The NFL draft begins this Thursday night and runs through Saturday. For Saints fans, the last few drafts haven’t gone well. Since 2014, Brandin Cooks has emerged has a top-flight wide receiver. The bad news is New Orleans just traded him to the New England Patriots. Saints management justified the trade by claiming that the extra picks (a first and third rounder) would help rebuild the defense. In 2015, the Saints did the exact same thing, trading Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills for extra draft picks and attempt to rebuild the defense.
Maybe this year it will work better than in 2015. Despite their needs on defense, the Saints drafted Andrus Peat, a left tackle, who is now starting at guard. This was a huge overdraft as guards are much easier to find later in the draft than tackles. Stephone Anthony, a linebacker taken with the Graham pick, barely saw the field last year as New Orleans relied on a host of journeymen linebackers. Second round pick Hau’oli Kikaha missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Third round quarterback Garrett Grayson was cut and then later resigned to the practice squad. Third round cornerback P.J. Williams tore his hamstring in 2015 and last year suffered a concussion that caused him to miss the last 14 games of the season. The Saints have exacerbated their draft failures by failing to accumulate extra draft picks by either trading down or staying out of the free agent market to get compensatory picks.
|The Saints need defensive help. Now.|
In 2017, according to Bill Barnwell, the Saints have amassed the fifth most draft capital of any team. They have multiple picks in the first (1-11, 1-32) and third rounds (3-76, 3-103) along with one pick in the second (2-42), sixth (6-196), and seventh (7-229) rounds (picks annotated as round-overall pick). The Saints sent their fourth-round pick to New England as part of the Cooks trade and lost their 5th round pick in a trade from last year. If the Saints want to rebuild the defense, they need to do more than just draft two extra players this year. In 2016, the Saints had the oldest roster in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It was the second time in the last three seasons that the Saints have led the league in this area. It’s the result of the Saints management continually devaluing the draft by trading up and drafting only 5 or 6 players per season. That’s a fine strategy if you’ve a 10 or 11 win team trying to win the Super Bowl every year, not one who has gone 7-9 the past three years. They need to get as many young players on the roster and on defense as possible. They need to trade down or flip their current picks for future ones. Without the constant influx of young talent, New Orleans has relied on veteran players who typically cost more and have their best seasons already behind them.
At the draft this week, the Saints have two glaring needs that they should address immediately: pass rusher and cornerback. These aren’t particularly surprising as they’re the same positions that New Orleans has needed to upgrade for years. Last year the Saints were 30th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, with the 29th ranked pass defense and 28th in adjusted sack rate, knocking down opposing quarterbacks on only 5% of their dropbacks. This inability to apply pressure or cover opposing wide receivers meant that opposing quarterbacks completed 65% of their passes and averaged 274 passing yards per game. For the Saints offense, this meant they were playing the equivalent of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers every week.
Saints fans better hope that Mickey Loomis and his staff have gotten better at drafting and developing defensive talent since 2015. The rest of Drew Brees’ career depends on it.