Saints could target pass rush in the draft
Sean Payton’s success in the NFL began with his ability to
conceive of creative offensive schemes that pick defenses
The New Orleans Saints’ head coach is less known for building
defenses through the draft, though that could change over time.
The Saints’ past three first-round draft choices have been
defensive players, and it would hardly be a surprise if New Orleans
continues that trend with the 24th overall pick next Thursday
While the Saints had few glaring weaknesses in 2010, ranking
fourth in defense and sixth in offense, they were disappointed with
a pass rush that left them in the bottom half of the NFL in
The Saints had difficulty getting pressure on opposing
quarterbacks out of their base 4-3 defense. To compensate, they
resorted to an array of aggressive blitzes, which can be risky, and
wound up 18th in the league with 33 sacks.
”There’s a strong value on someone that can speed up the clock
in the quarterback’s head,” Payton said. ”I don’t know that
there’s a team drafting that will say, ‘Well, we feel pretty
comfortable with our pass rush,’ just because those guys are hard
Barring trades, the Saints currently have the 24th pick in each
of the first two rounds, then have two third round picks and two
seventh round picks, with no picks in rounds four through six
because of past trades.
If New Orleans reverses course and takes an offensive player
with its top pick, that wouldn’t be a shock, either. After all,
Payton calls the plays on offense and may like the way a certain
player’s skills fit his system.
Should a player such as former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram
fall in their laps, the Saints could have a hard time passing him
up, given the slew of injuries they had among their running backs
last season and the uncertainty concerning planned negotiations of
Reggie Bush’s contract.
”You have to have a number of players there because 16 weeks at
that position is a long season,” Payton said. ”Having gone
through injuries like we did last year, you appreciate the need to
have a number of guys.”
Still, the greater need appears to be on defense, particularly
Of the defensive players the Saints have taken in the top two
rounds since Payton took over in 2006, most have been defensive
backs. Strong safety Roman Harper (2006) and cornerback Tracy
Porter (2008) were second-round picks. The past two first round
picks brought in free safety Malcolm Jenkins (2009) and cornerback
Patrick Robinson (2010).
The only member of the defensive front seven drafted in the
first-round is Sedrick Ellis (2008), who last season led the club
with six sacks.
Veteran defensive end Will Smith was second with 5.5, but that
was down from 13 in 2009, and New Orleans could use another
play-making end to take pressure off of him.
A few who fit that mold could be available when the Saints are
on the clock, including one whose father – the late Craig
”Ironhead” Heyward – was a first-round draft pick of the Saints
back in 1988.
The 6-foot-5, 294-pound Cameron Heyward started for Ohio State
as a true freshman in 2007 and compiled 34 tackles for losses
during his career, including 14.5 sacks.
Another possible option at that spot could be Iowa’s 6-3,
281-pound standout Adrian Clayborn.
The Saints also could target a defensive tackle to line up
beside Ellis. There has been less urgency for an interior lineman
since the free-agent signing of Shaun Rogers shortly before the
NFL’s lockout began. Still, starter Remi Ayodele and top reserve
Anthony Hargrove are not currently under contract for next
Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson is among the top tackles who could
be available around pick 24, along with Baylor’s Phil Taylor. The
Saints might be tempted to give former North Carolina standout
Marvin Austin a chance. Austin was suspended for all of last season
for accepting gifts from an agent, but the Saints have had success
taking measured risks on a few players with trouble in their
Payton said he’s not set on improving the pass rush through any
specific position. An outside linebacker such as UCLA’s Akeem Ayers
and Georgia’s Justin Houston also could be the answer.
”You’re really talking about … how many guys can truly rush
the passer?” Payton said. ”There’s probably seven or eight of
them that can and 18 that appear they can be able to. The trick is
where you get one that can do it. That would be a priority for