NFL Nation: Chris 'Beanie' Wells

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

All those pre-draft reports about the Saints wanting to take Malcolm Jenkins in the first round were true. So were the reports about them wanting to take Chris "Beanie" Wells.

In his news conference after the first round, New Orleans coach Sean Payton admitted the Saints tried to get both players. This much is certain: The Saints wanted Jenkins at No. 14 all along.

"We weren't really interested once Malcolm was available of moving that pick at all,'' Payton said. "We felt that way going in. You try to have your list of players available at 14 and he was our first choice. We weren't going to entertain any offers -- not that there were any at that time.''

But Payton admitted there might have been offers made by the Saints after that. With Wells sliding further than many expected, Payton admitted the Saints had discussions with the Patriots, who held the 23rd pick. Payton admitted the price tag would have been giving up next year's first-round pick.

"Yes, it would have to be,'' Payton said. "In order to get into the first round, you'd have to be dealing with -- if you look historically that got into the first round it takes a little bit and for us it would have had to have included a pick next year. It's somewhat complicated because as each pick goes on it possibly changes a little bit, but I think those reports are accurate."

Wells ended up being drafted No. 31 by Arizona.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

  Jenkins

Now that the Saints have Malcolm Jenkins, all they have to do is figure out where to play him.

Is he a cornerback or is he a safety?

That can be sorted out in the coming weeks, but the important thing is the Saints did the right thing by adding a defensive back. I'm sure coach Sean Payton had to be tempted to go with offense (Chris "Beanie'' Wells perhaps?) at No. 14. But Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis did what they had to do -- sticking to their offseason overhaul of the defense.

Barring an unlikely trade, the Saints are done until the fourth round. That's fine because they filled their biggest need. They got a guy who can come in as a corner or safety and help this defense right away. With Jenkins joining Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper, the Saints finally may have solved their problems in the secondary. At the very least, they've got way more talent than they've had in years.

They can get their short-yardage runner Sunday.

 
  US PRESSWIRE
  How will NFC South defensive backs fare against the bevy of tight ends including Tony Gozalez, Kellen Winslow and Jeremy Shockey?

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

With the NFC South suddenly becoming a hub for tight ends, a very big question rises.

Who's going to cover all these guys?

Presumably, the outside linebackers and safeties. Does the NFC South have enough talent at those positions to keep up with Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow and Jeremy Shockey? We'll find out in the fall, but I'm thinking linebackers and safeties could have a lot more value in the NFC South in this weekend's draft.

Think about it a bit.

Let's say you're the Saints and you're sitting there at No. 14. There's been lots of talk about taking running back Chris "Beanie'' Wells, defensive back Malcolm Jenkins or maybe even a defensive tackle. But, after Thursday's trade of Gonzalez to Atlanta, you're suddenly faced with the prospect of facing him and Winslow in four games.

You've got experience at outside linebacker in Dan Morgan, Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle, but do any of those guys have the legs to run with Gonzalez or Winslow? If you're the Saints, you suddenly might want to slide Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, the two USC linebackers who could be available when you pick, up a few spots on your draft board.

Same story for the Bucs, who are sitting at No. 19. They've already overhauled their linebacker corps by signing Angelo Crowell and moving safety Jermaine Phillips to weak-side linebacker. But the thought of facing Shockey and Gonzalez on a regular basis might make it difficult to pass on Matthews or Cushing. For that matter, the Bucs would have to think hard about Jenkins, if he's available.

Part of the reason for moving Phillips to linebacker was a desire to get Sabby Piscitelli into the starting lineup at strong safety. But is Piscitelli ready to line up against Shockey and Gonzalez?

The Falcons, who hold the No. 24 pick, have needs at defensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback. But they might have to put more emphasis on their needs at safety because of changing landscape of tight ends in the NFC South. Matthews, Cushing and Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas might have jumped up Atlanta's board in recent days.

Carolina doesn't pick until the second round (No. 59 overall) and the Panthers are in good shape at outside linebacker. They've got some big needs on the defensive line, but they might not be able to sit still at safety in the second or third round. Strong safety Chris Harris isn't known for his coverage skills and second-year pro Charles Godfrey still is trying to grow into the free safety job.

How NFC South defenses try to counter the upgrades at tight end is one story line to follow throughout the draft. Here are four more NFC South story lines to follow.

What happens with Julius Peppers? This situation has been simmering in Carolina for months and it could be ready to boil over. Peppers has said he wants out of Carolina and the Panthers have said they want him back.

But Peppers has strapped Carolina's cap situation with his $17 million franchise tag. If some other team steps forward with a deal that includes a first-round pick, the Panthers almost have to take it. The alternative is to hang on to Peppers at his current price and the Panthers are ready to do that.

In that situation, the common assumption is that Peppers has no choice but to put in another season with the Panthers. But don't assume anything with Peppers. This thing has never been about money and Peppers is a very unique individual. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he would hold out and pass on the $17 million.

Will Sean Payton be able to keep his hands off the offense? That's not going to be easy for the New Orleans coach. Payton's background and passion is on the offensive side, but his future is on the defensive side. As tempting as it may be to draft Wells to give the Saints a power back, Payton may have to go outside his comfort zone.

The defense is the reason the Saints haven't made the playoffs the last two seasons. They've spent the offseason overhauling the defense. Now, it's time to finish the job. Payton has switched defensive coordinators and that pulls away a layer of insulation on his own job security. If defense keeps this team out of the playoffs again, it might be Payton's turn to take the fall.

Are the Bucs really content with their quarterback situation? Kansas State's Josh Freeman is at least a consideration in the first round. But Tampa Bay has so many other needs that it might not make a lot of sense to take a quarterback who might not be ready to play right away.

The Bucs signed Byron Leftwich and he certainly is a candidate to start. But think back to one of the first moves coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik made when they took over. They re-signed Luke McCown and paid him pretty good money. There was a reason for that. Morris and Dominik want McCown to be their starter.

Can Atlanta rebuild its defense in one draft? That's pretty much what the Falcons have to do after parting ways with Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy, Grady Jackson, Domonique Foxworth and Michael Boley. The Gonzalez move means that the Falcons will focus almost their entire draft on defense, except for possibly adding a little depth on the offensive line.

Atlanta's only addition on defense was adding linebacker Mike Peterson. There's some good, young talent in place with defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and cornerback Chris Houston.

But the Falcons need some more young talent on this defense. They need to walk out of this draft with at least two defensive starters.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Team needs: Safety, inside linebacker, defensive end, right tackle

 
  Tim Larson/Icon SMI
  San Diego could consider LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson if he is available at No. 16.

Dream scenario: San Diego is working from a position of strength. Yes, the Chargers have needs, but they won't be pigeonholed into selecting any one position. Because San Diego doesn't have a second-round pick, it could potentially trade down from the No. 16 spot down 5-7 picks (maybe to take advantage of a team trying to catch a falling star such as a quarterback) to pick up a second-round pick and still be able to find a player who could help right away. Expect the Chargers to seriously consider USC linebacker Rey Maualuga and LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson if they are on the board. If Alabama tackle Andre Smith, who is slipping down the board, tumbles all the way to No. 16, San Diego could take him and move him to right tackle, giving it a nasty offensive line.

Plan B: If there are no trade options available and Maualuga, Jackson and Smith are all off the board, the Chargers will still have plenty of options because of no pressing needs. They could look at Ohio State inside linebacker James Laurinaitis to solidify the linebacking crew. There is also some thought that the Chargers could pull the trigger on a running back, even though they have nearly $13 million in 2009 salary tied up in LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. The team is visiting with both Knowshon Moreno of Georgia and Chris "Beanie" Wells of Ohio State prior to the draft. The Chargers are clearly looking at their post-Tomlinson life, but seeing them draft a running back would be a surprise because of the lack of an immediate need. Still, whatever San Diego does, it should be able to help itself.

PollCenter: On the Clock
What is the San Diego Chargers' biggest positional need? VOTE

Scouts Inc. take: "I believe San Diego's biggest need is strong safety, but there is no one available who'll be worth taking at No. 16. The Chargers may address that need later in the draft. Some people say they may no longer need an inside linebacker after signing Kevin Burnett from Dallas. But I think it would be hard for them to pass up Rey Maualuga if he was there. Maualuga is a great two-down player and Burnett is a very good coverage linebacker who can help on third down. I think that would be a good combination there." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: A.J. Smith enters his seventh draft as the Chargers' general manager.

Now On the Clock: Houston Texans, April 1.

Previous On the Clock: New York Jets. The team-by-team series.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

At the NFL owners' meeting a couple days ago, New Orleans coach Sean Payton ran down his list of needs in the upcoming draft. If you know anything about Payton or the Saints, his first priority might surprise you.

Payton's perfect pick wasn't another piece for a defense that's been rebuilding all offseason. And it sure wasn't another weapon for a passing game that helped Drew Brees throw for more than 5,000 yards last season.

"I'd have running back, a powerful runner, ahead of the other two,'' Payton said when asked how he'd rank draft needs at cornerback, wide receiver and running back.

 
  Kirby Lee/US Presswire
  Sean Payton wants a running back like Ohio State's Chris Wells to move the pile next year.
Yes, the man who made Deuce McAllister stand on the sidelines while the Saints threw the heck out of the ball all last season, now wants a power runner. Payton, who never has met a pass play he wouldn't call on third-and-inches, is calling a draw play right up the gut.

A change in style? Not really. The Saints still are going to pass a lot, but Payton has come to the realization he has to move the pile at times if he's going to have a chance in the NFC South.

What previously has been referred to as the "NASCAR Division” might have to change to the "Snow Plow Division.''

About the same time as Payton was saying Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie'' Wells is a possibility with the No. 14 pick in the draft, Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris was sitting a few tables away singing a similar song.

"If I walk around here going, "Oh God, look at the Saints,'' I'm in trouble already,'' Morris said. "It's about us becoming who we want to become, more physical, more violent, because the more violent team always wins. Ask (Super Bowl champion) Pittsburgh. We're in the best division in football -– who are we kidding?''

The best division in football? You might get some arguments there. But Morris and Payton are shooting to make the NFC South the toughest, most physical division in the league and that's why both coaches are making noise about the power-running game.

That's understandable because a simple look at last year's standings tells a pretty simple story. The Saints and Bucs weren't able to run the ball consistently. Neither made the playoffs. The Panthers and Falcons ran it like crazy. Both made the playoffs.

That's why two of Morris' first moves after taking over for Jon Gruden were hiring offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and signing running back Derrick Ward. Jagodzinski's known as the kind of play caller who likes to pound away on the ground. Ward's the kind of big, physical runner that fits perfectly in his system.

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