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NFL Draft 2016: The Saints Defense Needs to Find an Identity

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3-4 , 4-3, or some kind of hybrid, the Saints need to draft towards an identity. Below I'll list a few players who could help the team find it.

Cam needs some help from this draft!
Cam needs some help from this draft!
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Saints a 3-4 defense or a 4-3 defense? Under Rob Ryan it was more hybrid than anything else, and not much changed with Dennis Allen. Granted it was far to late in the season for Allen to make drastic changes. The talent available was a factor in Rob's first 2 seasons with last years draft helping some. The secondary needs an identity also, are they zone or man on man, but that is for another post.

Linebacker and pass rush can be used in the same conversation with the 3-4 defense. Now a player I'll bring up is Reggie Ragland. A middle linebacker with the instincts to play the proper angles. Someone we have sorely missed since Johnathan Vilma. At Senior bowl practices Reggie played outside to showcase his versatility, but his career at Alabama saw him as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 defense. 6'1", 259 lbs, he has the strength to play the run and as importantly to rush the QB.

Also interesting to note, Ragland interviewed with the Saints yesterday at the Senior Bowl.

From NFL.com

OVERVIEW

The question heading into Ragland's senior season wasn't whether he would be a solid run-stuffer as a starting 3-4 inside linebacker in the NFL, as his play the past two falls secured that notion. He earned his spot as an elite prospect, though, with his play in 2015. He led the Tide with 97 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and broke up six passes, winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, numerous All-American honors and landing finalist spots for multiple national awards. In fact, Ragland was the third Alabama player to earn unanimous All-American notice, joining Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas. Ragland could have left for the NFL last year, but decided to come back to win a championship, get his degree, and continue his work in the community.

ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

Old-school, take­-on middle linebacker who plays the game the way Nick Saban likes. Steps into hole and will swap paint with lead blockers in order to constrict his gap. Instinctive linebacker who trusts his eyes and goes. Showed greater understanding of angles and leverage this year. Won't over­commit when flowing to ball carrier and almost always finds his run fits. Missed tackles fell from ten in 2014 to just three this season. Played with hand in ground as an edge rusher in some sub­packages. Showed greater willingness to take chances downhill. Nasty hitter with above average play strength.

WEAKNESSES

Some scouts question his play speed. Can be inconsistent with his angles when playing downhill. Could get himself in trouble miscalculating NFL speed to the perimeter. Will get locked up more often by pro linemen if he tries to take on all blocks rather than punch and shed. Alabama's outstanding defensive front allowed him to roam unblocked for much of the year. Can handle himself in zone coverage but man cover skills are limited.

I'm not just sold on this young man because of the SEC factor. He is expected to be a top 15 to 20 draft prospect and we have the 12th pick. BPA and also of need could well play into this pick.

Also of need to solidify our D-line is a strong DT

Expected to go in the second round I give you Vernon Butler. Ok, yeah he is SEC also.  What can I say. That is where much of the talent lies. Butler is 6'3" and 325 lbs. Able to 2 gap the middle of the line and let your edge rushers coral the QB. If taken in the second round this would also be a BPA player of need.

Also from NFL.com

OVERVIEW

A big body in the middle of the Bulldogs' defense, Butler proved in his two years as a starter that he has the girth and nimble feet to clog up running lanes. Conference USA coaches rectified their error in not giving Butler all-conference recognition in 2014 (56 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss) by voting him first-team All-C-USA after his senior year (50 tackles, 10 TFL, three sacks, eight quarterback hurries). NFL teams will not miss the opportunity to add Butler to their interior.

ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

Long-­armed knee-bender who can play the role of low man at the point of attack. Plays with strong hands and good arm extension and can "peek­a­boo" both gaps as he reads which hole the running back heads for. Impressive stack and shed timing and power. Able to eat up double teams and keep his linebackers clean when asked to. Excellent athleticism. Can make plays all along the line of scrimmage. If blocker doesn't finish, Butler will work himself back into the play. Able to coordinate hands and feet smoothly and has change of direction and closing burst to become a dominant pass rusher from inside. Can slide from gap to gap as a pass rusher and is a perfect fit for twist-­based defense. Generally attacks gaps with forward lean and ability to corner the edge when he has his man beat. Can stutter-­step into pass rush to disrupt offensive lineman's timing or generate a speed-­to-­power bull rush that can severely dent a pocket. Gives consistent effort and plays like a lead dog looking to eat.

WEAKNESSES

Build is athletic, but a little bit top heavy. Will play with inconsistent base when his pad level gets too high trying to win through the gaps. Will try to outmuscle his opponent when his initial pass rush gets stuck in neutral, rather than use counter moves. For all of his potential and talent, wasn't as productive as NFL scouts are used to. Plays with some wasted energy and motion and needs to work more efficiently.

NFL COMPARISON

Muhammad Wilkerson

BOTTOM LINE

Athletic interior lineman with long arms and outstanding athleticism that allows him to work on offensive linemen with a combination of power and quickness. Butler has a raw but diverse skillset as a pass rusher that should excite NFL evaluators who see the potential of what he can be with more coaching and experience. With his effort and defensive ball awareness, his ceiling appears to be high with a chance to become a high-­level starter for an odd or even front defense.
-Lance Zierlein

And of course we need a DE who can complement Cameron Jordan.

Here we have some interesting prospects. First I'll give you DeForest Buckner, Oregon Pac-12. A 6'7" 281 lb frame, Buckner is very suited to the 3-4 end position. This guy will be an immediate starter and my only concern is him being available with the 12th pick. If he is I would definitely pass on Ragland to grab him.

From NFL.com

OVERVIEW

It would be foolish for a team to be wary of selecting Buckner because of the lack of success of former Ducks defender and number three overall pick Dion Jordan, as he's a completely different type of player. The 2015 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Ted Hendricks Award finalist and member of multiple All-American squads (first team USA Today, second team AP, etc.) presents a thicker frame, portending an NFL career with his hand on the ground, rather than a stand-up pass rusher like Jordan. Buckner had become a name to note as a 2014 second-team All-Pac-12 pick (led team with 13 tackles for loss) after two seasons as a partial-year starter; he had 29 tackles and two starts, playing in every game as a true freshman in 2013, followed by a eight-start sophomore season (3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks). He finished off his career in style (83 tackles, 17 for loss, Pac-12 leading 10.5 sacks), putting himself among the top prospects in the senior class.

ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

Impressive NFL-­ready physique. Has natural strength and power in his hands and improved their effectiveness this year. Not a content player, Buckner plays with effort and will continue working hands and feet to improve his positioning. Light went on as pass rusher in 2015. Generated top-­end production by combining his power and dynamic athletic traits. Improved his pad level as rusher creating dominating pocket push that he was able to convert into sacks and knockdowns. Rare tackle production for defensive lineman with 163 over last two seasons. Long arms and good play speed allow him maximum field coverage to tackle. Flexible upper body. Can flip shoulders, then hips around the edge of blockers allowing him to play on the other side of the line. Has size and athleticism for scheme versatility. Quick off the snap and difficult to cut­ off in run game.

WEAKNESSES

Plays too tall after the snap. Pad level so high that it impacts ability to stop and change direction with necessary body control. Needs to bend more when penetrating in order to avoid redirect blocks. Will need to play with wider base to take on blockers on next level. Has habit of turning shoulders and getting knocked out of position rather than taking on blocks with squared up pads.

SOURCES TELL US

"His comp is going to be Calais Campbell or Arik Armstead but I think he's more talented coming out than either one of those guys. He's twice the player Armstead was coming out." -­ NFC Regional Scout

NFL COMPARISON

Calais Campbell

BOTTOM LINE

Headed into this season, Buckner was a traits prospect who flashed with quickness, strength and overall athleticism, but he put those traits together in 2015. Buckner has the body type of a classic 3-­4 defensive end who can control the point of attack with length and power, but he has above average pass rush potential for that position which figures to push him into the early stages of round one. Buckner has similar power to former teammate Arik Armstead, but is a much better pass rusher and has a chance to become a dominant force in the NFL.
-Lance Zierlein

As a versatile choice I'll give you Emmanuel Ogbah.

Ogbah, I don't know the pronunciation, is a 6'4", 275 lb DE out of Oklahoma State.  Able to play linebacker or DE he is projected as a 1st or 2nd round draft prospect. Pass rush is the key in this draft and Emmanuel can play either position in our defense.

From NFL.com

OVERVIEW

Ogbah's family moved from Nigeria to the Houston when he was nine years old, with the hopes of finding a better way of life. The child given the middle name Ikechukwu (which means "God's power") flourished athletically in his new country, eventually becoming a finalist for the greater Houston high school defensive player of the year. He chose Oklahoma State partially due to his appreciation of former OSU offensive tackle Russell Okung, a fellow native of Nigeria who had great success with the Cowboys and in the NFL. Ogbah (AWG-buh) played in every game as a redshirt freshman, tying for the team lead with four sacks. Once inserted into the starting lineup, Ogbah starred, winning the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year with 17 tackles for loss including 11 sacks. He played well again as a junior (17.5 tackles for loss, conference-high 13 sacks), earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year this time around, as well as All-American honors from USA Today, the Walter Camp Foundation, and others. The Ted Hendricks Award finalist couldn't break through against Ole Miss tackles Laremy Tunsil and Fahn Cooper in the team's Sugar Bowl loss, but NFL scouts still see his potential as a top pass rusher at the next level.

ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

Thick, powerful frame with broad shoulders. Came into school undersized but has grown into his frame with weight work. Able to absorb contact and play through it. Tough for linemen to redirect and is too much for tight ends one­-on-­one against the run. Some of the most power hand slaps you will find in college football. Able to brush away a weak punch with ease. At times, flashes unusual ability to trim the edge with power over speed. Uses power and a late rip move to win around corner. Plus speed­-to-­power rusher who created instant bull rush movement. Has power to win at the point of attack and capture the neutral zone while posting consistent production. Has posted a full sack or more in 16 of his last 21 games and finished 2015 with 17.5 tackles for losses. Has played both end positions, bumped inside and plays with a hand up and down.

WEAKNESSES

Shows some stiffness in his hips and is not a dynamic athlete. Inconsistent awareness. Reaction time can be quick, but awareness of developing plays needs improvement. Short-­circuits his point of attack power when he turns his shoulders and gets washed down. Limited stride length hurts upfield burst. One speed pass rusher who is easy to find. Unable to burn the edges with quickness. Needs to disengage more quickly from bull rushes. Could stand to step up his motor and pursuit effort.

SOURCES TELL US

"He's stiff and upright so he has no counters as a rusher and then he doesn't even play hard all the time. If you are going to be the hulk, then play hard all the time." ­-- NFC area scout

NFL COMPARISON

Charles Johnson

BOTTOM LINE

Upon first glance, Ogbah appears unimpressive because he doesn't play with the quickness or athleticism expected of productive pass rushers, but eventually, his translatable qualities avail themselves. Ogbah's power will serve him well against the run, but he will have to become more skilled as a pass rusher. He can play 3­-4 outside linebacker or 4­-3 defensive end, and he might have value inside in sub­packages.

Now there are many prospects I could list, but we only have so many 1st and 2nd round picks. I think any of these could help the Saints find their identity and submit these for you to assess and comment about. Have some other choices you like feel free to discuss. There are a lot of developmental type prospects that can be had in the later rounds,but we need to strike hard and fast in the first two rounds.

-Lance Zierlein