Biggest Saints needs heading into NFL Draft
As of right now, the NFL is planning to have the draft as planned. However, it's going to look a lot different. The New Orleans Saints are making the most of their time leading up to it, meeting at the not bar establishment known as the Dixie Brewing Company. The team has a setup there at their new facility, practicing social distancing. It's away from any high traffic area and is also closed to the public, with the team's personnel being the only ones there. Unfortunately, the league's recent developments has essentially negated this setup from happening on draft night.
Free agency is ongoing, but the majority of the big shuffling is already done. When things become a little bit clearer from the COVID-19 threat, then there may be another big rush around the league. At least that's the hope, as returning to football would be a welcomed notion right now. However, we focus on some of the most pressing needs the Saints have ahead of the draft.
If you pan over the team's roster, there are two big spots the Saints need to upgrade, and the linebacker position could be the most important. The potential is there with the current unit being promising, but durability is the biggest concern with players like Alex Anzalone, Kiko Alonso, and Kaden Ellis. Couple that with Demario Davis and Craig Robertson entering the final year of their respective contracts, and linebacker could easily be a future need the Saints have.
When you look at the team's draft history under Sean Payton, they've taken a linebacker only once in the first round (Stephone Anthony, 2015). The mid-to-late rounds tend to be the favored spot for selecting one, but players like Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray are appealing targets and are likely to be there when the Saints are on the clock at 24th. Of course, the aggressive nature and tendency New Orleans shows could see them not wait to go get one of those players on Day 1.
Getting Emmanuel Sanders in free agency was a huge boost to the Saints offense, and gives Drew Brees another toy that has been missing for quite some time. Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Jared Cook are clearly the main draws for the New Orleans offense, but Sanders is going to quickly join that conversation. The Saints options after Thomas and Sanders are extremely questionable.
Tre'Quan Smith has showed flashes at times, but had a really down campaign in 2019. He's one of those players you are hoping has a breakthrough season, and New Orleans could certainly use it. However, it's uncertain that will actually happen, and beyond that it's hard to say that anything on the depth chart will produce. Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler, Tommylee Lewis, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Tim White, and Maurice Harris are all certain to battle it out in training camp for the Saints, but with such a deep wide receiver class in this draft, it's hard not to see New Orleans come away with at least one or two wide outs.
Currently, the team is set with their full starting lineup returning for the 2020 season. Draft day trading could always present some surprises, but versatile linemen is the name of the game for the Saints. Will Clapp and Nick Easton are important pieces of the puzzle, serving as interior line depth and swing tackles in jumbo sets. Outside of that, things are somewhat up in the air. Larry Warford is a name I keep seeing thrown out as potential trade bait, but it seems like mostly rumors and speculation at this point. Regardless of what ultimately happens, an offensive lineman will probably be a Day 3 find for the Saints.
Other considerations for the Saints would include another running back, as Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray are undoubtedly the starters, but beyond that is a project in Taquan Mizzell and fullback Mike Burton. Kamara may be in the final year of his contract, but should be healthy and in for a big season. New Orleans could eye someone as early as the third round, but most of their role will be on special teams, similar to what Dwayne Washington had been doing. Finally, secondary depth will always be a familiar target. New Orleans has a good bit of defensive backs on the roster, but the options behind Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins could see some upgrades.
The NFL draft will undoubtedly look different this year, with an almost unprecedented format. The Saints have five selections this season, as they're without a second and seventh round pick. That could always change, but this is undoubtedly a great space for them to be in after shoring up some of their team needs by a combination of retaining their own and signing the right fits in free agency.