The NFL offseason is a beautiful time for teams that struggled the previous year. It’s a time for unbridled optimism and wild hopes. A 6th round pick can go on to become a future Hall of Fame Quarterback, and a 1st overall pick can go on to spend his life savings at the Cheesecake Factory. No one knows what the future holds for NFL prospects, and that’s part of the beauty of the offseason, especially the NFL Draft.
Of course, most fans choose to believe that every draft pick is going to be a superstar and every Free Agent signing will be an impact player. People can make an educated guess about who will bust, but there’s really no way to be sure. Under the new CBA, drafts are lower risk than ever, as not only is the talent fresh, but it’s also cheap. The key to building a good team is consistently drafting well, but as we all know by now, players don’t pan out more often than they do, so sometimes you need to go with the established, more expensive guys. Even on the best teams, the percentage of players that take it to the next level one they’re actually in the next level is startlingly low.
The Saints went into the 2014 offseason under the impression that they were reloading, and the approach in 2015 should be completely different. This is a team that is trying to build something. It isn’t a true rebuild, by any means. The Saints have a lot of strong pieces, and their holes can be filled, but they need to be smart. I’ve compiled a list of what I think that top 5 needs are for the Saints in the 2015 draft/offseason, and over the course of next week I’m going to speculate on how they could address these needs.
1.) Literally any other CB besides Keenan Lewis, namely someone to line up outside opposite of him.
2.) An Inside Linebacker that can cover. Anything. Hawthorne looks perpetually lost, and Lofton can’t keep up in man to man despite his excellent run stopping ability.
3.) An interior line. This could be a complementary pick, as neither Evans nor Grubbs are done, but they’re getting up in years and the future is always worth thinking about, especially due to the pressure that Drew Brees took up the middle last season.
4.) A pass rusher, or at least (maybe preferably) an interior defensive lineman that can eat up space. I’m talking a true, bona fide pass rusher. Junior Galette played fairly well last season, but Cam Jordan had a down year, along with Akiem Hicks and whoever played Nose Tackle for New Orleans throughout last year. There was no interior pressure, and quarterbacks merely had to step up in the pocket to avoid any edge rush. This created far too much time that an average (at the very best) secondary had to cover the various routes receivers were running.
5a.) If the Saints lose Mark Ingram to free agency, a feature back. There is no shortage of them coming into this year’s draft, and the Saints could certainly benefit from spending an early-mid round pick on a back that can fill Ingram’s shoes. Running backs are expendable in the modern NFL, and there is no doubt that Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton understand as much.
5b.) If the Saints retain Ingram, a future quarterback. This can easily be a mid-late round pick, as long as it is someone that can be groomed. It seems unlikely that Loomis and Payton view Ryan Griffin as the future, and Brees will retire on his terms in New Orleans. This may be sooner rather than later, especially if he continues to get hit like he did last season. Of course, this is only speculation, so it should be taken with grain of salt.
Drafting is an exceedingly difficult process, and the Saints won’t successfully address all of these needs in the draft. All of this comes pre-free agency as well, although very few expect the Saints to be particularly active come March due to their salary cap issues. It’s naïve to think that every pick that Loomis and Payton make in 2015 will pan out, but as long as they can address one or two of these needs (particularly the ones on the defensive side of the ball), it isn’t unrealistic to believe that the 2015 Saints could be significantly better. The Saints suffered in 2014 due to their glaring needs completely exposed. They aren’t looking to draft players that can eventually make an impact (except for Stanley Jean-Baptiste, but it seems unlikely he’s the answer to concern number one), they’re looking for players that can fill gaping holes. The most realistic needs to address are an ILB that can hold his own in coverage and a space eater in the middle, since those transitions are slightly easier (on a physical level only, of course) than the transition for a college to NFL Corner. If New Orleans can find even one diamond in the rough in the 2015 draft, then let the unbridled optimism for 2015 begin.