As I sit here writing this the NFL combine is finishing up and we are on the verge of free agency beginning, and the draft is just around the corner. That means at this point we should have a pretty good idea who possible draft picks are, at least as much as we can know before they actually step foot onto an NFL field anyway. That makes now the perfect time to construct our ‘perfect’ wishlist. What I am going to attempt to do below is construct what I think would be a ‘perfect’ off-season for the Saints. The caveat to that is that I’m trying to be realistic, which means free agents signings are reasonable and fiscally possible as well as being a good fit for the team. The same goes for the proposed draft picks, the goal is to prioritize fit and need, but with players who have a good chance to be there…although we’ll only be looking at the first 3 rounds. For each pick look at both the player itself, but also the role they fit to understand where my priorities are for the team.
Resign Nick Fairley: First thing is first. If the Saints want to continue building on the defensive improvements they showed last year, then they can’t afford to take a step back. Fairley has been a very solid player the last few years after some struggles early in his career and seems to have found a home here in New Orleans. He is a key part of the Saints trying to build an effective defensive front and his explosive playmaking adds a desperately needed element to the Saints interior. They shouldn’t pay too much, but Fairley has earned a solid deal that is in alignment with his production.
Sign Zack Brown: I wanted him last year, and I want him more now. In 2016 Brown had 97 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 passes defensed, and forced 2 fumbles. Brown was a pro-bowl alternate for the Bills last year and has been an above average linebacker the last few years. Brown is athletic, solid in coverage, and plays with a sound and kinetic game that would be a major asset for the Saints. The combination of his lack of superstar ability, playing on a losing team, and the general linebacker market, should make Brown’s value reasonable and well within what the Saints can handle. The Saints can offer him a young defense that is missing a player with his exact skillset and an opportunity to cash in while playing opposite an actual NFL level offense.
Resign Sterling Moore: Moore wasn’t a star, he wasn’t really even very good for the Saints, but as a depth player who can play inside and out while being at minimum effective at both will always have value in the NFL. You don’t want Sterling Moore as your starting cornerback, but you would love to have him as your 4th or 5th corner in case (and knowing the Saints WHEN) your starter(s) get hurt. He won’t be overly expensive and brings depth and dependability to the defense, you want to keep that.
Resign Willie Snead: Until a move is officially made the Saints still have the best 3 man wide receiver group in the NFL, Snead is an integral part of that and ideally the Saints sign him to a 2-3 year deal to keep him around.
Sign Kevin Zeitler: To me this needs to be the number one priority for the Saints. While many have connected the dots and assumed that Ronald Leary of the Dallas Cowboys is the Saints guard of the future, the issue is that he is a left guard, the same position that Peat pretty much locked down last year. Zeitler on the other hand is not only the best guard available in free agency, but the best guard available period considering how shallow the talent pool is at that position in the draft. The Saints need to shore up the offensive line for a number of reasons, but the biggest is that Drew Brees has a year or two left in him at a very high level, but only if he’s standing. The Saints also need to be able to rely on the run game to help facilitate that and keep teams off balance, and while Drew and Sean did an awesome job this year of helping the offensive line, ductape and bubblegum isn’t a long term solution. Having a powerful, athletic, and potentially nasty interior for the next several years is. Get Zeitler. It’s the right move in the present and for the future.
Sign Jabaal Sheard: Sheard is not a top level pass rusher, he never has been and never will be. What he is though is a competent veteran who is capable of being consistent and effective as a pass rusher. Sheard had 13 sacks in the past two years and has been a quality rotation player for the defending Super Bowl champions over the last two seasons. What helps the Saints is that while Sheard is a good veteran signing in the same mold as Craig Robertson, he was benched at times last year and isn’t going to come at a huge price tag (at least he shouldn’t). Sheard is very good against the run and possesses enough pass rush ability that he can provide additional pressure to complement Cam Jordan and the interior rush of Rankins and Fairley. He gives them enough production and ability to be the starting anchor that lets the team draft a young stud in a loaded draft class without them having to rely on a rookie to be responsible for holding the edge right out of the gate.
Sign Prince Amukamura: Amukamura has quietly been a very solid corner the last few years and after signing a 1 year ‘prove it’ deal with the Jaguars last year he proved he is exactly that. PA isn’t a star, and probably never will be, but he’s very competent and would bring excellent depth for the Saints without (likely) demanding a top price tag. This is a major need for the team as both starting corners have proven they can’t stay healthy.
Extend Brandin Cooks…Or…trade him for MULTIPLE assets. The Saints control Cooks for two more years at minimum and he has practically no leverage. The team has no reason to trade a highly productive player for peanuts, and Cooks doesn’t have the leverage to force it. Ideally him and the Saints can sit down, talk like adults, and come to a mutually beneficial extension that keeps the games brightest young trio of receivers together for years to come. If they aren’t able to do so (likely meaning he’s being a diva) then they trade him…but only if you get great value. there is no reason to trade Cooks unless the resources you get in return make up for his loss which would be significant.
1st round: Takkarist McKinley, UCLA (pass rusher)
If the scenario is that the Saints have added a veteran pass rusher like Sheard (which in this case it is) then my preference is to take the player who could be a superstar for you within the next two years, but will also bring sporadic production as a rookie. McKinley has all the tools to be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL, but before he becomes that (mostly be developing actual technique) he can be a 3rd down pass rush specialist. McKinley will win a few snaps a game on raw ability, and as his game rounds out and the Saints coach him up he will transition over to a full time starter opposite Cameron Jordan that we so desperately need. His floor is high enough that I expect him to be at minimum good in his first year, but his ceiling is so high that its simply hard to pass up. The only thing in the way of this pick to me is how serious his shoulder injury is.
2nd round: DAVID NJOKU, Miami (playmaker)
Some will consider it shocking for Njoku to drop into the second round but with Howard and Engram as the clear cut top two tight ends in the class, and with the enormous defensive talent available at the top of the draft don’t be surprised if another physical freak from Miami drops to the Saints in the second round. It’s a long shot, but the Saints need to add one more playmaker to make the offense sing like it once did, and Njoku could be that player. He’s a physical freak with the right kind of nasty disposition and tremendous receiving ability. He also isn’t a former basketball player so when he’s catching touchdowns for the Saints announcers will have no idea what to talk about.
3rd Round: Fabian Moreau, UCLA (corner)
Moreau is one of the best kept secrets in the draft. He’s got a great combination of both size and speed, and by playing in the PAC-12 he’s got a lot of experience going against NFL level weapons and winning with consistency. He’s an ideal pickup in the 3rd round with the potential to become a starter for you down the road while providing depth at a position where you can never have enough in the present. Moreau could be starting sooner rather than later for the Saints, and is a great value pickup in the 3rd round.
Bonus: Davis Webb, 4th round. CAL.
I don’t love Webb today, but I love what he could be and his potential fit in Payton’s system. He really needs 1-2 years to develop the professional part of his game, but Webb has the potential to be a starting caliber QB for the Saints in the future, and the 4th round is a great place to pick that up.