Yesterday, we talked about how I follow the NFL draft as a fan of both the Tigers and the Saints. Yesterday, we talked about the Tigers. Today, let's talk about the Saints. Clearly, the Saints had a very disappointing season last year. A lot of prognosticators predicted us to contend for a spot in the Super Bowl. We ended up with a losing season. We have been "rewarded" for that with the #10 overall pick.
To the extent I was able to watch the Saints last year, not being in their regular TV market, it appears that our complete lack of playmakers on defense was exposed once again. I know a lot of people will say that losing Deuce early in the season hurt a lot, but the team did very poorly even with Deuce in the lineup.
Heading into the offseason, a lot of people were thinking we would almost certainly be looking at linebacker or cornerback in the draft. The Saints, however, significantly upgraded those positions during free agency period, by picking up linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Dan Morgan and cornerback Randal Gay (former LSU product, by the way). Vilma and Morgan have been stars in the league, but have suffered season-shortening injuries recently. If even one of those guys returns to prior form (and neither is old really, just unhealthy lately), the linebacker position is substantially shored up. Randal Gay is still a young player and has been a solid zone corner in his career despite not being a regular starter at LSU and not being drafted.
The conventional wisdom is that the Saints needed to address linebacker, corner, and defensive tackle. They have already made some changes at linebacker and corner, but may not be done at either of those places. We still need to address the defensive tackle spot as well.
The problem is that it is difficult to project who among the top prospects at those positions will be available at the #10 spot. Among the top players at linebacker, corner, and defensive tackle, only Glenn Dorsey appears to be certain to be gone by the time the Saints draft. USC products Sedrick Ellis (DT) and Keith Rivers (LB) may be gone, or may not. Mocks have them all over the board. Backup plans Kentwan Balmer (DT, North Carolina) and Jarod Mayo (linebacker, Tennessee) appear to be reaches for #10.
At cornerback, commentators disagree over who the #1 corner on the board is. Is it workout warrior and small-school fast-riser Dominique Rogers-Cromartie? He has freakish measurables and may be the most athletic cornerback not just of this year but of the last several years, but he played at Tennessee State. Not Tennessee. Tennessee State. Can anyone identify their mascot without looking it up?
Is it Aqib Talib, another terrific athlete. He played at Kansas and has certain Deion Sanders-like qualities, in that he gets interceptions and is dangerous with the ball in his hands. He's generally considered a little unpolished and inconsistent and seems to have a fairly high bust-potential. But he could also end up being the best corner out of this draft.
Is it Michael Jenkins from South Florida? Leodis McKelvin from Troy? Both are small-school guys like Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, though they are much more known commodities than is Rogers-Cromartie.
Heck, they could surprise us all and take one of the several good offensive tackles on the board. After all, when most people thought they were going defense last year, they drafted wide receiver Robert Meachem. I was actually in the minority who really liked that pick. I think the idea of using the draft to "accentuate the positive" is often a good idea, as opposed to using it to "eliminate the negative". The idea is that if the strength of your team is moving the ball on offense, use the draft to help you do that even better rather than using it to help you stop other teams a little better.
Of course, it's impossible to characterize Robert Meachem's first year as anything more positive than "extremely disappointing", as he did not actually play at all. Meachem got off to a slow start in his college career as well, and ended his career as one of the most productive receivers in the country. Plus, receivers sometimes develop slowly anyway, and Meachem was trying to break into a really productive, veteran unit.
If Meachem can develop in the pros like he did in college, I still think we will look at the Meachem pick as a positive. He is more than capable of being a #2 receiver in the NFL, complementing Marques Colston.
Tomorrow, I will go over what I would do if I was the Saints and was willing to do bizarre things for the sake of maximizing my haul.