Any chance the New Orleans Saints have of competing for a Super Bowl next season rests on the upcoming draft.
They have to make all the picks count.
Armed with the offensive wizardry of Drew Brees under center, the Saints’ offense doesn’t need anything more to once again be among the most productive in the league.
The defense, on the other hand, can use all the help it can get.
The Saints added a handful of minor upgrades to their defense through free agency, but not enough to fix the glaring holes opposing offenses have been taking advantage of over the past few seasons.
Enter the 2017 NFL Draft.
Thanks to a trade with the New England Patriots, the Saints are one of three teams with two first-round picks, as well as the 10th pick of the second round and two third-rounders.
In a draft loaded with defensive talent, the Saints could actually add enough rookies to bring themselves within striking distance of a Lombardi Trophy.
Clearly, the 11th overall pick will be the Saints’ best chance to add a difference-maker. However, with so many good players in positions of need, there’s little reason for New Orleans to sweat that slot.
Whether its a cornerback, edge rusher, or linebacker, general manager Mickey Loomis should easily be able to fill a position of need at No. 11.
It’s the 32nd pick – the one acquired from the Patriots – that needs worrying.
The Saints have been down this road before – and messed it up.
Just a year after a decent rookie season, the Saints failed to find a use for Anthony in 2016 as he registered just 16 tackles through 10 games, showing the shortsightedness of Loomis’ selection. With Brees having turned 38 in January, Loomis and the Saints don’t have time to waste this year’s late first-round pick.
Taking the best player available would be ideal, but a cornerback needs to be chosen with one of the first two selections to try to round out the Saints’ shaky secondary. Waiting until the second round is an almost certain way to miss out on arguably the team’s biggest need.
With a large selection of corners expected to go off the board through the middle of the first round to the beginning of the second, the Saints could find themselves in a bad spot with the 42nd overall pick. Most of the teams drafting ahead of them in the second round will not have taken a corner in the first, but could still use help in that area.
Anyone who could have gone in the first round, but didn’t by the end of Day 1, will be off the board before the Saints get their shot.
Pass-rusher is another major need, but with the signing of Alex Okafor and the return of Hau’oli Kikaha from injury, a rusher who can be used in rotation next season may be enough to bring the Saints’ defense up to a competitive level.
In short, the Saints need some playmakers – and they need them now.
Arguably, every team in the league needs to hit on their draft picks, but time is running thin for the Saints as they push to make another Lombardi run. There is legitimate fear within the fan base that once Brees is done, the team will revert back to being the “Aints” once again.
Returning the team to Super Bowl contention is a lot to ask of a group of rookies, and that’s why it’s so important for Loomis and the Saints’ front office to get it right in the early rounds.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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