Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Saints 2016 Draft Preview

            In case you hadn’t heard, the NFL draft begins this Thursday and it seems like you can’t go on the internet without seeing stories about it. Who won this trade? Who needs a quarterback? Who was the best/worst draft pick of all time? The draft has high stakes for NFL franchises who must figure out who will (or won’t) became their next superstar. And this space is no exception to draft speculation. Between today and next week, we’ll preview and then review the Saints draft.

Last year, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis reversed his years long policy of trading away his draft picks at every available opportunity. Instead, Loomis shipped offensive starters Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills out of the Big Easy to acquire more selections in order to bolster the Saints atrocious defense. While this was an encouraging trend for the overaggressive GM, it was only a one year blip. Loomis failed to parlay any of his nine picks into extra assets for this year. In fact, the Saints traded away their 2016 6th rounder in order to trade up last year, leaving New Orleans with just six draft selections. The picks are listed below with their value according to Chase Stuart’s empirically derived draft value chart (notated by round and pick number)

Approximate Value per Pick

According to ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell, the Saints rank 17th in draft capital using Stuart’s chart.  The only way the Saints can garner more picks is by moving down—something Loomis is not inclined to do. According to Football Outsiders Andrew Healy, from 1997-2014, Loomis was the second worst GM in the NFL in terms of giving away draft assets.

Now that we know what the Saints have and how they typically behave, let’s take a look at their biggest draft needs and hope that Loomis doesn’t go back to his old trading ways.

1. Defense tackle- According to Football Outsiders DVOA rankings, the Saints had the worst defense in the NFL. They were especially ineffective at stopping opposing teams from picking up 1st downs on 3rd or 4th and short situations, ranking 30th in the NFL. A physically imposing defensive tackle who can clog up running lanes in the middle of the defensive line would go a long way in improving this woeful unit.

Saints fans won't have to see this any more. 
2. Secondary- While getting rid of penalty machine Brandon Browner is an upgrade in and of itself, the Saints badly need secondary help. While New Orleans signed cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Jarius Byrd to big free agent contracts and drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round, they have not been effective at stopping opposing offenses. Last year, on a per game basis, rival quarterbacks averaged 284 yards, nearly 3 TDs, and completed 68.4% of their passes. For the Saints offense, that’s the equivalent of playing against Tom Brady every week. Any improvement in the Saints pass defense would go a long way in helping New Orleans win games without needing 30+ points from the offense.  
3. Linebacker: The Saints linebacking corps was no exception to the rest of the team’s defensive struggles.  The Saints ranked 32th in second level rushing yards and 31st in open field yards, metrics created by Football Outsiders designed to measure yards gained by opposing running backs 5-10 and 10+ yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This offseason, the Saints signed James Laurinaitis to take over as defensive signal caller and shifted 2nd year linebacker Stephone Anthony from inside to outside linebacker. They need to hope that Anthony can improve on his rookie campaign and that Laurinaitis has something left in the tank. Otherwise opposing running backs may be breaking big runs for another season.  

In Loomis they trust. That hasn't paid off so great for the Saints recently. 

4. Offense: The Saints have fewer needs on the offensive side of the ball. Even after the departure of Jimmy Graham last season, the Saints still finished 7th in Football Outsiders offensive DVOA rankings. And as long as Sean Payton continues calling plays and Drew Brees lines up under center, the Saints have a chance to score 25 points every week. New Orleans has some need for a guard now that they’ve released Jahri Evans. Although between Zack Strief, Andrus Peat, Tim Lelito, Max Unger, and Terron Armstead, the Saints should be able to field a more than capable offensive line next season. The Saints are seemingly set with their offensive skill position players as well. Loomis signed tight end Cody Fleener to a 5 year, $35 million dollar contract in the offseason to go along with running backs Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller and young wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Brandon Coleman.

By the end of the day on Saturday, the Saints will have completed their 2016 draft. Do they invest heavily in the defense? Trade up? Trade down and acquire assets for the future? Regardless of what they do, the draft will shape this coming season and ones far into the future. 

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