Position by position analysis of Saints drafting needs

As we enter the last week before the 2010 NFL draft, the picture is rounding out for the New Orleans Saints. After winning SuperBowl XLIV, the Saints still have some improvements that can be made. With the loss or potential loss of some starters, the Saints will also be looking to fill some new holes. Below, each position is broken down by an analysis of the starters and backups, with the expected drafting importance explained first.


QB – Star-studded with moderate depth.

It is likely that the Saints would pick up a development QB that has more potential than Chase Daniel if he is a very obvious Best Player Available come draft day. Drew Brees is the reigning SuperBowl MVP and a Top 5 QB in the NFL. His backup status is questionable though. Mark Brunell is solid for a game or so, but at 39 the organization might even be questioning that usefulness and roster spot. Chase Daniel is the development QB that the Saints picked up at the beginning of the year from the Redskins attempt to put him on the Practice Squad. Do not expect Brunell to return next year, leaving the Saints looking for a solid backup.

WR – Star-studded with solid depth.

The only reason the Saints would pick up a WR would be because there is an undeniable best player available that cannot be passed on. That would probably cause the Saints to trade one of the current rosters stars. Marques Colston remains the unquestioned 1st choice for Brees with his size, route running, and incredible hands. Lance Moore should return and is fast, but is really more quick (think Wes Welker) than fast and is a starter quality WR (was the number one WR when Colston was out in 2008). Burners Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem both have become more than just deep threats. Meachem has the potential to be the #1 or co-#1 with Colston. Adrian Arrington is a fan favorite, but has yet to realize his potential mostly because of injuries. Courtney Roby is purely at KR with an emergency WR role. Rod Harper has yet to prove in a real game that he can make a difference, but seems to have some potential for Brees and Payton to develop.

TE – Star-studded with moderate depth.

The Saints could be looking for another stud at TE in the draft. It’s not a high need, but is on the radar for the Saints if the right player falls to them. Jeremy Shockey is a marquee TE that can make a difference in a game. His seemingly constant health problems though are probably why the Saints traded the NE Patriots for David Thomas. Thomas has proved to be a solid pass blocking and catching TE as well as a versatile player, filling in at full back when Heath Evans went down early in the 2009 season. Darnell Dinkins is an older veteran, but not the answer if Shockey and Thomas cannot go. Billy Miller is free agent, likely to resign and is a reliable pass catching TE, but does not have great pass blocking skills. He was injured early in the 2009 season and has the possibility to help the Saints in passing situations if he can stay healthy.

RB – Star-studded with moderate depth.

The Saints could pick up another running back in middle to later rounds. With the departure of Mike Bell, the Saints will be left with Pierre Thomas as the main ball carrier, with Lynell Hamilton as the short yardage and between the tackles specialist and Reggie Bush as the speed around the edges guy. It’s important to note that the Saints didn’t flinch to pay Reggie Bush his large roster bonus right before free agency started. Whether the Saints go earlier or later or at all for a running back probably depends on how deep the Saints think this draft is and how confident the Saints are in the continued development of Lynell Hamilton. The Saints seem to have a good scouting team at finding running backs either undrafted or in free agency. Only Reggie Bush was drafted by the Saints. Mike Bell was a free agent, Pierre Thomas and Lynell Hamilton are both undrafted free agent development guys. Look for the Saints to pick up a UDFA development guy or free agent again this season if they don’t draft one.

FB – Solid starter with very questionable depth.

The Saints will probably be looking for a full back in later rounds or in the UDFA chase after the draft. The Saints seem to be fine at full back without Heath Evans after he went down mid-year. David Thomas (plays Tight End) filled in after the Saints tried a couple of street pickups unsuccessfully. If Heath Evans can stay healthy at 31 years old, the Saints would not need a backup. But that’s probably not a good bet. Depending on the TE status, the Saints may just rely on Thomas again and stick with Heath Evans if they feel last year was a fluke and he’s ready to go for the year. If not, the Saints may try to pick up a big body for the FB position. It’s also important to note that a blocking only FB is probably not going to make this team. The saints cut a popular and solid blocking full back in Mike Karney in order to sign a pass catching, short yardage carrying Heath Evans. Currently the Saints have offseason pickups of Marcus Mailei and Zak Keasey on the roster.

OT – Star-studded with solid depth.

Unless the roster changes, the Saints have no reason to draft an offensive tackle for the O-line. The Saints played the entire 2009 season without pro-bowl LT Jammal Brown and protected Brees well with Jermon Bushrod and some TE/RB help. Bushrod probably will continue to develop and there is no need to worry about the left side. On the right side, Jon Stinchcomb has been a stable and smart RT that has barely missed a snap. Zach Strief was the backup LT before Bushrod outperformed him in training camp. The Saints started Strief at least once last year and switched back to Bushrod, making Strief probably a backup to the backup on the right or left side of the line. It is possible that the Saints would trade Brown for a high draft pick or player if the price is right. Brown is 28 and is considered by many to have bad knees. If the Saints do that, look for the Saints to draft an OT late in the draft if a best player available situation comes up.

OG – Star-studded with questionable depth.

It is likely that the Saints could draft an offensive guard who could play center for the line if a player is available in the mid to later rounds. If the Saints don’t get a guard in the draft, expect them to be active in the UDFA market looking for a developmental player. The starters are considered by many to be the best pair of guards in the league. Jahri Evans is possibly the best guard in the league and Carl Nicks isn’t far behind. Nicks is a road grater and Evans is a master pass blocker and decent run blocker. Depth is questionable with Tim Duckworth as a development player and Nick Leckey as a hybrid center and guard backup, but isn’t stellar at either. If either Evans or Nicks were to go down for any length of time, the Saints could be in trouble on the O-line.

C – Solid starter with questionable depth.

Look for the Saints to grab a Center at least late in the draft and earlier if the right guy is available and the best player available. Jonathan Goodwin is underrated for what he does with the Saints, but he still isn’t the best Center the Saints could get and he is older (31). When Goodwin went down a few times in 2009 the Saints O-line was visibly different and probably would suffer greatly with an extended absence of him. Coach Payton is a big believer in building depth at O-line and combined with the age of Goodwin, looks like a concern.


DT – One star and one open spot with solid depth.

Look for the Saints to target a “big body” Nose Tackle type, defense tackle in the first or second round of the draft. The Saints have locked down the penetrating 3-tech defensive tackle and a backup clone with Sedrick Ellis and Anthony Hargrove. He is a rising star that could greatly benefit having that big body next to him. Ellis could end up in a pro-bowl if he continues to improve on his year 2 performance. The position next to Ellis has been a major problem for the Saints since wide bodied Hollis Thomas left because of constant injury issues. That position is often described as the Nose Tackle , even in a 4-3. The Saints tried using Remi Ayodel and Rodney Leslie when Kendrick Clancy went down, but both have been average at eating up blocks to keep them off of the Saints smallish linebackers. Anthony Hargrove is a converted defensive end that is able to penetrate with the same veracity that Ellis does, although he lacks some of Ellis’ size. For depth, the Saints have DeMario Pressley, who looks like he will have a long career as a backup, rotational defensive tackle, but has not stepped up as a consistent starter. Rodney Leslie and Kendrick Clancy should return and be good for depth with DeMario Pressley.

DE – One star and one solid rotation with decent depth.

Expect the Saints to draft a DE somewhere in the middle-rounds (3 – 5), and possibly the early rounds if an obvious best player available situation arises. Despite the loss of Charles Grant, the Saints are not desperate at Defensive End. The Saints have a star on the right side with Will Smith, who has been a solid performer against both the pass and the run since joining the Saints in 2004. The Saints cut left defensive end Charles Grant after some disappointing seasons in 2008 and 2009. They signed Alex Brown from the Bears to fill the void on run plays and probably plan to rotate Bobby McCray in on obvious passing situations. If the Saints did not find a stud at DE in the draft, the current roster could suffice, but would not be spectacular by any stretch. Paul Spicer will probably not return as a backup and Jeff Charleston has shown flashes, but is just a spot role player as a backup. If the Saints were to find a stud at defensive tackle next to Ellis, it’s possible the Saints could rotate Anthony Hargrove back to defensive end, his natural position, which he played on some downs in 2009.

ILB – Star-studded with moderate depth.

Don’t expect the Saints to draft an ILB unless one really stands out as a cannot-pass draft pick. The Saints run a base 4-3 defense creating a need for only a middle linebacker, usually the QB of the defense. After years of looking, the Saints finally found that QB of the defense in Jonathan Vilma at inside line backer. Vilma is the anchor and has been able to stay pretty healthy since the trade with the Jets three years ago, becoming a playmaker and tackling machine. The Saints tried developing 2007’s 7th round pick, Marvin Mitchell, into the next MLB, but it seems he has fallen behind to Joey Dunbar. Mitchell did make it on the field for shifts to a 3-4, but does not seem to have developed into the next LB that can be relied on. Joey Dunbar is quite small at 226 lbs, which is smaller than the already considered small Vilma (232 lbs). So that leaves a depth issue at MLB for the Saints. It’s not a major hole, but it could be a concern if Vilma goes down for any length of time.

OLB – One solid starter and one spot open for competition with decent depth.

The Saints are looking for an outside linebacker in the first or second round. With Scott Shanle, the Saints have the weak side still solidly filled, but Scott Fujita, the starter on the strong side has left the team for Cleveland. The Saints drafted Stanley Arnoux last season at OLB, but he went down with a leg injury early in training camp. The Saints are high on Arnoux and he is expected to be the front runner going into to training camp to start at SLB. Arnoux is smallish for SLB at 232 lbs (Fujita was 245 lbs), so don’t be surprised if the Saints draft a bigger OLB and shift Arnoux over to the weak side to challenge Shanle at WLB. Shanle is 30 years old and relies on his smarts and decision making, rather than athleticism, so there could be improvement if the Saints can get both out of another LB. Depth doesn’t appear to be an issue with decent backups developing with Anthony Waters , Jonathan Casillas and JoLonn Dunbar. All three contributed on 3-4 downs (which Gregg Williams uses from time to time) and when Vilma, Fujita and Shanle were out at various times they stepped in as decent backups. None are considered starters yet.

CB – Star power starters and respectable backups.

Don’t expect the Saints the draft a cornerback unless there is an obvious best player available situation, and even then probably only in the later rounds. The Saints threw lots of talent at the cornerback position for several years. 2009 saw the fruits of that labor with Tracey Porter and Jabari Greer locking down the starting positions and locking down the outside routes for the Saints. Porter was drafted in 2008 and was showing promise before hurting his wrist in a freak accident against Minnesota. Coming back in 2009, Porter combined with new free agent acquisition Jabari Greer to really make a difference. Randall Gay appears to be a solid nickel back just as he was used in New England, but struggles a bit more as an outside the hashmark cornerback. The jury is still out on Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints 2009 first round draft pick. He could continue to develop into a cornerback and become the nickel and solid backup, or he could slide over to free safety. The depth behind Gay and Jenkins is questionable, with Leigh Torrence probably being the most solid, yet unspectacular player of the bunch. Most appear to be training camp fodder.

S – One starter and one question mark, with solid backups.

Don’t expect the Saints to draft a safety early, even if Darren Shaper officially leaves the Saints before the draft, unless someone spectacular falls to them unexpectedly. At strong safety, Roman Harper seems to be holding on to the starting role. The Saints moved cornerback Usama Young over to free safety in 2009 and drafted Shaper’s heir apparent possibly twice in the draft, Malcolm Jenkins in the first round and Chip Vaughn in the third round. Jenkins is a tweener cornerback/free safety that could slide over if needed. As it stands now the Saints are holding to the position that Jenkins is a cornerback, but that could change if Sharper does not return, Young doesn’t improve and Chip Vaughn doesn’t pan out well in training camp. Some argue that Jenkins’ skill set is more apt to being a free safety over a cornerback anyway. Usama Young did not impress as a cornerback and is being shifted over to free safety for a second chance. Young did not seem to make great strides in 2009, when Sharper was out, so there is a question mark hanging over his head. Behind Roman Harper, Chris Reis has played solid, but not spectacular as a backup.

Well, there you have it. The draft is a fickle game, with no team ever knowing what they ultimately will be doing because the choice is never completely predictable. The Saints will probably target a NT/DT, an OLB and a DE early, with an eye out for a C/G, TE, and FS if the right player falls to them. Have fun and keep your rankings close on hand!

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