There’s no question that the priority for general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton this off-season was to improve a shockingly porous defense than finished 31st in the league ahead of just the Giants, but also put up some historically bad marks including for touchdown passes conceded. That did not mean however, that they would be ignoring the offense by any means. Long-time target Marques Colston is gone, and the interior of the offensive line needs addressing. The secondary needs help, but were not helped at all by the guys up front whose failure (outside of Cameron Jordan) to get pressure on the quarterback, made their task near-impossible. Pass rush and the defensive line in general was as big a need as the back end of the defense.
Day 1 – Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville (Rd 1, #12)
This pick was a hit on every level. The Saints had to get more talented across the defense, including their pass rush and interior pressure in the backfield. Rankins provides just that, with his outstanding burst, power and violent hands, as well as being able to move across the line and be a factor from multiple spots. As our number 9 overall prospect, he’s a great get value-wise too. Rankins was the top 4-3 interior lineman in this class. The rest of the defensive tackle group currently in place are either ageing, have a lot to prove, or are leaving after next season. Nailed it.
Day 2 – Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State (Rd 2, #47). Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State (Rd 2, #61)
A pair of Buckeyes who have achieved a lot of success in college. While Bell felt over-rated by the media, with some embarrassing lack of effort against the run, others like him more so it’s understandable. Giving up a pick in this deep draft to do so isn’t the best move arguably, especially with so many roster holes for this team to fill. They need secondary help though, and Bell is at his best in coverage versus the pass so it makes sense. He’ll have to quickly adjust his attitude and effort now that he’s in the pros; he can’t afford to continue to be lazy (his own words) and taking so many plays off. His teammates will not appreciate that, and his career will be short if the effort doesn’t pick up. Thomas was worthy of a late first round selection, and is a great fit who should thrive playing with Brees. Brandin Cooks is emerging into the player the Saints hoped when making him a first round pick, and Willie Snead has been a great undrafted find, but neither are big or physical. At 6ft 3 & 212 lbs, Thomas has that size required; Brees will greatly appreciate this addition to his group of receivers. While Thomas’ numbers in college don’t leap off the page, the system at OSU and the quarterback play limited his opportunities. He ought to end up being a more productive NFL player than he was able to show in college, and was great value.
Day 3 – David Onyemata, DL, Manitoba (Rd 4, #120). Daniel Lasco, RB, California (Rd 7, #237)
Again, the knock here on the Onyemata pick is the sacrifice of another draft selection to move up. Was it necessary? The Saints looked like a team who should have been trying to acquire more picks in this draft, rather than giving them up, and that’s two lost now. The Canadian has a big step up to make, but has so much natural physical ability, and looks more polished on film than expected; he has a lot of potential. He was a bit of a personal favourite going into the draft and carried a fourth round grade, so it fits the range. That said, he might not be able to contribute much his first season, which isn’t ideal given the afore-mentioned multiple issues on defense. Lasco is a rare athlete who needs to work on his decision making, ball security and pass protection before he can be trusted to take on a big role. He could have gone a couple rounds earlier though and is good value in the last round. A big part of Lasco’s game is contributing as a receiver out of the backfield and utilising space. That’s it though from the later rounds. They should have had more than two picks on the final day.
Rankins was a fantastic start and Thomas was a perfect fit, as well as great value. The offensive line wasn’t addressed, despite there being some solid mid-round guard talents, and the trades up prevented hitting a couple more needs. In terms of value on those they did add the roster, the Saints did very well, and at least should have three immediate starters out of this group, with plenty potential in the other two players the picked up.