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New Orleans Saints mailbag: What’s next for Sean Payton’s squad?

What’s the plan for a pass rusher opposite of Cam Jordan? What’s realistic for Marshon Lattimore? Those questions and more in this Saints mailbag.

SiriusXM At The 2017 NFL Draft Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for SiriusXM

After an exciting NFL Draft last weekend, it’s back to being relatively boring across the league. The New Orleans Saints have a rookie minicamp and OTAs right around the corner, which means we’re that much closer to the season. I took to Twitter on Thursday afternoon to take up some Saints questions (thanks a ton, by the way). Here’s some of the best ones.

To my knowledge, all the spots were filled. The team hasn’t officially announced the coaching staff for 2017 yet. But, if you’re looking at it in simple terms: Bill Johnson was replaced with Ryan Nielsen, Joe Vitt and James Willis with Mike Nolan, Stan Kwan and Greg McMahon with Brad Banta. Currently, Dan Campbell is listed as the only assistant head coach on the team’s website. That being said, I’m excited for all the new coaches the Saints brought in. John Sigler put out a great column back in February on what Nielsen can bring to the Saints. Banta’s track record paired with a return of Kevin O’Dea might actually make us not cringe for Saints special teams, and Mike Nolan did good work with Manti Te’o in San Diego in the brief time they had together. I’m just eager to see how they all work together.

I’m assuming that is meant to say doing. Well, the immediate future holds new player roster numbers, their contract details, and the 3-day rookie minicamp. For me, it’ll be interesting to see what tryout players are in the mix in addition to the drafted and undrafted rookies reporting. There was more than a dozen players to audition for the Saints last season during the event, and they ended up signing a couple out of it. It’ll be fun to see what transpires, and there might be a few things here and there on the transaction report.

I think the Saints are higher on Alex Okafor than people would like to believe. With them passing on pass rusher after pass rusher in the draft, you weren’t going to find the answer past the first round, in all fairness. If you ever listen to Sean Payton, he’ll say that he absolutely looks at ways to continue to improve his team during the course of the many phases of the season. Obviously, I’d say there’s a lot of intrigue there with Al-Quadin Muhammad. Also, don’t forget Obum Gwacham and Hau’oli Kikaha return from injury, Darryl Tapp was re-signed in the offseason, and Tulane’s Royce LaFrance is buried on the defensive end depth chart.

I’d imagine they’ll have several on speed dial once training camp starts. Injuries are just a part of football, and there’s bound to be something crazy that happens. Naturally, when other teams release one player, there’s sure to be some discussions on whether or not to bring said player in for a look. Look at the Cortland Finnegan signing last season as a prime example. There’s plenty of free agent cornerbacks out there right now that the Saints could give a look to if they feel it’s necessary.

I wouldn’t say Marshon Lattimore is automatically the team’s top cornerback, but he can certainly change that over the next few months. In my eyes, Delvin Breaux is still the team’s top corner option. An injury-plagued 2016 isn’t what Breaux wanted, but all signs indicate he is back to 100 percent and is extremely hungry to replicate 2015’s success. As for Ryan Ramczyk, the Saints are going to take their time and not rush him out onto the field. Sean Payton is anticipating a training camp debut for him, and then we’ll see how it shapes out for Ramczyk. He’s definitely the reserve offensive tackle heading into 2017, and I firmly believe he could push Zach Strief for the starting right tackle spot. His immediate role should be on special teams and possibly in jumbo sets as the sixth offensive lineman.

I think Lattimore is probably the obvious choice, but for me I think it’s Larry Warford. Not many are talking about this guy, and the Saints offensive line really gained a big piece during the offseason. Him and Strief (presumably) will big huge in the run game, regardless of who carries the ball for them. I’d say Warford is a younger Jahri Evans in his prime, and for an offense that continues to be a top unit, Warford mixed in with a healthy Terron Armstead and another season under Andrus Peat’s belt makes this o-line one of the most underrated in the NFL.

Marcus Murphy. You drafted Alvin Kamara, who has return value. You signed Ted Ginn Jr. to also help in the return game. You still have Tommylee Lewis on the roster, and Murphy has had two offensive snaps in his first two seasons. Daniel Lasco is a better option over Murphy, and he can play on special teams coverage. That’s a no-brainer for me.

I’m sure that’s something the Saints and their fans would love to see, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves there. If you’re speaking on just the team, then yes that’s a high possibility given that Hendrickson and Alex Anzalone would be the only other realistic possibilities at this point. Generally speaking across the NFL, it’s hard to go against Myles Garrett right now, especially since Joey Bosa took that honor down last season. Malik Hooker would be another person I’d consider in a ridiculously way too early rookie of the year projection.

As of right now, I’m saying it’s Okafor based on his production with the Arizona Cardinals. In his contract details, Nick Underhill noted that he essentially bet on himself to produce. He can earn another $1 million in sack incentives and playing time bonuses, which is something Nick Fairley did last season. He just turned 26, and has a big reason to play well to earn a big contract payoff. Guys like Trey Hendrickson will have to learn some, but could evolve into bigger role players as the season progresses.

Well, there’s this from Essence. It’s probably not what you’re looking for, but if you’re into that kind of thing then it’s for your reading pleasure. Maybe the relative quietness is a good thing for Swann, as he’s had nearly a year of recovery time. Getting on the field for OTAs towards the end of May will be a big step for him, so we’re really in a ‘wait and see’ mentality.

I would imagine that’s something they’ll focus on between now and next month to reach an agreement prior to the season starting. Kenny Vaccaro has earned a long-term deal from the Saints, without question. The Saints employ the 3-safety set, so the thought would be to have Marcus Williams take over for Jairus Byrd, and then allow Vonn Bell and Kenny Vaccaro to be lined up where Dennis Allen sees fit. The only real concern with Vaccaro is that he had the 4-game suspension from the Adderall/PED ban. Another incident would slap a 10-game suspension on Vaccaro, and the Saints can’t afford that.