<
>

Saints mailbag: Super-sized NFL Draft edition, Part 1

Thanks for submitting your New Orleans Saints questions to me on Twitter. I decided to pack in a whole bunch of draft-related questions this week (since there won’t be any left next week!) So the answers will be a little more rapid-fire than usual.

Send questions anytime @MikeTriplett. And stay tuned for Part 2 of this week’s mailbag on Sunday.

@MikeTriplett: That's a good question, but I don't have an obvious answer. Last year, I really felt like the Saints would trade up for one of the top receivers because they were such a good fit for one of the team's most glaring needs. But this year, I could see New Orleans drafting any one of six different positions at No. 13 (OLB, DE, DT, CB, WR and G/OT) and any one of nine different positions at 31 (add in ILB, OT and TE). So it's hard to pinpoint any one or two must-have guys.

USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams and Florida outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. might be worthy since they're regarded as the top two defensive prospects in this year's class -- but they might cost too much. Clemson OLB Vic Beasley could come a little cheaper and might be worth it since there are bigger question marks about all of the other top pass rushers. Alabama receiver Amari Cooper and West Virginia WR Kevin White stand out above the other receivers and could be within reach if they start to slip, but there's so much good receiver talent available throughout this draft that I don't know if New Orleans would trade up for one. Michigan State's Trae Waynes is the No. 1 corner and Iowa's Brandon Scherff the No. 1 offensive lineman -- both medium needs.

The Saints definitely have the ammo to move up with nine picks. So if they have an elite grade on any one of those guys above all others, I could see it happening

@MikeTriplett: I wouldn't say "more likely." It's possible since the Saints have the ammo and the aggressive trade history. But still a less than 50-50 bet.

@MikeTriplett: Sure. If they have a "cloud" of five or six guys with equal grades and get a good offer, they'd be willing to move down. We've already seen them stockpiling picks more than usual this year. But I don't think they'll go into this draft planning on either scenario -- it will be based on how the board is shaping up.

@MikeTriplett: The massive Danny Shelton is a definite possibility since he's arguably the best nose tackle in this year's draft class, and the Saints could use an upgrade there. But the Saints had issues throughout their entire D last season, and I don't think nose tackle stood out above the others. I don't pin all of the Saints' run-defense struggles on the interior defensive line. I think their biggest problems came when runs broke free around the edges and the linebackers and defensive backs struggled to track them down in open space.

I actually ranked nose tackle ninth among New Orleans' needs this year since it's a part-time position and the Saints already have two serviceable options in Brodrick Bunkley and John Jenkins. But if Shelton has the highest grade on the board, he could very well be the pick.

@MikeTriplett: I'm not sure that I'd quite word it that way -- that they can "improve the play" of those other positions. But I think the run defense overall would improve greatly if the Saints had linebackers who were more consistent at plugging gaps up the middle and keeping runs from breaking free around the edges. The safeties really got exposed when they had to try and make open-field tackles against runners in the second level of the defense (the DeMarco Murray nightmare, etc.). That's when Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro really looked bad early last season, missing tackles in the open field. But they also shouldn't be required to make those types of tackles as much as they had to last year.

@MikeTriplett: Definitely. But keep in mind, they might not throw the whole playbook at a rookie. For instance, if they draft one of the top pass rushers, they might start out by using them in a situational role on passing downs. Or they might use a corner solely on the outside or in the slot in nickel packages, based on skill set.

Then again, Ryan used Vaccaro in about a half-dozen positions as a rookie two years ago, and he thrived in that role. So it depends on the player.