It seems fitting that the 13th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft belongs to the New Orleans Saints.
This is a team that is in transition while trying to remain a contender in the NFC.
Honestly, the Saints' 2014 season could be marked as one of the biggest disappointments in the entire league. The team was coming off of a Divisional Round appearance, added Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd in free agency and selected explosive receiver Brandin Cooks in the draft.
The Saints' offense was able to move the ball up and down the field, but was stymied by turnovers. New Orleans led the league in total offensive yards, but finished ninth in points scored. The defense was another story altogether finishing next to last in yards allowed and 28th in turnovers generated. Only one team (Oakland) had a worst turnover differential than the Saints at -13.
It could simply be described as one of those seasons for New Orleans. Those aforementioned additions - Byrd and Cooks? Both of them incurred season-ending injuries. The Saints weren't even invincible in the Superdome where they've enjoyed one of the league's best homefield advantages in recent years. They lost their last five games at home including a streak of three in consecutive weeks.
The biggest reason of optimism for the Saints is that despite everything going against them they finished just a half-game out of first place in the division at 7-9. However, there has been a lot of change in the Crescent City. All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham was traded for Seattle center Max Unger and a first-round pick. Wide receiver Kenny Stills was shipped off to Miami. Meanwhile, the Saints strengthened the backfield re-signing former first-round pick Mark Ingram and adding former Bills running back C.J. Spiller.
Is this to help extend the career of quarterback Drew Brees, who has thrown for over 4,300 yards in each of his nine seasons with the Saints? The Saints could bolster the protection up front with just one offensive lineman off the board at this point. New Orleans does have to replace Graham's production. Graham accounted for at least 85 receptions in each of the past four seasons. Another wide receiver could alleviate some of that concern while also giving the Saints the flexibility to move Marques Colston to move inside the slot.
OK, the Saints have been one of the best offensive teams in the Sean Payton era. Maybe, like the Eagles, the turnover issue was an anomaly. What about the defense?
The defensive backfield was a mess. Byrd got injured. Safety Kenny Vaccaro, a promising 2013 first-round pick, regressed and was eventually benched. Cornerback Keenan Lewis surrendered seven touchdowns last season, per Stats Inc. Only six players in the league allowed more. Cornerback Corey White, who started nine games last season, was released. Fellow corner Patrick Robinson had arguably his best season, only to bolt to the Chargers in free agency. The Saints did sign Brandon Browner from the Patriots and still have Lewis pegged in as the starters.
The Saints need help in other areas on defense. Curtis Lofton graded out as the fourth-worst inside linebacker per Pro Football Focus last season and was released. Up front the Saints do have pieces to work with. Defensive end Junior Galette was a breakout player with 10 sacks for New Orleans. Cam Jordan at the other end spot was a Pro Bowl selection in 2013 and played well once again last season. Former Eagle Brodrick Bunkley is a rotational defensive tackle at this point in his career, so that could be a position the Saints address.
The Saints were 7-9 yet they were on the cusp of making the playoffs. They still have one of the league's best quarterbacks even though the pieces around him will be different next year. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's unit was one of the league's best two seasons ago when they went to the postseason.
Who will be the next to don the black and gold for the Saints? They are on the clock now in our Fan Mock Draft.
- 1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Jameis Winston
- 2. Tennessee Titans: DL Leonard Williams
- 3. Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Dante Fowler, Jr.
- 4. Oakland Raiders: WR Amari Cooper
- 5. Washington Redskins: LB Vic Beasley
- 6. New York Jets: QB Marcus Mariota
- 7. Chicago Bears: WR Kevin White
- 8. Atlanta Falcons: LB Shane Ray
- 9. New York Giants: T/G Brandon Scherff
- 10. St. Louis Rams: WR DeVante Parker
- 11. Minnesota Vikings: CB Trae Waynes
- 12. Cleveland Browns: RB Todd Gurley