ESPN's NFL scouting Insider Matt Williamson kept a close eye on the New Orleans Saints this year, joining several of our in-game chats with his thoughts on the team. So I reached out to the former Cleveland Browns scout this week to assess the Saints and their needs going forward.
Click here for Williamson's thoughts on the offense. Here are his thoughts on the defense:
Opening thoughts: "Love their defensive line. Deep, young. Even (veteran nose tackle Brodrick) Bunkley, I think, is a good player. I think (nose tackle John) Jenkins has a bright future. (End Cameron) Jordan's a stud. And I think (end Akiem) Hicks is really good, too, and only getting better. … Everything I have to say about the D-line is positive -- which is best. If you're building a defense, if you have a defensive line, all the other problems go away. And they're well-coached."
On whether he would lump in outside linebacker/end Junior Galette with that group: "Yeah, and I think you have to lump (outside linebacker) Victor Butler in there, too. You know, Saints fans don't know anything about him yet, but I thought that was one of the best free agent signings of the year one year ago. And Galette, I've been praising him for a while, too, because I think he's always been miscast in a pure 4-3. I think this new defense was great for him. I mean, if you look at these mock drafts and things, a lot of people have the Saints taking an edge/outside linebacker-type guy, and I think that's sort of low on their priority list if it was up to me."
On the importance of an athletic young linebacker: "I think (inside linebackers Curtis) Lofton and (David) Hawthorne both have seen better days. I'd love to see a real rangy guy there. Somebody that can really run behind the line of scrimmage, in the Dome, behind that defensive line. A coverage linebacker. You know -- (Tampa Bay's Lavonte) David. Guys like that. I think they need to get younger and faster there. ...(Jonathan) Vilma's a free agent, I wouldn't bring him back. (Free agent linebacker Parys) Haralson, ideally I would want Haralson to be Galette and Butler's backup, for like a million a year. I mean, I'm not giving him a lot of money. He's done some good things, but I'm thinking more of a pure second-level, Thomas Davis type. A guy that plays off the line of scrimmage every down, can cover tight ends and running backs, can really run, young."
On the need to add secondary depth: "I guess corner probably is their No. 1 priority. Maybe safety, because (Roman) Harper's gonna be gone, and I don't think I'd bring (Malcolm) Jenkins back. But you have a star in (Kenny) Vaccaro -- though he's not healthy right now, either. So I think they need two secondary starters. And maybe one of those is a free agent. ...(They're set with No. 1 cornerback Keenan) Lewis. I think (cornerback Patrick) Robinson is a bust. I think (cornerback Jabari) Greer is a good player but probably has played his best football -- undoubtedly has played his best football. So is he somebody you move on from and use that money somewhere else? There's a lot of corners in this free agency class, too. A lot of 'em are gonna be pricey, (New England's Aqib) Talib and those guys. But there's a lot of corners. Maybe they could steal Captain Munnerlyn off Carolina."
More on Vaccaro: "Love him. I mean, I think he is a do-it-all, eight-or-10-Pro Bowl type of player. We're just beginning to see the best out of him. He was a rookie and played like it at times, there were some inconsistencies. But I think he'll be a star and as valuable as anyone on that defense. … I think it's his versatility that really makes him special, because how many safeties his size can cover a slot receiver, can cover Wes Welker? Hardly any. Usually those guys are in-the-box guys that struggle against athletic tight ends, let alone slot receivers. I think he can be a deep middle player, I think he can be a Cover 2 guy, I think you can do (Pittsburgh's Troy) Polamalu-type things with him and move him. I think we'll see a lot more of that as he gets more comfortable, putting him all over the formation. I think he'll be the guy that when the quarterback breaks the huddle, (he thinks) ‘Where's Vaccaro?' You know, blitz him more, all of the above. I think his versatility is pretty rare."
On Malcolm Jenkins' value as a free agent: "I wouldn't pay much for him. I think his name value is probably better -- and he probably will get more than he should by somebody. I don't think he's a difference-maker. I think he's an average starter that if he would have been a fifth-round pick out of Northwestern, people would be happy with him. But now he's a first-round pick that came into the league with a lot of expectations, and I don't think he's ever lived up to that. I've always felt like he's a little bit of 'tweener, too. He spent a lot of time at corner in college. He hits, but he's not an in-the-box player. I don't think he's real natural as a deep center fielder. But he's not loose enough in the hips and a good enough cover guy to consistently play corner. You know, some of those guys work out well when they have the right blend. But then there's guys like him and Antrel Rolle that are really neither. But they do like to use a lot of safeties. They play a lot of defense with three safeties on the field, that if you lose Harper and Jenkins, that's a pretty big need."
On whether Harper could return at a minimal contract: "Yeah. He's a liability (in deep coverage), but if you use him more like a linebacker, he'd be a good cover linebacker. If you view him through those eyes, then he's a pretty good coverage linebacker. And he's a good blitzer."
On young backup cornerback Corey White and safety Rafael Bush: "I can't say I know enough about either to really dig in and give you a scouting report. But they're young, they were out there too soon. Does that mean they'll never be useful? No. This could be a baptism by fire. And (White) may have taken a step forward to be your third corner. But I don't think either is ever gonna be who you want starting."