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John DeShazier's New Orleans Saints mailbag senior writer answers your Twitter questions


Why did you give up Jimmy Graham?


Why did @Saints let Jimmy Graham go?

I'll give a two-questions-for-one-answer deal here. Simply, the New Orleans Saints had to give up something good (Graham) in order to get something good (center Max Unger) that, likely, was more of a necessity than was Graham. The offensive line was in need of a serious upgrade and the only way to obtain a Pro Bowl center was to surrender a Pro Bowl tight end. From the team's perspective, look at it this way: At the time when Jimmy Graham was better known as a basketball player, the Saints were first (in 2006), fourth (2007), first (2008) and first (2009) in the NFL in total offense. That isn't meant to throw shade on Graham's presence and performance; the Saints will miss his presence on the field, because of the mismatches he created and his play-making ability. He's the prototype of today's NFL tight end and a red zone asset like few others. But also, let's not forget two things: The Saints got along fine offensively before he arrived, and the Saints are the franchise that helped him refine his talents and provided the quarterback and gameplans that helped him become an All-Pro. New Orleans doesn't have another Jimmy Graham on the roster to replace the Jimmy Graham it lost, but it does have a C.J. Spiller, a Brandin Cooks, a Josh Hill and others to help make up for the lost production.


What do you grade the @Saints draft? Who were your favorite and least favorite picks?

I'm not much of a grader of the draft, to be honest. Knee-jerk reactions on unproven talents just seem to be over the top. So I'll kindly defer on the least favorite pick, just from the standpoint that when you look at the Saints' picks, you can see the reasoning behind each of the nine. But … I'll give you a favorite: I like the Hau'oli Kikaha pick (second round, No. 44 overall). The team wanted to add an edge rusher and Kikaha led the nation with 19 sacks last season. I don't care where you play, that's impressive and that kind of production catches the eye. So I'm eager to see him in training camp and preseason.


To put the best offensive line on the field, is it realistic to go with big "L" or move Zach Strief/Andrus Peat/Terron Armstead over to guard?

Right now, I think the only time we'll see all three of those tackles on the field at the same time is when one is in the lineup as a tackle-eligible. Otherwise, from the early looks – really, really early looks – Peat primarily will be sharpening his skills behind Strief at right tackle. Armstead is locked in at left tackle, so Bryce Harris could be the primary backup there. I don't think any of the three needs to shift to guard because Tim Lelito, who has had spot starts at right guard and at center, is going to have a chance to start at left guard. It's the position with which he may be most familiar – he played there in college – and he's pretty excited about the opportunity. That doesn't mean Peat can't or won't play tackle. It just means that, for now, the Saints are working him at tackle and if Lelito holds up, there won't be a need to use Peat at guard.


Why didn't the Saints draft a wide receiver?

Photos of Brandin Cooks from the 2014 season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

Likely, for three reasons. First, they probably didn't like the receivers who were on the board when they were on the clock. Second, a receiver was graded evenly with a player who fit more of a need and they went for the player who fit the need. Third, and perhaps most probable, they really must like Seantavious Jones and Brandon Coleman, two rookie free agents last year whom the Saints signed to the practice squad and, later, added to the 53-man roster. If a rookie draft pick wasn't going to be good enough to beat out Jones or Coleman, then there wasn't much use in drafting a player who probably couldn't make the team. Now, that doesn't mean the Saints don't want one and aren't looking – they recently signed veteran Josh Morgan after a tryout. It just means that at the time when they were on the clock at the draft, they didn't like one enough to draft him considering what was available.


Which Saints rookie is going to have the most impact this year?

I think the rookie who might have the clearest path to getting on the field is Stephone Anthony. He's an inside linebacker, and fits a need for the Saints since Curtis Lofton was released. He's big (6 feet 3, 245 pounds), mature enough to handle the responsibilities (team captain and defensive signal caller at Clemson) and he was productive in college. He's another player we'll be keeping an eye on in training camp.


Who do you feel will be our leading receiver this year with Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills both gone and Marques Colston's lack of production?

I wouldn't count out Colston just yet. I know his production declined last year – all things considered, it likely was his worst in the NFL – but I'm betting that a guy with that much pride was 10 times more bothered by his performance than anyone else thought they may have been, and that he'll be determined not to let it happen again. But, all that said, Brandin Cooks may be the leading candidate to be the most productive receiver. He seemed to warming to the task as last season progressed before a broken hand ended his season. He finished with 53 catches for 550 yards and the Saints were getting him the ball in a variety of ways. He has to stay healthy – that's always the caveat with a smallish player – but he'll get the ball, preferably in space, and he'll post some numbers.


How many of the draftees will the Saints sign/release and are the Saints looking at other free agents to add?

It'll be tough for all nine draft picks to make the team. Last year's draft class was six, and two of them aren't with the team. So odds are that a couple will be cut and, possibly, added to the practice squad if another franchise doesn't pluck them. That said, if you look at what each guy adds to his position, it's easy to see why the Saints want to keep them around in some capacity. An offensive tackle, an inside linebacker, two rush ends/outside linebackers, two defensive backs who can play in the sub packages, a defensive tackle, a quarterback of the future and a running back who can double as a returner – all players who can make the team. Also, most of them can play special teams, which checks another box. As for free agents, the quest to upgrade never ends (veteran receiver Josh Morgan was signed last weekend). All the "name" free agents are off the market, but there are some bargain players who still are looking for work while the market dries up in terms of the dollars they were hoping for and expecting. There could be more additions on the horizon for the Saints.

The top 50 photos from the 2015 Saints Rookie Camp. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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