2014 NFL DRAFT TEAM SPOTLIGHTS: ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN | CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAC | KC | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SD | SF | SEA | STL | TB | TEN | WAS
This is the sixth of a team-by-team series, analyzing five prospects that each team should consider in the 2014 NFL Draft.
With 35-year old Drew Brees not getting any younger, the Saints' championship window is closing, making this year's draft class all that more important. New Orleans needs to find young players who can contribute as rookies, but also grow into more for the long-term, like last year's draft class that produced safety Kenny Vaccaro and left tackle Terron Armstead.
Selecting at No. 27 in the first round, the Saints will have intriguing options on the board and could go in a number of different directions. New Orleans has a need at wide receiver, but in the deepest class at that position in years, it's not a priority in the opening round. The Saints could also look at cornerback or linebacker, especially if impact players like Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller or Alabama's C.J. Mosley fall to them.
Although it's not the most glaring need, pass rusher is another possible option in the first round. Despite two players with double-digit sacks last year and Victor Butler returning from injury, Rob Ryan will be pounding the table for another pass rush specialist who can put pressure on the pocket. So if an impact rusher like Demarcus Lawrence or Dee Ford is still on the board, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Saints go in that direction.
Since Sean Payton took the helm of the Saints, they have had their share of hits and misses in the first round, but this could be their most important draft in his tenure. And it starts with the No. 27 pick.
New Orleans Saints' 2014 draft picks: 27, 58, 91, 126, 167, 169, 202
Primary Needs: WR, CB, OLB, C, ILB, OT
General manager: Mickey Loomis, 13th season
Coach: Sean Payton, 9th season
Five draft picks that clicked:
• S Kenny Vaccaro, 15th overall, 2013
• OT Terron Armstead, 75th overall, 2013
• DE Cameron Jordan, 24th overall, 2011
• TE Jimmy Graham, 95th overall, 2010
• OG Jahri Evans, 108th overall, 2006
Five players who should be on the New Orleans' draft radar:
(overall rating, position rating)
DE/OLB Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State (48, 5): In Rob Ryan's first season as defensive coordinator, the Saints ranked fourth in the NFL last season in sacks. And with Victor Butler returning from injury, pass rusher isn't the top need on New Orleans' wish list on draft weekend, but a talent like Lawrence might be too good to pass up in the first round. The former Boise State rusher has a few character flaws (three separate one-game suspensions the past two seasons), but he has quick, active hands along with the natural athletic pass rush skills to create pressure. Disruptive talents like Lawrence usually don't make it out of the top-32 picks.
WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson (49, 9): The Saints are in the process of re-building their wide receiver group and although Kenny Stills showed promise as a rookie, another young pass-catcher should be targeted in the early rounds. And Bryant, the "other" wideout out of Clemson, is a logical target in the second round. After just 19 catches over his first two seasons in college, he showed much better consistency in 2013 (42/828/7). Bryant is tall and long with terrific speed to stretch the field, displaying the catching radius to make some "wow" catches with his reach and tracking ability. He has the tools to develop into a reliable NFL starter.
CB Jaylen Watkins, Florida (95, 13): Florida's deep secondary will be well represented in the 2014 NFL Draft, but the best pro of the group might be Watkins, who is the older brother of Sammy Watkins. After lining up at cornerback and safety in college, he offers the intriguing versatility that will be attractive to NFL teams, appearing comfortable in off man, press and zone coverage. Watkins has light, controlled feet and does an excellent job in his pedal and hip flip to stay in the hip pocket of receivers down the field. His game needs some refinement, but the natural talent seems to shine through and would make an excellent draft choice in the third round.
C Corey Linsley, Ohio State (227, 6): The Saints lost Brian De La Puente in free agency, leaving a noticeable void at the center position. New Orleans has done a nice job finding value at the position in the later rounds and they might try that tactic in this draft class. And if they do, Linsley would make a lot of sense in the mid-rounds. The Ohio State product was one of the most improved players on film in 2013 and turned himself from a project into a legitimate NFL prospect. Linsley is tough, aware and smart with a strong understanding of his responsibilities and what the defense wants to do. Although he lacks ideal explosion, he has the core strength and attitude needed to be a reliable option at center in the NFL.
ILB Avery Williamson, Kentucky (213, 9): The Saints need to add depth at linebacker to help their run defense and should target a player they can groom to eventually take over for David Hawthorne. And Williamson, who produced the second-most tackles in the SEC over the past two years, could be that player. He is physical and smart and does his best work with the ball in front of him, anticipating the action well and wasting little time attacking. He has some coverage flaws, but looks like a special teams ace and third day pick who can grow into something more, following a similar path as former Kentucky linebackers Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard.