From Thursday April 26 through Saturday April 28, the NFL will hold its yearly draft. As has become a DGA tradition, let’s do a little draft preview from the perspective of the New Orleans Saints. Next week, we’ll come back and see how everything went.
The Saints currently hold the following picks in the NFL draft. Notated as round-overall pick: 1-27, 3-91, 4-127, 5-147, 5-164, 6-189, 6-201, 7-245
In total, the Saints hold 8 picks over the seven rounds of the draft, but only two in the first three rounds. They traded away their 2018 second round pick (59th overall)for a 2017 3rd rounder that the Saints used on Alvin Kamara. While it’s unadvisable to trade future high round picks to fill present needs, this trade has worked out well so far.
|Alvin Kamara in action|
Coming off a surprise 11-5 season that saw New Orleans’ defense make the leap from atrocious (31stin Football Outsiders DVOA in 2016) to outstanding (8thin 2017), the Saints re-signed quarterback Drew Brees to a two year, $50 million contract. Using past performance as a guide, the Saints are about to go all-in for one last Super Bowl push. They’ve brought back some familiar faces, including tight end Benjamin Watson, offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod, cornerback Patrick Robinson, and defensive end Alex Okafor. They signed Tom Savage to replace Chase Daniel at backup quarterback and paid linebacker Demario Davis and safety Kurt Coleman top of the market money.
While the Saints are down their second round pick, it would not be surprising for them to try and move up in the draft. Over the years, general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton have shown extraordinary confidence in their ability to evaluate draft prospects, repeatedly trading away valuable picks in favor of specific players. All while ignoring the bevy of evidence that suggests that teams overvalue their scouting acumen.
|Loomis and Payton|
While Saints fans should be heartened by last year’s finish, New Orleans has significant needs on both sides of the football. Let's take a look at their biggest needs.
1. Pass Rush—While the Saints finished 6thin adjusted sack rate, nearly all of that production from defensive end Cameron Jordan. Jordan had an otherworldly season with 13 sacks and 48 tackles. The next closest players, Alex Okafor and Vonn Bell, had 4.5 sacks. Without Jordan to rush the passer, the Saints are vulnerable to opposing passers tearing up the secondary.
2. Linebacker—With the trade of 1strounder Stephone Anthony last offseason, the Saints have relied on mid-career veterans to man their linebacking corps. Last year, they replaced 31 year old Dannell Ellerbe with A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o, Craig Robertson, and Michael Mauti (average age of 27). At some point, the Saints need to invest in a long-term linebacking prospect whom they can develop internally, rather than paying premium prices on the free agent market.
3. Quarterback—With Brees signed for two more years, the Saints need to seriously consider his future replacement. And no, Tom Savage isn't a viable replacement. In his age 38 season, Brees had a 72.0% completion percentage, but threw for only 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns, his lowest totals since joining the Saints. Using Pro-Football Reference’s approximate value, Brees tied for the 2ndbest season ever by a 38 year old quarterback with an AV of 14. No quarterback, however, has ever totaled 14 AV in their age 39 season. When the end comes for aging quarterbacks, it comes quickly and the Saints need to start planning for the future.
4. Tight End—Following the departure of Jimmy Graham, the Saints have failed to replicate his production from the tight end position. New Orleans paid Coby Fleener a small fortune to catch passes from Brees. In his two seasons in New Orleans, Fleener has averaged fewer than 500 yards per season and 2.5 TDs. This offseason, the Saints resigned Benjamin Watson to a one year contract. Watson’s 2015 campaign was the best performance by a Saints TE since Graham left. He caught 74 passes for 825 yards and 6 TDs. Now, however, Watson is 36 years old and on the tail end of his career. Having a young pass-catching tight end will help diversify the offense and give Brees another pass catching option.
Check back next week where we’ll review the Saints draft.