NFL DRAFT NEEDS: NFC SOUTH Falcons | Panthers | Bucs OVERVIEW
New Orleans rebounded from an 8-8 record in 2009 to take home the city's first Super Bowl crown. It's safe to say they're fairly set on offense after the unit led by Drew Brees racked up 403.8 total yards per game. Come draft day, the Saints should be focused on strengthening a defense that was opportunistic and in large part lived off turnovers while still ranking 25th as they allowed 357.8 yards in total offense per game.
New Orleans will have six selections with choices coming in every round of the draft except for the fifth. They currently hold picks 32, 64, 95, 130, 201 and 239.
Starting up front, New Orleans cut defensive end Charles Grant and replaced him by signing Alex Brown from the Bears to a two-year, $5.5 million deal. Brown will provide the same run stopping ability that was lost with Grant's release. Will Smith holds down the opposite side, where he collected a career-high 13 sacks and is one of the better defensive ends in the league. Aside from Smith, the Saints had to blitz a lot to get steady pressure. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known for aggressively attacking in this fashion, but New Orleans could still use another consistent pass rusher off the edge. At defensive tackle, Sedrick Ellis and Remi Ayodele formed a solid tandem of starters, and Anthony Hargrove was a pleasant surprise who gave the Saints depth and provided great interior pressure. Despite the success, New Orleans still gave up 122.2 yards per game on the ground. The Saints need another strong presence along the interior to limit the opponent's rushing success. The team hosted LSU's Al Woods and Penn State's Jared Odrick on visits. Odrick may be available when the Saints pick at 32 in the first round.
One level up, the Saints lost Scott Fujita to free agency and need to find a replacement. The hole may be filled in-house by Johnathan Casillas, Stanley Arnoux or Anthony Waters, but if not the team should look to address the need in the draft. Three candidates who have met with the team are Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri, Dekoda Watson of Florida State and Darryl Washington of TCU.
In the secondary, the Saints will need to find a replacement for Darren Sharper if he doesn't re-sign with the team. Sharper tied a league-high with nine interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns. That kind of production won't be easily replaced, but this year's class of safeties is a deep group and New Orleans should be able to find a quality player in the middle portions of the draft.
Although not pressing needs, two areas of concern on offense are running back and tight end. Jeremy Shockey is been prone to injury and has missed games in each of his first two seasons in New Orleans. David Thomas filled in nicely, but a deep pool of tight ends should allow the Saints to grab some depth in the later rounds. Pierre Thomas had another solid season and Reggie Bush is slated to return despite early offseason rumors the team would part ways with him. But New Orleans chose not to match the Eagles offer to Mike Bell and let him walk. Bell rushed for 654 yards and five touchdowns last season, although he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. The Saints should look for another running back to add to their stable.
Other players known to have visited with the Saints include Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, Ohio State linebacker Thaddeus Gibson and Stillman linebacker Junior Galette.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Darren Sharper (has not re-signed), LB Scott Fujita (was not re-signed), QB Mark Brunell (has not re-signed), LS Jason Kyle (re-signed for two-years at $1.72M, TE Billy Miller (has not re-signed), TE Darnell Dinkins (has not re-signed), TE Dan Campbell (has not re-signed), C Nick Lecky (re-signed for one-year at $630,000), DT Kendrick Clancy (has not re-signed), S Pierson Prioleau (re-signed for one-year at $855,000)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: T Jammal Brown (received first- and third-round tender at $3.619M), G Jahri Evans (received first- and third-round tender at $3.186M), S Roman Harper (received first-round tender at $2.521M), WR Lance Moore (received second-round tender at $1.759M), T Zach Strief (received second-round tender at $1.759M and signed), RB Pierre Thomas (received second-round tender at $1.684M), T Jermon Bushrod (received second-round tender at $1.684M and signed), DT Anthony Hargrove (received original-round tender at $1.226M and signed), TE David Thomas (received original-round tender at $1.176M and signed), WR Courtney Roby (received original-round tender at $1.176M), RB Mike Bell (received right of first refusal tender at $1.176M, signed offer sheet with Eagles) S Usama Young (received original-round tender at $1.101M and signed), LB Marvin Mitchell (received original-round tender at $1.101M), DT Remi Ayodele (received right of first refusal tender at $1.101M and signed), S Chris Reis (received right of first refusal tender at $1.101M and signed), DE Jeff Charleston (received right of first refusal tender at $1.101M and signed), CB Leigh Torrence (was not tendered, re-signed as UFA for one-year at $630,000), FB Kyle Eckel (was not tendered)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: LS Jason Kyle, C Nick Lecky, S Pierson Prioleau, T Zach Strief, T Jermon Bushrod, DT Anthony Hargrove, TE David Thomas, S Usama Young, DT Remi Ayodele, S Chris Reis, DE Jeff Charleston, CB Leigh Torrence
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DE Alex Brown (signed for two-years at $5.5M), WR Matt Simon, TE Tyler Lorenzen, CB Greg Fassitt, T Jermey Parnell, RB Zak Keasey (signed for one-year at $545,000)
PLAYERS LOST: RB Mike Bell (signed offer sheet with Eagles, Saints declined to match), LB Scott Fujita (signed with Cleveland), WR D'Juan Woods, DE Charles Grant, LB Mark Simoneau, G Jamar Nesbit, S Darren Sharper, QB Mark Brunell, TE Billy Miller, TE Darnell Dinkins, TE Dan Campbell, DT Kendrick Clancy, FB Kyle Eckel
DEFENSIVE TACKLE -- The Saints needs to reduce the number of rushing yards and big gains they give up on the ground. They have a solid core in Ellis, Ayodele and Hargrove, but drafting another top-notch interior presence to play alongside Ellis would go a long way in a division that features DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Michael Turner.
FREE SAFETY -- Darren Sharper may return to the team, but if not his production will be sorely missed. The Saints defense thrived on being opportunistic and Sharper was a big part of that. Even if he does re-sign, Sharper will be 35 years old in November. The team could use a young center fielding safety.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER - Scott Fujita departed via free agency and New Orleans will need to find a replacement. The need may be filled in-house, but if the right player is available in the first or second rounds, the Saints will likely grab him.
DEFENSIVE END -- Will Smith is a solid, every-down player and Alex Brown will be a good replacement for Charles Grant. However, the Saints could still use a disruptive pass rusher that can bring pressure off the edge.
TIGHT END -- Jeremy Shockey has been injury prone throughout much of his eight-year career and Billy Miller was allowed to walk in free agency after missing the season with a torn Achilles' tendon. David Thomas filled in nicely and caught 35 passes for 356 yards and one touchdown. The group is very thin behind those two. The Saints could use a young receiving threat at tight end to groom behind Shockey.
RUNNING BACK - New Orleans went with the committee approach again this season with much success as they gained 131.6 rushing yards per game to rank sixth in the NFL. But the team opted not to match the Eagles' offer sheet to Mike Bell, who led the team with 172 carries and placed second with 654 yards and five touchdowns. Pierre Thomas can likely handle more carries, but New Orleans should add another complimentary back to their group at some point.