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The New Orleans Saints returned to being contenders in 2013 with Sean Payton back at the helm and Rob Ryan manning the defense. This offseason, though, the Saints already parted ways with some key cogs and may lose even more players to free agency. But the losses give Ryan a chance to find better pieces to better fit his defense through the draft, as well as retool offensively to better protect Drew Brees with young linemen.
New Orleans will do everything in its power to retain tight end Jimmy Graham and the team has a young receiving corp headlined by Kenny Stills. But all will be moot if the team can’t improve the pass protection. Terrance Armstead proved he could be the future at left tackle, but there are still holes at center and right tackle, while right guard Jahri Evans is due more than $7 million this year.
The Saints could try to sign Brian de La Puente back at center, but only if he’s willing to accept a reduced salary. And the team definitely needs to upgrade at right tackle. A number of athletic tackles could be available in the second or third rounds, while a guard like Xavier Su’a-Filo could be an insurance policy if Evans is a cap casualty.
Defensively, free agency and cap issues are forcing the team to fill a lot of holes. Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, and Roman Harper are already gone, and Malcolm Jenkins could walk in free agency. The Saints will be in the market for both a safety opposite of last year’s first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro and a cornerback opposite Keenan Lewis, the latter being the biggest priority.
It’s unlikely the top two corners, Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard, last until the end of Round 1. But the next tier of prospects — Jason Verrett, Bradley Roby, and Lamarcus Joyner — should all be on New Orleans’ radar.
Finally, with Smith gone, the team will need to find another outside rusher to round out the linebacking corp. There’s a chance they look to re-sign Victor Butler and Parys Haralson, but the Saints could find a young 3-4 backer in this year’s deep class. Ryan Shazier may be gone, but he’s a tackling machine and has a knack for wreaking havoc in the backfield. Kyle Van Noy may last until Round 2, as could Jeremiah Attaochu.
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