Deciphering a post-Brees strategy for Saints in NFL Draft

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Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill
New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Jameis Winston (2) and quarterback Taysom Hill (7) during practice at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, pool)

Since 2017, the Saints have won at least 11 games every season.

A big reason why is the club’s ability to win the draft.

Out of the New Orleans starting 22 in the NFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Bucs, 15 were players that began their careers with the Saints. Seven of those 15 were first round selections, stretching back to safety Malcolm Jenkins, who returned to the club after a stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Since 2016, the Saints have stocked their club with young talent, either now in its prime or approaching it.

But with the retirement of quarterback Drew Brees and the stripping of much of the club’s veteran depth to get under the salary cap, this year’s draft holds even greater importance.

If the Saints, who have four selections in the first 105 picks, can grab two starters and three additional contributors from the draft, they can better compete for a record fifth straight NFC South title.

So what will the Saints do?

One mock draft, from the NFL Draft Bible, have New Orleans selecting a quarterback, Stanford’s Davis Mills, in the first round.

If the Saints did go for a signal caller, it would tell Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill and the rest of the world that the returning QBs are merely placeholders as the club gets ready to turn the page to the future.

New Orleans is also reportedly enamored with Florida quarterback Kyle Trask.

For a team with so many needs after losing so many veterans to cut their way back under the salary cap, does using a high draft pick on a quarterback make sense?

Here’s what could have happened this offseason.

The Saints decided that the price is too high to move up in the draft for a quarterback.  My guess is the front office and head coach Sean Payton have decided that Winston or Hill is a better option than trading for any unproven quarterback.

Winston, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Marcus Mariotta were all either first or second overall picks in the NFL draft.

None of the four are with their original team.

As for their needs, the Saints will draft at least one offensive lineman, although my guess is they will not use a high pick to get one since all five starters return.

In eight of the last nine drafts, the Saints selected at least one offensive lineman.

Under Payton, New Orleans has a track record of finding quality offense lineman in the mid-rounds. Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, and Jermon Bushrod were all outstanding players, developed from within.

Terron Armstead, one of the best left tackles in the NFL, was a third round pick in 2013.

The Saints will likely draft multiple defensive backs. This is a huge need area, especially with starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins released as a cap casualty.

Don’t be surprised in the late wave of free agency after the draft that the Saints look for veteran cornerback help as well.

Another need at receiver should be addressed, especially after the club parted ways with Emmanuel Sanders. The guess is they address it in the draft, but not in the first two rounds.

If there is any player in the Saints locker room who benefits most from Winston as the likely Saints starting quarterback, it is fourth-year wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.

Smith averaged a club best 13.2 yards per reception last season.  The trick play touchdown pass he caught from Winston in the playoffs could be a preview of things to come.

If you are looking for a New Orleans draft guide, the following might be a thumbnail sketch.

The Saints spend their first round picks on players that you would otherwise have to overpay for in veteran free agency.

That is, defensive backs, offensive lineman and pass rushers.

They develop their offensive line from within.

Payton is enamored with tall receivers. Any receiver under 6-feet tall in this year’s draft should probably cross off New Orleans as a possible workplace.

This year’s Saints draft is incredibly intriguing.

In years past, it was about filling in around Drew Brees.

Now, it is about having enough good players to make the transition away from Hall of Fame quarterback.

In other words, that is the football version of apples-to-oranges.

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Ed Daniels

Ed Daniels

WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM

Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…

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