available at the right terms.LSU's Jarvis Landry could be an option in round 2.
30 days and counting...
While the above positions may be three of the team's most glaring needs, the Saints have not shied away from selecting the best available player according to their board in the past. Meachem's selection raised some eyebrows in 2007, and the team moved up to nab Mark Ingram when there were seemingly other needs to be addressed. There can never be a shortage of pass rushers, and a player like Auburn's Dee Ford or Missouri's Kony Ealy could be too tantalizing to pass up should they be available when the Saints select 27th overall in round one.
The team has a good history of making the most out of it's later round picks under Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton, and that could be a time for the team to focus on it's true needs. Time will tell how things play out, but with exactly one month to go until the NFL Draft, crunch time is upon us. These are the days that Football fans live for.