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New Orleans Saints Offseason Overview and Draft Preview

By Jake Saltzman

Don’t be fooled by all the off-field news involving the Saints this offseason. Even without Sean Payton and some key members of his staff, the Saints are a very talented football team and as of now, look capable (at least on paper) of returning to the NFL playoffs for a fourth straight year. New Orleans has been fairly busy in free agency this spring, which makes a lot of sense, given the fact that they have a league low 5 picks in the upcoming draft.

Defense:

Additions: LB David Hawthorne, LB Curtis Lofton, LB Chris Chamberlain, DT Brodrick Bunkley

Simply put, the Saints’ defense is a skilled unit that, if tweaked the right way, could be one of the very best in the NFL. Three big additions have been made to the linebacking corps, and though Tracy Porter departs from the secondary, the Saints still likely feel that if they score enough, it won’t matter how much they give up through the air on defense. That said, look for additions to be made in the secondary as well as up front on the D-Line. Speed and pass rushing ability are crucial for the Saints, given the fact that New Orleans plays in a division with Cam Newton and Josh Freeman, and also has a Monday Night Football date with the Eagles in week nine.

Offense/Special Teams:

Additions: G Ben Grubbs, ST Cord Parks

One of the few concerns on the offensive side of the ball for the Saints comes at wide receiver, where Robert Meachem departs and leaves seldom-used Adrian Arrington as Drew Brees’ fourth option at that position. Even after the emergence of tight end Jimmy Graham the Saints relied on four capable receivers, all four of whom played key roles in the team’s Super Bowl win in 2009. Devery Henderson enters a contract year so expect a big effort from him, and Lance Moore looks to rebound after missing both of New Orleans’ playoff games a year ago. The only loss on offense is a big one, as guard Carl Nicks leaves the team and is to be replaced by former Baltimore Raven Ben Grubbs. It’s hard to say if Grubbs is an upgrade or downgrade over Nicks, but when he’s healthy, Grubbs at least looks the part of a New Orleans’ offensive lineman.

Draft Overview:

The Saints don’t pick at all until the end of the third round, so it seems likely that they may be inclined to simply take the best player left on their draft board regardless of position. Depth picks in the later rounds could be used to address needs on defense, particularly in the secondary and D-Line. Don’t expect the Saints to draft a defensive player and look to insert him into the starting lineup however, unless of course they manage a steal in the third round. With last season’s rookie sensation Jimmy Graham as the team’s starting tight end in 2012, and reserve John Gilmore headed elsewhere, it is also possible the Saints target a blocking tight end either late in the draft or in the post-draft free agency period. Smart, disciplined players are best suited to succeed in New Orleans, especially this season on what looks like it will be a Payton-less squad.

Seven Who Make Sense:

1: CB Ron Brooks, LSU

The other cornerback from LSU, (Morris Claiborne figures to be a top-10 pick) Brooks is a freak athlete with good instincts and ball skills. Brooks spent five years at LSU under Les Miles, and is just as pro-ready as his counterpart Claiborne. Sacks in three consecutive games last year helped Brooks’ stock rise, as did his 4.37 40-yard dash time. If Claiborne goes to the Bucs at number 5, it is quite possible the NFC South will be welcoming two elite corners in 2012.

2: DE Jake Bequette, Arkansas

Chest and shoulder injuries have hurt Bequette in more ways than just one. In addition to affecting his workouts at the Combine in Indianapolis, Bequette was also forced to partake exclusively in linebacker drills at Arkansas’ Pro day. Still, Bequette recorded 10 sacks last season at Arkansas, including 3 against South Carolina and two against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. As a result, it could be from one troubled head coach (Bobby Petrino) to another (Sean Payton) by the end of this weekend for the Little Rock native.

3: DT Brett Roy, Nevada

At 24, Roy is a little older than some of the other draft-eligible defensive tackles this year. That may not necessarily be a bad thing. Football sense and intellect can aid Roy significantly, and a team liked the New Orleans Saints will like what they see. A onetime safety-turned linebacker-turned end-turned tackle, Roy also has a tremendous work ethic and could see time on special teams right away. Though his sack total wasn’t terribly high last year, Roy did bat down six balls last season, and could earn a spot based on his long arms and ability to disrupt passes.

4: WR Jeff Fuller Texas A&M

Fuller excelled in his time with QB Ryan Tannehill in College Station, and has the size teams look for in receivers. At 6’3, 223, Fuller may be a guy who, unlike some higher-ranking receivers, does well in a situation where all he’s asked to do is catch passes and absorb as much as he can from the veterans around him. With the likes of Colston, Moore, Brees and Henderson in the New Orleans dressing room, it seems almost impossible that a guy like Fuller would not thrive.

5: DE Kourtnei Brown, Clemson

Surprisingly athletic for a defensive end, Clemson’s Kourtnei Brown had the game of his life in week eight of last season. In an ACC tilt against UNC, Brown scored two touchdowns, one via interception and one via fumble recovery. Brown was subsequently named ACC defensive lineman of the week, and became the first Clemson Tiger defensive player to score two touchdowns in a game since 1954. Though a project pick, the Saints are a team who can afford to wait a little bit for their guys to fully develop.

6: FS Josh Bush, Wake Forest

Yet another ACC defensive player, Bush is an under the radar safety with the ability to move to cornerback. Given the fact that Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper don’t appear headed anywhere anytime soon, that seems a likely switch for any safety the Saints might select. The Demon Deacons have had some defensive backs taken in the draft recently, and expect Bush to continue the trend.

7: LB/FB Jeff Thomas, Indiana

A guy who turned in a nice career in college football’s second toughest conference is Indiana’s Jeff Thomas, an undersized linebacker. Praised by coaches and players alike, Thomas finished his career at Indiana with more than 10 TFLs in 2011, including a sack against Penn St. Thomas is versatile, something that will surely help him this weekend, and can also play fullback. The Saints have been known to employ multiple fullbacks in the past, and may do so again this year on short yardage situations. Lastly, keep in mind that New Orleans’ current special teams captain, Courtney Roby, played his college football in Bloomington as well.


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