The New Orleans Saints won the NFC South for a fourth straight season in 2020, but they had to undergo many changes over the past few months. Not only did longtime quarterback Drew Brees decide to hang up the cleats, but the Saints had to weather what was a disastrous cap situation in a year in which the cap number actually went down due to lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of money hardships, the Saints were forced to move on from several players and were unable to sign others looking for new contracts. Fortunately, there's an opportunity to add young, cheap talent later this month.
The 2021 NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and this is where true contenders are built. It could be hard for the Saints to repeat as divisional champions with some of the roster turnover they have experienced, but this franchise and head coach Sean Payton know what it takes to be successful. Dominating the NFL Draft is going to be key for the Saints, and addressing positional needs such as linebacker, defensive line, cornerback and wide receiver are important.
Below, we will map out three objectives the Saints must accomplish if they want to pull off the perfect 2021 NFL Draft and remain a contender in the NFC.
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Grab a cornerback with one of their first picks
The Saints have a star corner in Marshon Lattimore, but who is going to start across from him? Janoris Jenkins, who started in all 13 games he played in last year, signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency, and Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams started in just seven combined games in 2020. New Orleans should draft a cornerback with one of its first picks, and it could happen in the first round. Two of our CBS NFL Draft writers have the Saints selecting former Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley -- who is certainly a prospect they should consider if he falls all the way to No. 28 overall. Farley opted out of the 2020 season, but his health is also a perceived issue. He missed his pro day due to what was reported to be a minor procedure done on his back, and that coupled with the rising stocks of the other top cornerbacks in this class could cause him to fall in the first round.
Recently, Farley said that not only would a team be making a mistake by taking another corner over him, but that he would make it his mission to have other teams kicking themselves for passing on his talent. I want a player like that, but it's not a given he will fall all the way to the end of the first round. If Farley is not available, New Orleans could be in the running for Asante Samuel Jr. out of Florida State, Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern, Georgia's Tyson Campbell or Ifeatu Melifonwu out of Syracuse. Most of these names are considered late first-round or early second-round prospects, so maybe New Orleans should lean toward using that first selection on a top corner.
Take advantage of the deep wide receiver class
According to ESPN's Mike Triplett, the Saints are one of only three NFL teams who have not drafted a wide receiver in the past two years. New Orleans has a couple of intriguing players like Marquez Callaway, Tre'Quan Smith and Deonte Harris, but need a legitimate starter with Emmanuel Sanders gone and a new quarterback taking over. Thankfully, this is a deep class when it comes to wideouts, and there is legitimate talent available in all seven rounds. A couple of big targets the Saints could consider are Ihmir Smith-Marsette from Iowa, Seth Williams from Auburn and Josh Imatorbhebhe out of Illinois. He registered a 46.5-inch vertical, which would have been a combine record if there had been a combine this year. All three of these prospects, according to my colleague Josh Edwards, are slated to go in the fifth round or later. If the Saints want to target someone higher than that, Clemson's Amari Rodgers or Dazz Newsome out of UNC would be nice additions as well. However, if the Saints want to attack this need, this draft class has plenty of potential, and they need to capitalize.
Identify and acquire the quarterback you want
The Saints are fine at the quarterback position for 2021 with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, but it could be argued they don't have a quarterback on roster that is truly the future under center. New Orleans should consider taking a quarterback somewhere in the middle or maybe even late in the draft -- one the front office believes has starting potential. I'm confident Payton is doing his due diligence on this crop of signal-callers and that general manager Mickey Loomis will make a move if he feels it's necessary, because the Saints made a pretty aggressive move last year for a quarterback. With the No. 240 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Saints selected former Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens. This wasn't just a pick for fun, by the way. The Saints actually traded a future sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans to select Stevens -- and it was the only pick the Saints made in the final four rounds. Stevens was a college athlete that drew comparisons to Hill. In fact, during his first three seasons in college, Stevens rushed for more yards than he threw for.
Now, this move didn't necessarily work out and the Saints actually tried Stevens out at tight end, but for one, I like taking shots like this, and two, it proved that the Saints were looking at quarterbacks late in the draft. New Orleans should look at signal-callers like Kellen Mond out of Texas A&M, Shane Buechele out of SMU or Feleipe Franks out of Arkansas and make a move on one.
Here's the prospects CBS NFL Draft writer Josh Edwards has the Saints taking in his mock draft:
|Round (overall pick)||Prospect (position)||College|
Kadarius Toney (WR)
Davis Mills (QB)
Patrick Jones II (EDGE)
Chazz Surratt (LB)
Marvin Wilson (DT)
Sadarius Hutcherson (OG)
Tommy Doyle (OT)
Mike Strachan (WR)