I've been so absorbed with who will be available at the 24th pick overall, that I've spent less time on what the Saints actually need. There's good reason for that - by now we all know the Saints take the best player available regardless of whether he fills a need or not. Still, I wanted to take the time to look over how the Saints approach each position as we try to identify what are the true "needs" of the team.
1. Outside Linebacker - Incumbent starters Scott Shanle and Danny Clark are currently unrestricted free agents and they can sign with anyone. It's hard to tell if they'll be back, but one way or another, be it through the draft, re-signing their own players or through free agency, the Saints will need to fill these two spots. This is currently, without question, the biggest need on the team.
2. Defensive End - Will Smith and Alex Brown are both under contract, but they both underperformed in my estimation last season. The Saints desperately need a player that can push them and come in and help their pass rush. Don't forget about Junior Galette, either, who hopefully has a promising future. Re-signing Jeff Charleston would make this less of a need, too, but at the very least I'd like to see depth improved here.
3. Long Snapper - Jason Kyle is unrestricted and at his age I don't see him coming back, especially after he spent the last part of 2010 on the injured reserve. Don't be surprised if the Saints spend a late draft pick on their long snapper of the future. While this position may not seem that important, it's a question mark for the Saints right now and they'll want to make sure they have it taken care of before the season starts. Justin Drescher ended the season as the long snapper but I have no idea how the Saints felt about his fill in duty.
4. Kick Returner - Courtney Roby is an unrestricted free agent, and there's no telling whether or not he'll be back. As good of a gunner as he is, I hope he comes back, but some have suggested the Saints will target a more explosive return man in the draft.
POSITIONS WHERE DEPTH COULD BE USED
1. Running Back - Right now the Saints have Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Reggie Bush all scheduled to come back. All three of those guys also missed significant time in 2010 with injuries, though, so depth at this position is crucial. If the Saints do not draft a running back with promise at some point in the draft, I'll be extremely disappointed. I don't feel like it has to be in the first round like some of you, because the staff has proven their ability to land backs later in the draft (or really after the draft with undrafted rookie free agents). If the team drafts a guy they like later in the draft, I'll trust that he'll be a player that can contribute based on their ability to recognize talent.
2. Defensive Tackle - The signing of Shaun Rogers definitely bolsters this position, but at 24th overall it seems like this position may yield the best available player. Depth here is a necessity. Remi Ayodele and Anthony Hargrove are free agents, so we're unsure if they'll come back to add depth behind Rogers and Sedrick Ellis. I think Ayodele will be re-signed and the Saints will draft someone to be in the mix as well. I believe Hargrove may be going elsewhere, as he flirted with being a Lion last year.
3. Tight End - Jeremy Shockey is gone. David Thomas needs to be re-signed. Then you've got Jimmy Graham who's essentially guaranteed to be the starter. Even if Thomas comes back, the Saints need to bolster depth here, badly.
4. Offensive Tackle - The big question is whether or not Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief, both free agents, will come back. If they do, add Charles Brown to the mix and the Saints are fine at tackle. If not, they'll need depth.
5. Offensive Guard - Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are the starters and neither is going anywhere for a long time. I guess you can add a player behind them in case of injury, but we should all pray that never happens.
6. Center - Jonathan Goodwin is a free agent, so whether or not he is re-signed will determine how much of a need there is here. If he didn't re-sign, that would mean Matt Tennant is something they feel good about starting. Either way, the only real thing that would be added here is depth.
7. Cornerback - The Saints are loaded here. Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer are the unquestioned starters. Patrick Robinson will hopefully come into his own and fill the need as a nickel. Randall Gay is still under contract but could be released. Don't forget Malcolm Jenkins can fill in here as well.
8. Safety - All indications are that the Saints will re-sign Roman Harper, but until that's done this is a bit of a question. Malcolm Jenkins is obviously staying put. Depth could be a question depending on what happens with Usama Young and Darren Sharper, both free agents. I'm sure Pierson Prioleau is going nowhere if the Saints want him back, too. Ditto Chris Reis.
POSITIONS WITH NO NEED WHATSOEVER
1. Wide Receiver - This could change depending on the status of Lance Moore and Devery Henderson. Devery has been talked about as a possible cut due to his large contract, and Moore still needs to be re-signed. Still, even with those two guys questionable the Saints have Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and Adrian Arrington. If all those guys come back there's no need for more.
2. Quarterback- The Saints already have Drew Brees and Chase Daniel, and it seems like they're comfortable with both holding down their positions again. Sean Canfield is also on the team as Payton's little pet project.
3. Kicker - Unless Garrett Hartley decides to do more adderall lines off the chest of a stripper (kidding), or finds a way to yet again revive John Carney's career (hopefully kidding), he's got the position on lockdown.
4. Middle Linebacker - With Jonathan Vilma and Marvin Mitchell as the primary guys, and Stanley Arnoux as a backup, the Saints feel pretty good about this position. I don't see them adding a guy that will make the roster, but never say never.
4. Punter - Thomas Morstead is the guy. No questions asked.