By Ron Leyba
Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan turned the Saints around in 2013. After going 7-9 and scoring just seven more points than they allowed in 2012, New Orleans pushed into the playoffs with an 11-5 record and 110 net points. Playing in a tight division with the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons (who are expected to bounce back next season), New Orleans still has room to improve in the draft.
Offensive Needs: OL, RB, WR
The only real position locks for 2014 are tight end, held by Jimmy Graham, and quarterback, taken up by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. New Orleans does not have a strong number one running back or wide receiver, so guys like Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, and Brandin Cooks could all be potential picks for the Saints in one of the first couple of rounds.
Antonio Richardson, Joel Bitonio, and Weston Richburg are all offensive linemen that could end up on the Saints in 2014, as New Orleans will likely lose center Brian De La Puente and tackle Zach Srief. New Orleans should draft an offensive lineman in the third or fourth rounds, if not both. There is also the sure possibility that New Orleans will pick up at least one free agent to fill the gap at o-line, so it is unlikely the Saints will waste two high-round picks on offensive linemen.
As far as running back goes, the Saints have three okay backs in Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Darren Sproles, who all worked well in a platoon system, but New Orleans may end up seeing someone they like in the draft who could potentially make an impact in 2014. Those possible draft picks include De’Anthony Thomas out of Oregon and Antonio Andrews out of Western Kentucky.
Defensive Needs: DE, LB, S
The Saints were great at rushing the passer in 2014, with end Cameron Jordan picking up 12.5 sacks, and outside linebacker Junior Galette racking up 12 sacks in 2013. Picking up a defensive end in the first round could give the Saints that much more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2014. Dee Ford out of Auburn looks like the best candidate for the Saints in the first round as far as pass rushers go.
Inside linebacker David Hawthorne played decently in 2013, but New Orleans will likely look for a replacement for the 28-year-old veteran out of Texas Christian. Yawin Smallwood, Chris Borland, Christian Jones, and Shayne Skov are all possibilities in the first few rounds for New Orleans at inside linebacker. Trent Murphy, Ryan Shazier, and Kyle Van Noy are all players the Saints could get to help their pass rush on the outside, should they miss out on Ford.
Malcolm Jenkins will be expensive to keep at free safety, so it is hard to imagine the Saints keep him rather than going after someone in a 2014 NFL Draft that has quite a few solid safeties. Calvin Pryor and Ed Reynolds are potential safeties that could end on the Saints next season.