Part of my intention in watching Alabama's domination of Notre Dame in Monday night's BCS National Championship game, was to pay particular attention to the 2013 NFL Draft prospects from both teams and speculate on who might be a good fit for the Saints.
As a close follower of SEC football, I was much more familiar with the Crimson TIde than the Fighting Irish. In fact, I don't think I watched a complete Notre Dame game all season as, they were usually on at the same time as an SEC game. I did, however, catch plenty of ESPN highlights of the Fighting Irish, along with bits and pieces of several of their games.
The premiere player from this past season for the Fighting Irish is All-American linebacker Manti Te'o. At 6'2" and 255 lbs., Te'o is projected to be the top middle linebacker taken in the draft. For those of you that also watched the National Championship game, it was obvious that Te'o concluded his college football career in disappointing fashion. He missed numerous tackles on Alabama running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, in addition to being driven backwards frequently. While I don't think Te'o's whole college career should be judged by his performance against Alabama, the Crimson Tide were the closest thing to an NFL team he has come across and I was expecting to see more from him.
The Saints' defense could use an upgrade at just about every position. I seem to recall an earlier draft projection that had Te'o going to the Saints. He does seem to be a high character guy that I could see becoming a fan favorite of Who Dat Nation, should he be able to back up his leadership ability with actual productivity on the field. But with current Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton being one of the few defenders that is halfway decent, I don't think the Saints would have much interest in Te'o.
Despite the strong dislike in Louisiana towards Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have a few high draft prospects that could benefit the Saints more than Mark Ingram has so far. Shutdown cornerback Dee Milliner had a helluva game against the Irish, who foolishly kept going after him with no success. The Saints' secondary obviously struggled heavily in 2012, which was magnified by a weak pass rush. Milliner could make an immediate impact. However, as the first defensive back projected to be taken he is unlikely to still be around when the Saints pick at 15.
6'4", 320 lb. nose tackle Jesse Williams penetrated deep into the Irish backfield, bear hugged a running back and flung him backwards for about 5 yards. Able to bench press over 600 lbs, the Australian native is considered the 4th best interior defensive lineman on many draft scouting reports. As a bona fide run stuffer, Williams could help fill a plug in the middle as teams consistently gashed the Saints defense on the ground.
Williams will also likely still be around when the Saints make their selection. But the Saints defensive needs are so many, the big question is will his run-stopping capabilities provide them with the best value in comparison to the other options they will have available?
Helping to make Te'o a non-factor, was 6'3", 320 lb. offensive guard Chance Warmack. On several occasions I saw Warmack driving Te'o backwards. He is projected to go unusually high for a guard. The predictions I have seen have him going anywhere from the top five to a mid first rounder. The Saints obviously have greater needs defensively, but this franchise does have a thing for high quality offensive guards. Depth issues on the offensive line was also a concern for them this past season, making it apparent that that the need to maintain a strong fortress around Drew Brees must constantly be addressed.
One possible red flag against Warmack is that he is an Atlanta native. So, if that also means he grew up a Dirty Birds fan does that mean we can trust him to make a total allegiance switch to the Fleur de Lis, should Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton decide to build upon existing team strengths by selecting Warmack?