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Speculation is rampant, but New Orleans Saints know their targets in NFL Draft

Saints have moved up at least once in each of last five drafts


Sometimes, the New Orleans Saints give a clear indicator entering the NFL Draft.

Sometimes, they don't.

In 2018, Coach Sean Payton wasn't coy when he said, unprompted, that New Orleans had to have a player who could pressure the passer. Partly, the Saints took care of that in free agency when they re-signed defensive end Alex Okafor (Okafor was coming back from a torn Achilles). But true to Payton's position, New Orleans attacked in the draft: It traded spots with Green Bay in the first round (from 27 to 14), surrendered its fifth-round pick that year and also its first-rounder in 2019, in order to select defensive end Marcus Davenport .

In 2019, New Orleans needed a center after Max Unger retired in the offseason. No hint was given on wants and needs, but that seemed an obvious one and the Saints addressed it quickly, signing unrestricted free agent Nick Easton, who'd started NFL games at center and guard. But while it seemed that move filled the vacancy, it didn't: New Orleans picked Erik McCoy  in the second round, and he became the starting center in training camp.

In '17, cornerback Marshon Lattimore  – an obvious, talked-about positional need – tumbled into the Saints' lap at No. 11. But who saw offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk at No. 32, for a team that already had starters Terron Armstead and Zach Strief?

Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't.

Stack the 2020 draft in the latter pile.

It's anyone's guess as to where the Saints will lean with their five picks this year (Nos. 24, 88, 130, 169, 203). Receiver seemed a good bet possibly to be a first-round priority, but unrestricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders now is in the fold. Defensive tackle may have been, too, until David Onyemata re-signed to fortify the middle. Safety? Maybe, except Malcolm Jenkins agreed to return to New Orleans after a six-year stretch in Philadelphia.

But with that knowledge stored, remember this: It means absolutely nothing. Having addressed those respective positions doesn't mean New Orleans won't further address them in the draft – especially, we've seen, if the best player available to them happens to play one of those positions.

And the Saints have shown they're willing to move in order to get their man. In the last five drafts, New Orleans has executed a trade at least once – in each draft – in order to pick a coveted player. Included in that group is Davenport, McCoy, Ramczyk and running back Alvin Kamara.

So, what will the Saints do in the draft? Here's a guess, from the tip-less cheap seats…

Sure looks like the team could use a linebacker. All-Pro Demario Davis has been the best player in the league at his position the last two years. He loses the name-recognition game, but that's the only place where he isn't first. Beyond that is uncertainty. Alex Anzalone is a stud, but he has to stay healthy. He has missed 12 and 14 regular-season games in two of his three seasons, but he was an impact player in '18, when he was healthy. His shoulder problem hopefully has been corrected and if it has, that gives the Saints two linebackers they can count on. But where's the third? Kiko Alonso, who was coming on strong down the stretch before he tore his ACL in the playoff loss against Minnesota? Second-year man Kaden Elliss, who played in three games as a rookie before he was injured and missed the rest of the season? Veteran Craig Robertson, who can give the team some snaps but is most valuable on special teams?

Deductive reasoning suggests linebacker is a good spot to speculate that the Saints will focus on during the draft.

So, too, is receiver. Because even though New Orleans has an enviable pairing with Sanders and record-setting Michael Thomas, there isn't much depth beyond them. Former third-round pick Tre'Quan Smith has shown flashes, but dependability and availability (five missed games last year) haven't been his strengths. If patience is teetering, the Saints could take a player they believe can transition in and not have the added pressure of learning to play special teams. It helps that running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook relieve pressure in terms of production, and returner Deonte Harris may give New Orleans some help, too. But the Saints need another dependable player at the position, who can take advantage of the attention directed to Thomas, Sanders, Kamara and Cook. Usually, an injury occurs within the group and the Saints have to have someone that can step in.

In a perfect world, no one will need to step in this season at quarterback for Drew Brees , beyond the changeup snaps that Taysom Hill takes. But Brees (agreed to terms) and Hill (tendered contract offer) currently are the only quarterbacks we definitively can associate with the Saints. Even if they pick up a veteran at some point – after the draft or even during training camp, as they did with Teddy Bridgewater – they have to consider getting a prospect to groom. If they like the prospect enough, maybe he'll be one of their earlier picks.

There's never a "wrong" time to pick a good cornerback, because a team never can have too many good ones. New Orleans appears set at starter (Marshon Lattimore and Jackrabbit Jenkins) and nickel (P.J. Williams), and is hopeful that Patrick Robinson can return to the form that made him one of the league's premier inside corners. But there's uncertainty beyond the top three, and if we've learned anything about today's NFL, it's that you'd better have defensive backs who can cover. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson helps in that area; there's not much that CJGJ can't do. But corner is another position where starters seem to miss time, and there has to be an ample supply of them.

Speaking of stocking the supply, it wouldn't shock if New Orleans took another swing at landing a tight end this year. The team tried Alize Mack last year and while that didn't work out, it doesn't mean the Saints are satisfied with the depth. Yes, Cook can be phenomenal and, yes, Josh Hill is about 10 times more indispensable than you think. But when the third tight end is the backup quarterback (Taysom Hill filled the role nicely, by the way), there's an opportunity for an actual tight end to step up and step in. It would be a necessity if Cook or either Hill got injured, or if Taysom Hill had to step in at quarterback for several consecutive games. So it's reasonable to think that, perhaps, New Orleans again will look to add quality depth to the room, someone who can receive the baton when needed.

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