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New Orleans Saints mailbag: Where does the draft strategy shift to now?

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Now that the crazy wave of free agency figures to be over - and that whole Brandin Cooks saga - what’s next for Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton, and the Saints?

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It’s certainly been a crazy week for the New Orleans Saints. The start of NFL free agency saw the black and gold come away big winners by landing several key new additions, while re-signing their top priority in defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Then came the whole Brandin Cooks trade, which fans have been totally against for the most part. What’s done is done there, and with plenty of free agency still left and the draft right around the corner, it’s time to tackle some Saints questions.

As always, thanks in advance for your questions on Facebook and Twitter.

The whole Leonard Fournette to the Saints suggestion keeps coming up, and even as an avid LSU fan, I am not in favor of it happening. We had a writer roundtable on the topic that I’d suggest you check out, but my stance is simple. Mark Ingram is the right running back for the job in New Orleans. If anything, the Saints could use a third down specialist, but Ingram has proven that he can shoulder the load and then some. As tempting as it sounds, I’d pass.

Malcolm Butler is obviously one the league’s top cornerbacks, and he’s going to get paid by someone. The Saints have some major question marks at the position, so it’s not shocking to see them look for answers wherever they can. Since a Butler deal is reportedly still an option, the question comes in on what type of compensation to throw at him. Butler just turned 27, and he’s just about to enter his fourth professional season.

The Saints can use the picks acquired in the Brandin Cooks deal to draft a cornerback in the hopes he turns out to be Marcus Peters (could you imagine?), but I don’t think they should throw all their chips on the table for one cornerback. They could just as easily look at free agents that are cheaper options that could be serviceable to good for Dennis Allen.

I don’t see why not. The familiarity with the organization is something you can’t overlook, but Daniel is set to turn 31 in October. If he’s the backup, sure. But if you’re trying to look at him potentially taking over for Drew Brees once he does eventually move on? I don’t see that happening. Luke McCown has proven to be a more than capable backup, and unless Daniel comes in on a relatively friendly deal and beat him out, McCown should stay around for another season.

Watt certainly has some appealing traits, but I think a lot build him up to be just like his brother. If the Saints drafted him at 11th, then I’d see a massive coronary across the fanbase. It’s certainly a possibility at 32, but I still have concerns around Watt. He has a tendency to overpursue and get lost in the shuffle from the film I saw. Now, obviously coaching can help him with this, and there’s a lot to love about his pass rushing abilities, but he wouldn’t get my vote as the player the Saints need at either pick.

Wide receiver, because Brandin Cooks. In all fairness, there’s a lot of tight ends I like in this draft, and it’s not even the highly ranked guys (O.J. Howard, David Njoku, Evan Engram). Drake’s Eric Saubert and Arkansas’ Jeremy Sprinkle are two of my favorite guys that could fall in the Day 3 category or even go as an undrafted free agent. There’s so many versatile weapons the Saints could get at wide receiver, and the biggest thing to remember is that Ted Ginn Jr. is not a Brandin Cooks replacement.

I’m really excited to see what A.J. Klein brings to the table, and he’s had some tremendous mentors in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Do I think the Saints are done shopping for linebackers? Hardly. The reported canceled visit for Dont’a Hightower could have happened for several reasons. I still think the Saints are best suited to go bargain bin shopping.

Anytime your quarterback is Drew Brees, I think there’s a lot of reason for optimism if you’re a wide receiver. Obviously, Ginn has had some issues in the past with drops, but he’s already addressed that. I wouldn’t say that he’ll put up anything close to WR1-WR2 stats, but I believe he’ll have some pretty good games. Plus, his biggest value is going to be on special teams.

I’m still ‘all-in’ on the Derek Barnett train. In watching his film, I just see a consistent player. He may not flash like the other mentioned defensive end prospects, but I could realistically envision him as a fit opposite of Cameron Jordan. His mock status is all over the board in the first round, but I could safely say that he’s the guy at No. 11.

As far as Marcus Lattimore, that will be interesting if he is on the board still. The cornerback depth is also appealing in this draft, but a player like Lattimore is hard to come by. Sure, you could get them in the later rounds, but he certainly seems like ‘the truth’. Drafting him and going with a pass rusher later could absolutely work. I really love the idea of Auburn’s Carl Lawson in the second round or as the late first round pick.

I’m not keen on bringing in Mario Williams, especially after his year with the Dolphins. However, I am in favor of looking at Devin Taylor. It’s interesting that a guy who played in 31 of 32 games the past two seasons with 11.5 sacks to show for has a pretty dry camp right now. Giving him an incentivized deal sounds good on the surface, but I’m sure the way pass rushers have been getting paid that he’ll expect some worthy compensation.

Never say never with Sean Payton, but I would hate to see them take an offensive player at No. 11 when the glaring needs are on defense. The only player I could see there would be a Mike Williams or Corey Davis, if they do pull the trigger on offense.

You almost have to at this point. With seven picks on the table and five of them being in the top 103, I’d say they can walk away with some really good talent in this crucial season.

Not sure where the best pass rusher part comes in, as that is clearly Cam Jordan. Kasim Edebali was stuck behind Paul Kruger and Darryl Tapp. He played more special teams than he did defensive snaps. I thought the Saints might get him one final chance under the RFA tender, but it didn’t work out that way and he’s with Denver now. I just hope he doesn’t turn into the next Todd Davis.

He’s a very hot name to float around draft boards in that round. Kpassagnon is an intriguing player, and putting in film on him, there’s several legitimate reasons to look his way. Even if the Saints aim high on a pass rusher at No. 11, I don’t think you could ignore him in the third.

The Saints have been one of the teams that have kept tabs on him. I like what I’ve seen out of Kaaya, but I believe he should have stayed at Miami for another year. That being said, if he’s drafted by New Orleans, then don’t expect much out of him to start.

Drafting a running back, by far. I wouldn’t be mad trading down a few spots if there’s a running back on the board that another team feels like they need to swoop in to draft. However, history suggests that the Saints don’t trade back. Maybe this could be the year?

Obviously, free agency doesn’t just stop. To me, I see tons of potential. Players like Gerald Hodges and Sean Spence could be linebacker upgrades. Alterraun Verner and Sterling Moore are easy ones to look at for cornerback, and even a player like Kyle Wilson could return to the mix. Matt Asiata could be an interesting running back to target once the dust settles around the higher sought out backs, and there’s still a good chance Tim Hightower returns.

Alben C. - Who do u see as the starting LB core with the addition of Klein? If we draft a LB in the 1st doesn't it change?

Klein has said he feels most comfortable at Sam or Mike, so I could see him more on the strong side with Craig Robertson anchoring the middle. You want to believe that Dannell Ellerbe is ready to go, but that’s something that’s been said for the past couple of seasons without it happening. You’d then have Nathan Stupar, Stephone Anthony, and Hau’oli Kikaha as backups (presumably), and then I’m intrigued to see what Travis Feeney (a Steelers practice squad player added late in the season brought back on a reserve/future deal) brings to the table. I’m also wanting to see what Adam Bighill does, as he tore up the CFL for years.

Patrick J. - Could it be possible that we trade up, or trade down or even possibly trade players or future picks to get more picks in this draft???

If you’ve learned anything with Mickey Loomis at the helm, then you know that just about anything is possible in the Saints realm of reality. Again, I don’t see trading down as a possibility, given the track history, but this is arguably the most important draft in the PayLoo Era. They’ll likely do what it takes to win now, and rightfully so.

@DRobitaille5 - I think the Saints should consider Melifonwu at 11, trade 32 for Butler, and draft Willis/Basham at 42

I’d hate to deal the No. 32 pick right back to New England for Malcolm Butler, but that’s just me. I could see something in 2018 being a potential option, if the Saints are still interested in acquiring Butler. You’re on to something with Obi Melifonwu being a high target, but I’m not even remotely convinced that’s where you go at 11th. Jordan Willis at 42nd, however, is a big hit.

@Gloryboi211 - what's the chance that the saint get to pass rushers one LB and one DE in the first round and go cb second and 3rd

The theme and emphasis is certainly defense for the Saints, but I really do see some type of offensive weapon like a wide receiver in that mix. Other than that, using their top picks to fix a very problematic area with the right fits are all you can ask for.