NFL Draft Advent Calendar-Door #17: The Saints

We’re deep into the task of opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar!  This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.

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Door #17 – The Saints

Saints

2012 finish: 7-9; missed playoffs

TOTAL PICKS: 5

ROUND 1

15

ROUND 2

no selection (forfeited)

ROUND 3

13 (75)

ROUND 4

12 (109)

ROUND 5

11 (144)

ROUND 6

15 (183)

ROUND 7

no selection

Ah, Bountygate still isn’t finished with this franchise.  New Orleans lost their second round pick thanks to punishment handed down by the NFL for their alleged pay-for-play system.  (Their seventh round selection went to Seattle in a previous transaction.)

After what one could argue was a handicapped season in ’12, the Saints can do nothing but look forward to find positives.  For starters: Their most significant “acquisition” is head coach Sean Payton, who returns from a season-long suspension from Bountygate.  Good thing too, because this franchise is pretty hamstrung in terms of ability to acquire other (actually) new pieces.  On top of the shortage of draft picks, this offseason in the French Quarter has so far been defined by a slew of free agent signings that are indicative of a team suffocated by the salary cap.  The Saints came into the offseason $6.6 million over next season’s salary cap, and even though defensive leaders Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma restructured their contracts to create cap room (another kick in the face for them after being dinged for initial suspensions for the scandal), all that did was free up “just over $5.15 million” in cap space, according to Bleacher Report.

Yesterday, ’Nawlins signed free agent T Jason Smith, a 4-year pro who was signed to a 6-year, $61 million deal by the Rams upon being drafted, with $33 million of that guaranteed.  The prevailing opinion on Smith since then can’t be too bright – he was traded to the Jets after the 2011 season, then released this February.  Anyone who thinks the quest for a left tackle to replace Jermon Bushrod (gone to the Bears) has stopped with Smith should think twice.

But that’s the story with this year’s offseason version of the Black & Gold – only capable of adding depth and minimal key pieces.  Beyond Payton’s restored presence, I’d say the best way for the Saints to improve so they can compete in the ever-improving NFC South is to focus on two other personalities: QB Drew Brees and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Brees looked quite out of sorts at many points during last season without his head coach/play-caller, Payton.  I recall a few lonely moments late in New Orleans games, when the quarterback was just pondering what could have been, standing by himself at midfield with his hand on his hips while the staff conferred during a timeout.  Improving the offense around Brees should be the top priority.  As I already mentioned, the meager moves that they’ve made so far in this department along the O-line aren’t enough.

One interesting situation brewing in round one of the draft is that three NFC South teams draft 13-14-15 – the Buccaneers, Panthers, and Saints respectively.  If New Orleans wants to step outside of drafting immediate need they could opt for a receiver to help Brees, but either team ahead of them is more likely to make that move.  If they don’t, either Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson or West Virginia’s Tavon Austin would be difficult to pass up.  But almost anyone who watched this team last season knows that it needs to devote many, many resources toward improving the other side of the ball….

After being ousted from Dallas, Ryan was brought in to take over the reigns of a defense that was historically bad under former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo last season.  New Orleans ranked last or second-last in all three major yardage categories in D, and if you watched them it somehow seemed even worse than that.  Rob Ryan uses a subtly different scheme than that of his brother, Rex.  While both brothers use a multitude of formations and blitz packages, Rob’s attack depends less on lockdown coverage from his cornerbacks.  Even if he did, that position doesn’t mean much until the middle of the defense can be fortified, with at least one havoc-wreaking rusher.  My bet is that the Saints eschew the interior of the D-line via the draft, and they also sit pat at end, with Smith and free agent signee Junior Galette, whom the team is reportedly high on.  Instead, they will opt for one of two positions – depending upon which is still on the board at 15 – safety or an edge rusher at outside linebacker.  LSU’s Barkevious Mingo is a muscular beast of a blitzer that could be considered a baby DeMarcus Ware, whom Ryan used well in Dallas.  Of course, Rob’s brother, Rex, could take Mingo at the ninth pick overall, so Georgia’s Jarvis Jones isn’t a bad idea either.  If both have already been snapped up, Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro is widely considered the top safety in the draft and would be a great selection as well.

After that, the Saints have just four more picks…. good luck, GM Mickey Loomis (also suspended last season, for the first eight games).  Lord knows you’ve had a tough year coming in.

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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT.  WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR.  WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.

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