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Saints setting themselves up for rare draft flexibility

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It’s not common to see a team attack their offseason in so many different ways.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - Ohio State Buckeyes defensive back Marshon Lattimore poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected eleventh overall by the New Orleans Saints during the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
PHILADELPHIA, PA - Ohio State Buckeyes defensive back Marshon Lattimore poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected eleventh overall by the New Orleans Saints during the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

NFL teams typically don’t attack all fronts on the opening days of free agency. They will have spent months doing their research and pro scouting, identifying free agents who fit their specific needs and budget. And when it’s time to pounce they’ll go after two or maybe three guys who seem like ideal matches.

It’s what the Minnesota Vikings did, bringing Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins and Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson into the fold. The San Francisco 49ers took a similar approach, adding offensive lineman Weston Richburg and running back Jerrick McKinnen to a backfield with Jimmy Garoppolo.

The New Orleans Saints free agency strategy is slightly different. They’ve targeted all three levels of their defense with carefully-chosen upgrades. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen values a strong secondary, and it shows in their early acquisitions: Patrick Robinson has blossomed into a productive slot defender, and Kurt Coleman is a versatile true safety who can play two-high with Marcus Williams as easily as drop down into the box.

Demario Davis had a career year for the New York Jets and is at worst a bigger, more-athletic version of A.J. Klein in the middle of the field. I like his ability to make plays on passing downs as a blitzer and limit run-after-catch ability in underneath zone responsibilities.

And up front, Alex Okafor returns as a vital piece of the edge rush rotation. Hopefully Trey Hendrickson shows enough progress to start over him in year two, while Hau’oli Kikaha and Al-Quadin Muhammad compete for the third spot. But Okafor’s presence at least lessens the priority the Saints have to put on the position. If they can succeed in winning the services of All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, then the Saints can approach the draft with a wide-open mindset.

On offense, Drew Brees has put away questions about his future while Coby Fleener and Jermon Bushrod provide warm bodies at tight end and along offensive line. Willie Snead was offered a right-of-first-refusal tender which no other teams have contested yet, so there’s another box checked (in theory).

The Saints now have a luxury few teams can appreciate. They can truly wait it out at the twenty-seventh overall pick and let the board develop in front of them - similar to their position at last year’s thirty-second pick, when Ryan Ramczyk became available.

Whoever the best player is and wherever he plays, the Saints could select him while feeling confident that he makes their team better. Whether it’s a great linebacker prospect (Rashaan Evans, hopefully), standout pass rusher (Sam Hubbard, please), high-upside wide receiver (D.J. Moore is who you want), or generational athlete at tight end (Mike Gesick, apparently), any of them makes sense. Don’t sleep on a defensive tackle like Da’Shawn Hand, either.

The Saints love torching mock drafts, so I’ll expand the lens: an offensive lineman who can play tackle or guard like Isaiah Wynn or Conner Williams could be in play, as well as a playmaking defensive back such as Mike Hughes. Lamar Jackson is one of the few quarterbacks expected to be available in the 20’s, and I’d love to see what Sean Payton can do with his talents. Even running back doesn’t shock me in theory; if we want to get crazy, drafting someone like Derrius Guice and finding a trade partner for Mark Ingram isn’t an impossible proposition, though I’d hate it personally.

TL;DR - the Saints can go into the draft without sweating bullets in hope of a certain position or player being available at their pick. They’ve built a roster that can absorb almost any talent at any position.