In 2015, the New Orleans Saints had (yet again, after 2012) one of the worst defenses in the entire history of the NFL. You probably know the numbers by now and if you don't, you're probably better off.
Well, after two consecutive 7-9 seasons and because of how porous the defense was last year, everyone is thinking inside the same Black and Gold box when it comes to the Saints' 12th pick in the 2016 NFL draft: It has to be a defensive player!
Let me take you outside the box for a little bit. Oh and I know what you're thinking right about now:
But before you quench your sudden thirst to burn me at the stake like some bad witch from American Horror History: Coven, take a look at the Saints' first round draft projections below. Clearly, there are others (albeit quite a minority) who also think that New Orleans could go to the offensive side of the ball in the first round of the draft. Namely, they could draft former Ole Miss star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.
Drafting an Offensive Player in Round One???
Why would drafting an offensive player in the first round be a good (maybe a great) idea for the Saints? Well, I'm glad you asked: because of whom the Saints' head coach is.
Sean Payton is an offensive wizard. Scoring points in bunches to force his opponent to try to catch up, then exploiting mistakes made by said opponent trying to keep up is his calling card. But even the greatest of wizards needs the best ingredients to make the most powerful spells.
In 2015, despite Payton's wizardry, the Saints were only 8th in the NFL in scoring offense. As I have often said, it doesn't really matter how many yards you get passing or rushing if you can't get the ball into the end zone.
Here are the Saints NFL "scoring offense" rankings for the past eight years: 2008 (1st); 2009 (1st); 2010 (10th); 2011 (2nd); 2012 (3rd); 2013 (10th); 2014 (9th); 2015 (8th).
Here's what I see in these numbers: the Saints have been at their very best under Sean Payton when they've had a top five offense on average. Another observation is the disconcerting fact that for three consecutive years now (2013-2015), New Orleans has been well outside the top five in scoring offense.
It is my contention that the Saints' defense is not one player away from being great, while the Saints' offense definitely is. The downfall of New Orleans last season was having a terrible defense yes, but it was also having a really good, but not a great offense, one that couldn't cover all of the ugly defensive warts. In my opinion, the Saints defense has nowhere to go but up. They won't become great, but they could be average. If the Saints can take their offense from very good to great again, next season New Orleans could pair a lethal offense with an average defense. Stop me if you've heard that before: a lot of NFL teams can win a lot of games with that combination. Some have even won the Super Bowl (yes, think 2009)
Why Laquon Treadwell?
Because he is literally the only true "can't miss" prospect at the skill position in this 2016 NFL draft. But also because the first round defensive depth is absolutely outstanding this year. So if the Saints were to try and get back in the late first round via trade after selecting Treadwell at 12, they could still get a great player. Before you start complaining about the Saints potentially trading picks to get back in the first round, we all know that Payton would not hesitate if he thinks he can get a game-changing player. We also know that with quarterback Drew Brees not exactly being 20 years old anymore, the Saints would rather try to win now than later.
Here's the biggest reason why the Saints need Laquon Treadwell however: pretty soon, it will be made official that Marques Colston, the man who has been the Saints' Number One receiver for the better part of the last decade, is no longer a New Orleans Saint. Last year it was thought that Brandin Cooks would fill that role and we all quickly realized that Cooks is more of a Robin than a Batman.
Who is Treadwell and could he really fill the role that Colston had for so long in New Orleans? Treadwell who is from Crete, Illinois played three years at Ole Miss. In his freshman season he played in the team's all 13 games, recording 72 receptions for 608 yards and five touchdowns. In his sophomore season, Treadwell was well on his way to a shatter his freshman numbers when he broke his ankle on a hard tackle in the team's ninth game. He still finished the year with 48 receptions, 632 yards and five touchdowns.
What's even more impressive about Treadwell's junior season is that he came back stronger from his season-ending injury the previous year. In 13 games, he had 82 catches, 1153 yards and 11 touchdowns, playing against rugged SEC defenses.
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com describes Treadwell as follows when talking about his strengths: "Smart receiver with a competitive edge when the ball is in the air. Catch-winner." If you ask me, with a quarterback like Drew Brees who loves to throw 50-50 balls up, Treadwell would be perfect for Payton's offense.
When speaking of Treadwell's weaknesses, Zierlein says: "Doesn't have the cushion-eating, vertical speed to scare cornerbacks...and may have separation issues in the pros against quick cornerbacks." wait, was he describing Marques Colston? Also, it appears to me that those weaknesses are fully compensated by Treadwell's strengths.
Should they Do It?
YES, yes I think they should. Not just because it's unconventional, but because that's the shorter path to getting back to the winning ways of the Payton era. There are plenty of outstanding defensive prospects in this draft and the Saints will get their hands on one. But in terms of replacing the amazing work that Marques Colston did with this team, Laquon Treadwell is the Saints' best bet in this draft and he is likely to be available for New Orleans when they pick at 12. Would A'Shawn Robinson or Sheldon Rankins be outstanding draft picks? Yes. They could even turn out to be great NFL players, but they're not turning the Saints' defense into a great one in 2016. Laquon could do just that for the Saints' offense from game one next season.
Tell me what you think!