The New Orleans Saints organization is facing a major crossroads this offseason. Will they elect to focus on the future or the present during the 2016 NFL Draft?
The New Orleans Saints enter the 2016 offseason faced with a decision that will have a tremendous impact on the future of the franchise: do they go all-in for a final Super Bowl run before Drew Brees’ retirement, or do they begin an inevitable rebuilding process?
Either way, this team has some serious holes to fill, and the 2016 NFL Draft will have monumental implications.
The Saints are currently sitting at 5-9, and could land a top-five NFL Draft selection with a pair of losses to end the season. That would be a long-shot, though. Heading into Week 16, ESPN’s Football Power Index gives New Orleans 14.2 percent chance of landing a top-five draft slot.
If the Saints finish their 2015 campaign on a high-note, they could end up selecting in the mid-first round. But with two weeks left in the regular season, they hold the No. 9 overall pick in the NFL Draft, and all signs point to a finish within a few spots of the No. 10 slot.
The Saints have a variety of needs heading into the 2016 offseason. A horrid pass defense needs improvement, finding a physically imposing wide receiver is a must and it is impossible to ignore the fact that the time is running out on the Hall of Fame career of quarterback Drew Brees.
So which needs will the team fulfill through the draft?
Find out in our seven-round New Orleans Saints 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
Next: Round 1: Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell
Round 1: Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell
Two consecutive losses to end the season could potentially land the New Orleans Saints a top-5 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Such a draft slot would allow the Saints the opportunity to draft the elite defensive back prospect necessary to enhance a horrendous secondary in either Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey or Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III. It would also provide New Orleans the ability to select the heir apparent to Drew Brees at the quarterback position, with either Memphis’ Paxton Lynch or California’s Jordan Goff of California all but certain to be available.
Following Monday night’s defeat to the Detroit Lions, however, the Saints still own a 5-9 record, and would hold the ninth overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft.
The ninth overall pick would provide the organization with plenty of flexibility in regards to draft choices, but it would most likely eliminate both of the aforementioned possibilities. An athletic pass-rushing outside linebacker such as Jaylon Smith out of Notre Dame would be a possibility. But with a talented class of pass rushers available in 2016, New Orleans could also wait until the early-second round to fill that need.
Instead, the Saints elect to draft Laquon Treadwell, a junior wide receiver out of Ole Miss that could prove to be one of the biggest playmaking threats of the 2016 NFL Draft.
At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Treadwell has the prototypical frame of a go-to receiver. More importantly, he has the physicality and skill-level to do be an immediate impact player for a receiving corps in need of one.
Treadwell is the most-talented wide receiver prospect of the 2016 NFL Draft Class, drawing comparisons to Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys for his reliable hands, elusiveness after the catch and ability to overpower opponents with size and speed.
Coming back from a devastating leg injury that ended his 2014 season early, Treadwell embarked on a dominant junior campaign in which he has complied 76 receptions, 1,082 yards and eight receiving touchdowns, along with recording six 100-yard receiving performances during a span of six games.
Wide receiver is not the most pressing need for the Saints, but a lack of a physically imposing playmaker on the outside is a weakness. Treadwell may have areas of which to improve, primarily route running, but his NFL-ready talent would make him an immediate weapon for the final years of the Drew Brees era.
Next: Round 2: Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins
Round 2: Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins
Outside linebacker is arguably the greatest need for the New Orleans Saints entering the 2016 NFL Draft.
Their pass defense has been horrendous, and it is difficult to tell if the secondary or pass rush is more to blame. Regardless, both have been area have been embarrassments in 2015.
The Saints have the third-worst pass defense in the NFL, in addition to giving up a league-high 39 passing touchdowns: eight more than any other team in the NFL. They are also giving up a league-worst 8.6 yards per pass attempt.
Improvements at both the cornerback and pass rushing outside linebacker roles are absolute musts for New Orleans this offseason. And with the Saints slated to make an early second round selection, they just might be able to find an immediate answer at this spot.
If Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins is available when the Saints make their second round selection, it will be difficult to pass him up.
Jenkins is a player that may not have a plethora of experience in New Orleans’ defensive scheme, but he is so talented and versatile that it does not matter.
He has lined up at both outside linebacker slots in Georgia’s 3-4 defense, and has also gained experience putting his hand in the ground as a pass rushing defensive end.
Although some may consider Jenkins to be a tweener, it is not a detriment in his case, simply because he has been able to succeed in essentially every role he has played. Serving as a jack-of-all-trades for Georgia, the senior has compiled a total of 201 total tackles, 39 for loss, 19 sacks, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries throughout his career.
The biggest weakness for Jenkins comes down to agility. If he improves in this area, he could grow into one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL.
Next: Round 3: North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz
Round 3: North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz
The Drew Brees era in New Orleans has been nothing short of glorious for the past 10 years. The aging quarterback has broken countless records, led the Saints to their only Super Bowl victory in franchise history and has become an integral part of the New Orleans community.
Brees is still a top-tier NFL quarterback, evidenced by the fact that he has led a far-from-elite receiving corps to becoming the No. 1 passing offense in the NFL. But with the illustrious signal-caller set to turn 37 years old before next season, the Saints must begin to formulate a plan to move on from the most successful era in their history.
And while he may not be a household name, Carson Wentz just might be the man to carry the torch at the quarterback position.
Wentz led the North Dakota State Bison to their fourth consecutive FCS Championship as a junior in 2014, passing for 3,111 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Before suffering a season-ending broken wrist on his throwing arm six games into his senior season, Wentz had thrown for 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
The 6-foot-6, 235 pound signal-caller draws many comparisons to Pittsburgh Steelers star Ben Roethlisberger, another unheralded high school recruit that blossomed into a star in college.
"“First time I saw Carson was his junior year and my first thought was why the heck is he here?” an AFC North scout told CBS Sports. “Why isn’t he at Ohio State or Alabama? But credit the Bison coaches for seeing something and developing him. I like the arm talent, the size obviously stands out and he’s shown the ability to think on his feet and make the spontaneous decision. You see a lot of traits that says he can start in our league.”"
While Wentz is being projected as a potential second-round pick, his season-ending injury and concerns about a lack of competition at the FCS-level, just might allow the Saints to acquire him early in the third round.
Wentz would likely need to sit and learn behind a veteran quarterback for one or two seasons in order to prosper as a starting NFL quarterback, making him a perfect fit for New Orleans.
Next: Round 4: Arkansas offensive guard Sebastian Tretola
Round 4: Arkansas offensive guard Sebastian Tretola
Plenty of praise goes to the Arkansas Razorbacks offensive line as a whole, and there is good reason why.
The unit has allowed quarterback Brandon Allen the pass protection to relax in the pocket and pick apart SEC defenses for the better part of the past two seasons. Most notable, though, is the elite run blocking that has been a staple of the Arkansas offense for years.
Despite losing senior running back Jonathan Williams to a season-ending foot injury for the entire season, the Razorbacks’ rushing attack did not miss a beat. Junior running back Alex Collins recorded his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing campaign, with the big maulers up front decimating several respected defenses in the process.
And on one of the most celebrated offensive lines in the country, Sebastian Tretola stands out among the rest.
At 6-foot-5, 334 pounds, Tretola possesses the size necessary to instantly compete on the interior offensive line in the NFL, and his talent has been well-documented. He earned first-team All-SEC honors in 2015, in addition to being named the SEC Co-Jacobs Blocking Trophy Award winner.
Tretola has established his run blocking prowess throughout college, something that would fit perfectly with an offense that aims to be more run-oriented with Drew Bees’ retirement looming in the near future.
Next: Round 5: Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell
Round 5: Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell
Just like improving its pass rush, upgrades in the secondary is a must for the New Orleans Saints in 2016.
The team’s six total interceptions are the second-least in the NFL this season, and the fact that they have given up a league-high 39 passing touchdowns is nothing short off embarrassing.
It would be ideal for the Saints to address this need before the fifth round. And if the team continues to move up in the draft order in the final two games of the season, the answer could be available when they make their first-round selection.
If not, however, New Orleans is fortunate that there is plenty of defensive back talent in this year’s draft class.
Among the late-round possibilities to improve the Saints’ horrendous secondary is Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell.
Russell possesses the body frame and physicality of an NFL cornerback. But due to inconsistent play in 2015, as well as a recently broken tibia, his draft stock has taken a serious hit. Russell would probably be best served to return to school for one more season, but that may not be a possibility.
He sat out the 2014 season with an academic suspension, and although he has only used up three years of his playing eligibility, the senior’s fate rests in the NCAA’s hands.
Due to the injury, struggles on the field and eligibility concerns, the Saints could find a player in Russell that proves to be above the value of his draft slot and provides an instant spark for a pass defense in desperate need of one.
Next: Round 7: Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett
Round 7: Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett
The tight end position has become an integral part of the New Orleans Saints’ prolific passing attack of recent years. And despite the departure of Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham, the trend of tight end production continues to be a mainstay of the offense.
Benjamin Watson has stepped into the starting role after spending the 2013 and 2014 seasons on the Saints’ bench, and has thrived. Watson has hauled in 67 receptions for 761 yards and five touchdowns, with his reception and touchdown totals ranking second on the team behind No. 1 receiver Brandin Cooks.
The problem for the Saints is Watson’s career season is coming when the bruising tight end is 35 years old. And although the 25-year old Josh Hill and 27-year old Michael Hoomanawanui have both provided flashes of promise, neither has done anything to solidify their role as the clearcut starter of the future.
Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett provides New Orleans with an interesting option in the seventh round, in that he does not have extremely high upside, but could be a perfect fit for their offense of the future.
Vannett has pass-catching ability that ranks among the best tight ends in the 2016 NFL Draft class. Unfortunately for 6-foot-6, 260-pound former high school basketball player, he is part of a passing attack that prefers to utilize its wide receivers. Regardless, the athletic tight end has still managed to compile 368 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 19 games over the course of the past two seasons.
Of equal importance, though, Vannett has plenty of experience and success in run blocking for an elite Ohio State rushing attack, something that could prove valuable as the emphasis of the offense continues to shift towards running back Mark Ingram.