After a miserable 2012 campaign stemming from Bounty Gate, the New Orleans Saints got back to business with the return of head coach Sean Payton. They put together an 11-5 season to get to the NFC Divisional playoffs after going 7-9 the year before.
The Saints were still disappointed that they were unable to win the NFC South and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, which would have given them a first-round bye. The Carolina Panthers aren’t going anywhere, and there’s no question that both the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Bucs will be better within the division, so they have their work cut out looking ahead to 2014.
It’s amazing the turnaround the Saints made defensively last year, which can be attributed to the addition of coordinator Rob Ryan. After finishing last in the league in total defense in 2012, they remarkably finished 4th in that category in 2013. They allowed just 305.7 yards per game, which was the only reason they were even able to get into the playoffs.
Payton was encouraged by the roles some of his younger players took on last year. This team was decimated by injuries, especially defensively, which makes the job Ryan did all the more remarkable. Now, it’s up to management to find a couple more pieces through the 2014 NFL Draft to add to this team. Let’s take a look at their top five needs heading into it.
Saints 2014 Draft Picks
1st Round – Pick 27, (No. 27)
2nd Round – Pick 26, (No. 58)
3rd Round – Pick 27, (No. 91)
4th Round – Pick 26, (No. 126)
5th Round – Pick 27, (No. 167)
5th Round – Pick 29, (No. 169, from Patriots through Eagles)
6th Round – Pick 26, (No. 202)
CB Champ Bailey
FB Erik Lorig
S Jairus Byrd
C Brian De La Puente
OT Charles Brown
WR Lance Moore
DT Tom Johnson
FB Jed Collins
S Roman Harper
RB Darren Sproles
ILB Will Herring
S Malcolm Jenkins
CB Jabari Greer
DE Will Smith
Top 5 Needs
1. Cornerback – Keenan Lewis proved to be a tremendous addition last offseason, transforming into one of the top shutdown corners in the game. However, the 32-year-old Jabari Greer was a cap casualty. Patrick Robinson, a former 2010 first-rounder, has been a bust. Sure, it appears that the Champ Bailey signing this offseason would fix the problem on paper, but he’s only a stopgap. General manager Mickey Loomis must be targeting a starting-caliber corner within the first couple rounds of the draft as he looks toward the future of the franchise. Bailey turns 36 before the season, and Ryan needs guys who can handle press-man coverage, which is hard to find.
2. Outside Linebacker – Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks off the edge is also a necessity in Ryan’s scheme. Corners who can handle press-man coverage are no good if the pass rush doesn’t get there. Junior Galette turned out to be a steal for his current $1.4 million salary, but the Saints don’t have much after him. Victor Butler returns from an ACL tear suffered last June, so Ryan is unsure what kind of play he’s going to receive from him. Finding an outside linebacker opposite Galette could make this improved defense very scary looking ahead to 2014.
3. Center – Electing not to re-sign Brian De La Puente this offseason leaves a glaring need for a starting center. He did not get much interest elsewhere, which means that Payton has to be thrilled to be moving on. The rest of the line is solid with Terron Armstead and Zach Strief at tackle, and Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans at guard. Undrafted free agent Tim Lelito would be the starter if the season opened today, which is not good.
4. Wide Receiver – The Saints lost one of the more underrated players on their roster in Lance Moore this offseason. He was arguably the team’s second-best receiver. They have been looking for a true No. 2 opposite Marques Colston for quite some time now. Sure, Drew Brees tends to make everyone around him better, but New Orleans really could use an influx of talent at the position.
5. Inside Linebacker – David Hawthorne was a big free-agent signing a few years ago, but he has been a massive bust. His last two seasons in New Orleans have been huge disappointments. The Saints would be wise to move on from him by potentially spending an early-round pick on a middle linebacker.
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