21 October 2020

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Draft Preview: New Orleans Saints

The New Orlean Saints were the victims of the most controversial no-call in NFL history as in the 2018 NFC Championship with little time left in the game Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis was blindsided by Rams cornerback Nickell Earl Robey-Coleman forcing an incomplete pass on 3rd and 10.

Saints fans and players were disgusted they had to lose in that fashion after being so close to making a Superbowl and after a long-awaited off-season, they came for vengeance in 2019. The 2019 season was supposed to be a revenge season for the Saints and they did pretty good starting except for week 2 as they would take on the Rams in an NFC Championship rematch but things didn’t go as planned as they would go on to lose 27-9.

Despite that, the Saints looked better than ever as they would finish off the season 13-3 and had Michael Thomas who was having the best season of his career and arguably was the best receiver in the league.

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Despite the 13-3 record, the Saints locked up a Wild Card Spot vs the Minnesota Vikings but they did have home-field advantage. The Saints were down 20-10 heading into the 4th quarter but they quickly stepped up their game to score 10 unanswered points as kicker Will Lutz made a 49-yard field goal to force overtime.

They would go on to lose 26-20 after another controversial play where it looked like Vikings tight end Kyle Randolph pushed off to create separation and catch the game-winning ball. New Orleans would go out early after another hyped up the season with not many key pieces lost in free agency they still could look to build up their team with good depth.

The Saints have the fewest total of draft picks this year with 5 picks making every single one count. Here are some positions the Saints could look to address in the Draft.

Wide Receiver

David Zalubowski-The Associated Press

Last year the Saints had top-3 wide receiver Michael Thomas to lead not only their receiving core but he led their offense as he was the only receiver New Orleans had. His 149 receptions set an NFL record for most receptions in a season and his 1,725 lead the league in receiving yards earning himself the AP Offensive Player of The Year becoming the first receiver to win the award since 1993 when Jerry Rice won.

There is no doubt New Orleans has themselves a true #1 receiver what they need is a supporting cast to surround Thomas with as he can’t be doubled teamed every snap. The Saints have made an effort to bring Thomas some help as they went out and signed veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders to a 2-year deal and that is huge upgrade considering last year the #2 receiver was Ted Ginn who had only 30 receptions.

With a solid #2 receiver the Saints could look to add a #3 receiver to their roster with their current #3 receiver being Tre’Quan Smith who had 18 receptions on 25 targets for 234 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Smith did okay but in 11 games and 6 starts that isn’t something you like to see considering the other receivers weren’t being as productive to become a #3 receiver.

A prospect to look out for is wideout Laviska Shenault who is coming off a season where he did well despite his team QB struggles. Shenault did miss some time while he was dealing with injuries but that doesn’t take away from his game as he recorded 52 receptions for 721 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. Shenault past injuries are costing his stock to fall but the Saints can take a chance on a guy that everyone is giving up on just because he had 1 year taken away due to injuries. A player capable of becoming that #3 receiver Shenault can be a problem when fully or near healthy.

Linebacker

Stuart McNair-247Sports

The Saints Linebacker position was solid last year it wasn’t too bad but then again it could have used some improvements. Injuries were a huge part of the linebacker core to be so weak as New Orleans had 3 linebackers on IR at one point, one of them a rookie who didn’t play a single snap.

The Saints lost starter Alex Anzalone after just two games as he suffered a shoulder injury for the second time in three years. When healthy Anzalone is a solid linebacker who can cover receivers it’s just his problem is trying to stay healthy which will affect his long-term career with the team.

Along with Anzalone gone the Saints lost rookie linebacker Kaden Elliss the very next week after he suffered a knee injury. The Saints would go out and trade for veteran Kiko Alonso who would put on a solid year as Anzalone replacement but suffered a torn ACL in the Wild Card matchup vs the Vikings. The Saints did not sign a big name linebacker in free agency but still could sign a decent one with Clay Mathews and Will Compton along with Manti Te’o who was on the roster for the 2019 season still available.

New Orleans currently has three linebackers (Alonso, Anzalone, Elliss) coming off a season-ending injury and could look to pick up a young healthy linebacker late in the draft with no second-round pick.

It may be tough to pick up a good one but they can pick up a decent one. A prospect to look out for is Anfernee Jennings, a 6’1 and 252lbs linebacker out of Alabama, had a solid year where he even contributed by recording many sacks. Jennings had 8 sacks, 5 pass deflections, 1 interception, and 1 pass deflection as you can see he did it all for Alabama something the Saints could use as he is a versatile linebacker.

Scouts see Jennings as a rotational linebacker which would be perfect for New Orleans since they do have a crowded linebacker group but could use a player like Jennings to come up big when needed.

Left Tackle

Associated Press

New Orleans did a terrific job protecting Drew Brees as he was only sacked 25 times which was the 4th fewest allowed in the league and was only hit a total of 55 times which is the 2nd lowest in the league.

There currently is no problem with the Saints o-line but what they could use is a left tackle for the future as current Terron Armstead is entering his 8th year in the league which isn’t a lot but considering he has dealt with a knee injury in the past there should be a precautionary step to pick up a left tackle late in the draft.

The Saints could look to draft a player who could be a backup and be taken under Armstead wing and get the hang of the NFL becoming a full-time starter.

A prospect just for that is Ezra Cleveland, a 6’6’ 311 lbs offensive tackle who is coming off a decent season at Boise State. Cleveland is a prospect that many scouts say he should have returned to college for one more year to build up muscle for the NFL. Cleveland did not let the talk get to him as he had an impressive 40-yard dash time of 4.93 seconds which caught many people’s eye.

Cleveland wouldn’t have to be an instant starter which is why New Orleans is a perfect match for him where he could redshirt his rookie year and build up his skill level for the NFL.

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