The New Orleans Saints are entering a different era in their franchise's history, one the organization has been preparing for a few years. Drew Brees finally decided to hang up his cleats, leaving the NFL as the league's all-time leader in passing yards and finishing with the second-most passing touchdowns. Brees delivered the franchise its lone Super Bowl victory and made the Saints one of the league's preeminent franchises for 15 seasons.
A changing of the guard is on the horizon in New Orleans, centered around a quarterback competition between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. The Saints have experienced life without Brees last season, giving Hill the opportunity to start four games when their franchise quarterback was out with fractured ribs. Hill completed 71.9% of his passes for 834 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, while rushing 39 times for 209 yards (5.36 yards per carry) with four touchdowns in those four games. Hill recorded a 96.9 passer rating in his four starts, as the Saints went 3-1 during that stretch.
The Saints seemingly know what they have in Hill, so the next step is to add to a playoff-caliber roster around him or Winston. New Orleans has won 49 games over the past four seasons -- the most in the NFL -- signaling there's plenty of talent on the team. Did the Saints do enough with their six draft picks? Let's review where the Saints dropped the ball in this draft and the one pick they crushed:
2021 Saints draft picks
- Round 1 (No. 28 overall) -- Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston
- Round 2 (No. 60 overall) -- Pete Werner, LB, Ohio State
- Round 3 (No. 76 overall) -- Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
- Round 4 (No. 133 overall) -- Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame
- Round 6 (No. 206 overall) -- Landon Young, T, Kentucky
- Round 7 (No. 255 overall) -- Kawaan Baker, WR, South Alabama
No wide receiver?
The Saints failed to add a wide receiver early in this draft, a shocking development considering the lack of pass catchers they have on the outside. Outside of Michael Thomas -- who struggled mightily with that foot injury in 2020 -- the Saints wide receivers are Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, and Deonte Harris. Those three receivers combined for 847 yards and five touchdowns last season, not exactly enticing considering Brees won't be throwing them the ball. Let's not forget the Saints lost Emmanuel Sanders in free agency.
New Orleans could have selected Elijah Moore, Rondale Moore, or Terrace Marshall Jr. at No. 28 -- instead they took a chance on defensive end Payton Turner. The Saints passed on an opportunity to add a reliable pass catcher to their offense in the first round, then passed on Dyami Brown and Amari Rodgers in the third round (they selected cornerback Paulson Adebo at No. 76). Adebo wasn't a bad selection, but the lack of an outside playmaker to help a weakened quarterback position is troubling. New Orleans seems to be putting too much faith in Thomas bouncing back to his All-Pro self and three receivers under the age of 25 to improve. We'll see if coach Sean Payton brings in a veteran prior to training camp.
Werner fits right in
The Saints found a starting linebacker for years in Werner, clearly the best fit for them with the 60th overall pick. An excellent tackler, Werner is very instinctive against the run. He can stay with the running backs in the pass game, completing an all-around profile at the position. Simply put, Werner is a natural linebacker.
Did the Saints draft for need with Werner? Yes, but all they have is Demario Davis -- and need a solid tackler next to Davis in the 4-3 defense. Werner played SAM (strongside) and WILL (weakside) at Ohio State, even though he frees up Davis to play at the WILL if New Orleans lines him up at the MIKE (middle). New Orleans drafted Zack Baun in the third round last year, but the team has used him in more of a hybrid role -- making Werner a more natural fit.
Payton did say Werner most likely will start at the WILL, but the Saints have the flexibility to move him around a very questionable position. There are holes at linebacker, but Werner can fill them if he's able to win a starting job. Werner's ability to become a steady presence on the Saints defense makes him a valuable asset going forward -- especially for a team that still has a playoff-caliber roster.