The New Orleans Saints enter the 2013 NFL Draft without a 2nd or 7th round selection. The former was taken from them as part of their punishment for the Bountygate scandal. The latter was surrendered to the Seattle Seahawks for linebacker Barrett Ruud. Ruud was subsequently cut by the team five games into last season. He has since signed with the Houston Texans and is currently an unrestricted free agent. In short, they urinated away two picks, with absolutely nothing to show for either.
That leaves the team with five selections at their disposal, only two of which will likely produce a starting caliber player, at least in their rookie season. Having lost starting LT Jermon Bushrod to the Chicago Bears in free agency, they now have a glaring need to address on offense. I have very little faith that recently signed first round bust Jason Smith is the answer, nor have I seen anything out of Charles Brown to suggest he is. Standing pat, I think slight digression is the best case scenario there, and they were already below average at the position to begin with. Whether it's ultimately on the left or the right side, there's little doubt in my mind that upgrading their current OT situation should be at or near the top of their "to do" list going in.
Of course, that would be in addition to their perennial shortcomings on the defensive side of the ball. With a new 3-4 scheme in place, there will be more emphasis placed on the OLB position than ever before. DE Will Smith is getting up in age, Roman Harper continues to be a liability in pass coverage, and their secondary in general is woefully sub-par and thin. Optimistically, the switch may pay dividends in the form of improved play with a handful of existing players on the roster. That's probably a stretch, though. In all likelihood, we're in for more of at or about the same. Which makes it even more paramount that we do everything in our power to get the running game clicking, keep Drew Brees off his back and, in the process, help offset some of those expected hardships on defense.
In my opinion, that starts with recouping our second round pick. By the time the 15th overall pick rolls around, the top three OTs -- Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson -- will all likely be gone. That basically leaves three options:
a.) reach for the next best OT, then hope that an impact defensive player falls to you in the 3rd.
b.) address a need on defense with the best player available, then hope that an impact OT falls to you in the 3rd.
c.) trade down.
Without TRULY knowing what our biggest need is on defense, my suggestion would be c.) trade down. This would increase the odds of landing BOTH an impact OT (either in the 1st or the 2nd), and an impact defensive player (with whichever pick you didn't spend on OT). You'd also be saving that 75th overall pick (3rd round) for at least a potential 2nd first year starter on defense.
Easier said that done, right? Maybe not.
First, let's take a rough look at the projected 15-32 range head count by position:
OTs (2) - D.J. Fluker and Manelik Watson are the only two tackle prospects I expect to fall in this range. Fluker may actually wind up being off the board as well.
OLBs (4) - Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo, Alec Ogletree and Arthur Brown. All four are capable of playing a second position; the former two DE, the latter two ILB. While Ogletree carries some off the field baggage, there's plenty of versatility to be had here.
ILBs (4) - Ogletree, Brown, Manti Te'o and Kevin Minter. While not as pressing a need as OLB, you have to figure this is the last year we'll be seeing Jonathan Vilma in a Saints' uniform. It's also a front seven position in a LB heavy scheme; one in which virtually nothing is 100% set in stone at present.
DEs (5) - Jones, Mingo, Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine and Datone Jones. Any of these guys would do the trick opposite Cameron Jordan.
NTs (2) - Star Loutulelei and Kawann Short. There's an outside shot that Loutulelei falls to 15. Short seems to be trending in the other direction. In either case, I expect Akiem Hicks to man the nose this season. Or Brodrick Bunkley. Doesn't matter. If either of these two are sitting there at 15, they should be the carrot we dangle in front another 3-4 team, NOT the one we scoff down ourselves. Realistically, I don't see either remaining an option following a trade down and I'm perfectly OK with that.
CBs (3) - Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes and Jamar Taylor. Any of these three would compete for a starting job from Day 1. If nothing else, you'd be upgrading your nickel package, and making Jabari Greer's overpriced buttocks expendable.
SSs (1) - Kenny Vaccaro. While I abhor the thought of entering the season with Roman Harper still in the starting lineup, it's fairly obvious that Sean Payton doesn't share my disdain for the clown. Regardless, teams don't generally clamor for safeties in the first round to begin with, so there's a decent shot that Vaccaro lingers into the 20s.
FSs (1) - Jonathan Cyprien. As with NT, I'm fairly content with what we already have in house. Put it this way: as vanilla as Malcolm Jenkins and Isa Abdul-Quddus may be as a tandem, they're not anywhere close to being the week-in-week-out liability certain other safeties on the team have proven to be. Still, Cyprien remains yet another latter first round option, in that Jenkins could be shifted up to SS, thereby improving our odds of containing Tony Gonzalez for just one more season (something I've been saying for the past four).
That's over a dozen players that could immediately help our team, none of which absolutely, positively have to be brought in with the 15th overall pick. Even if no other offensive players were selected, that could conceivably take us down into the late 20s rather safely, having only given up our rights to the pick of that litter.
That's where a potential trade partner comes into play. Who's bound to be on the board that someone might be willing to pay handsomely for, in terms of compensation? Well, several of the players I just mentioned, for starters.
But there's also the wide receivers, a position we have yet to delve into. Will Cordarrelle Patterson still be available? If three OTs wind up going in the Top 14, I'm going to guess there's a pretty good chance he will be. What about Tavon Austin? He's the type of all-around threat that most teams covet.
In fact, if the Saints weren't in such dire straits at other positions, I would love to see him wearing black & gold on Sundays. A wide out capable of creating downfield separation on a regular basis would command double teams and do wonders for everything else that happens underneath. Hell, it might even help alleviate the need for top flight pass protection. But that's thinking way, way outside the box. Austin would be a luxury pick and with Luke McCown as our Lombardi hopes in waiting, we simply cannot afford to be luxurious. Nor experimental.
Fortunately, there are as many as eight teams drafting below the Saints that could be in the market for a first round wide receiver. Who are they? I'm glad you asked.
16. St. Louis Rams - Drafting immediately after the Saints, they're unlikely to trade up for a WR. However, they draft again at 22nd overall. If there were two players they had their eye on at 16, they could opt to kill two birds with one stone by trading up from 22, thereby preventing any other team from leapfrogging them for the WR they covet, while also landing the defensive stud they're after. Or maybe they're big on Eddie Lacy as Steven Jackson's replacement and would rather not risk the wait until 22. Regardless, they're a potential WR hotbed directly below us and every GM in the league knows it. Trade compensation for a seven slot drop would be scraping the bottom of the 2nd round.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers - First, they lost Mike Wallace to the Dolphins in free agency. Now they're being forced to mull over the restricted free agent offer New England recently extended Emmanuel Sanders. Even if they opt to match, they're still a strong candidate to draft another WR. If they don't, they have an additional third round pick to play with, so maybe they're looking to move it in order to bypass the Rams. They're not the ideal trade partner, as a two spot swap isn't going to recoup your 2nd rounder straight up. If it's Pittsburgh, we may have to include a later round pick and/or player.
20. Chicago Bears - While not a dire need with Brandon Marshall under contract, their passing game could stand to gain a complimentary spark.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu both showed flashes last season, but neither has shown to be consistent enough to lighten the load on the shoulders of A.J. Green.
23/25. Minnesota Vikings - They signed Greg Jennings in free agency, but will probably still be looking to add new blood at the position. While I don't expect them to do anything rash in order to make that happen, with two first rounders in hand, you never know. Percy Harvin was a huge part of their offense and also returned kickoffs. That's something Jennings doesn't bring to the table, but Austin does. It just depends on how much they value the second tier WRs (Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Hunter, Terrance Williams, Quinton Patton) comparatively, since one or two of them are bound to slip through the cracks.
26. Green Bay Packers - With Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones all still in house, they'll probably be content to let Jennings's departure ride for now.
27. Houston Texans - Andre Johnson has never had a legitimate receiving threat opposite him and isn't getting any younger himself. Kevin Walter is now a Tennessee Titan and Jacoby Jones is likely starting in Baltimore after his huge post season. With Indianapolis on the rise, how long does the Texans' window of opportunity stay open? They may feel the need to strike while the iron is hot and land that complimentary piece on offense.
31. San Francisco 49ers - They signed Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree is finally starting to come around. Randy Moss isn't coming back, though. They're also a ridiculously solid team on paper; one that will likely just take the BPA if they stay put anyway. In such a situation, they could look to get bold, by throwing their late 2nd rounder and a defensive role player that doesn't figure heavily into their long term plans (e.g., Parys Haralson) into the mix, for a crack at that luxury acquisition.