Heading in to the 2021 NFL Draft, the Saints had a few fairly obvious positions of need: cornerback, linebacker, and wide receiver. Now that the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, are the Saints set at those positions for 2021? Not exactly.
With the Saints first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, they selected Houston defensive end Payton Turner to replace some of what was lost with Trey Hendrickson departing in free agency. It was a move that perplexed many, not necessarily because of a later draft grade on Turner, but because of the other bodies the Saints had the position. Opposite Pro Bowl DE Cam Jordan, the Saints were going to look to former first round pick Marcus Davenport, an improving Carl Granderson, and the newly-signed Tanoh Kpassagnon. At linebacker, cornerback, and wide receiver, the Saints had essentially one start position at each (Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore, and Michael Thomas) but an open spot opposite their star.
The Saints drafted Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner with their next pick, but he lacks the explosive athleticism we’ve seen from the likes of Kwon Alexander. In the third round, the Saints finally added a cornerback in Stanford’s Paulson Adebo, and he’s raw, but still has a high enough upside for Saints fans to be happy with the pick. Wide receiver was finally “addressed” in the seventh round with South Alabama wideout Kawaan Baker.
Now after the draft, what are the biggest positions of need for the Saints?
I would say despite picking a cornerback and linebacker with two of their first three picks, the two positions could still use some upgrading. A veteran like Richard Sherman still makes a lot of sense for the Saints as he could fill in out of the gate and help teach Adebo - and even Lattimore - much about playing cornerback. Bringing back Kwon Alexander still seems like a fit too, as the Saints could rely on Werner to grow into becoming a starter rather than throwing him to the wolves right away.
But wide receiver seems like the biggest concern, if there is one, for the 2021 Saints right now. Michael Thomas is just one full season removed from winning Offensive Player of the Year, but after Thomas, the Saints lost a pair of talented pass-catchers from the 2020 offense. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was cut as a cap casualty and picked up by the Buffalo Bills, and tight end Jared Cook found his way on the Chargers. Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara are some of the better players at their position in the entire NFL, but after that duo, names like Tre’Quan Smith, Adam Trautman, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey fail to strike fear in the heart of opposing defenses. And without a quarterback like Drew Brees who can throw his receivers open, the Saints could struggle on offense without adding extra fire-power.
Another position that has not garnered nearly as much attention as it should is the interior of the defensive line. Sheldon Rankins held this spot for many years, and while the Saints have players like David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle, the presence of Rankins and Malcom Brown (who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars) will still be missed.
Here’s a way to think about the players the Saints lost and who they have added to replace them:
- Trey Hendrickson - Payton Turner
- Kwon Alexander - Pete Werner
- Janoris Jenkins - Paulson Adebo
- Michael Burton - Alex Armah
- Josh Hill - Nick Vannett
- Emmanuel Sanders - ???
- Jared Cook - ???
- Sheldon Rankins & Malcom Brown - ???
That being said, if I had to rank the current positions of need for the Saints after the 2021 NFL Draft, this is how I would do it:
- Wide Receiver
- Defensive Tackle
- Tight End
There are plenty of bargain bin free agents the Saints could consider at wide receiver, defensive tackle, and tight end (we’ve already covered Kwon as a potential fit at linebacker). Maybe Adam Trautman becomes an elite tight end, and maybe Pete Werner is everything the Saints could hope for and more. Maybe Deonte Harris shows more as a receiver, but even still, that’s asking a lot out of Jameis Winston in his (presumed) first year as the Saints starter. Last year’s team wasn’t good enough to win a Super Bowl, and it’s hard to look at this year’s team and see how they’re better if they don’t add help at wide receiver and defensive tackle, at minimum.
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