Saints continue to build roster heading into 2023 NFL draft – New Orleans Saints Blog


NEW ORLEANS, La. – The New Orleans Saints are close to completing their offseason checklist. But with the 2023 NFL draft just a few weeks away, they still have a few big tasks to complete.

“I think we’ve made some nice moves in free agency,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said at the annual league meeting in March. “You’re always looking to see where you can continue to try to fill out your roster, but we feel good about where we’re at right now.”

Some may consider the offseason a success with the addition of quarterback Derek Carr, with the added bonus of re-working wide receiver Michael Thomas‘ contract to keep him in New Orleans.

The team needed a boost on offense with their numbers in freefall for the past two seasons. They ranked third in scoring offense in 2019 (28.6 points per game), with quarterback Drew Brees and Thomas being a major factor in that success.

Those numbers plummeted to 19th in 2021 (21.4 points per game) and 22nd last season (19.4 points per game) after Brees retired and Thomas playing only three games in two seasons because of injury.

This upcoming season the Saints are banking on the connection between Carr and a potentially healthy Thomas to return the offense to what it once was.

Adding running back Jamaal Williams, who rushed for a league-leading 17 touchdowns in Detroit last year, will also certainly be a contributing factor to their offense.

ESPN draft experts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid recently broke down some of the top needs remaining for the Saints, noting that wide receiver and defensive line still could be improved.

Here’s what they might be looking for and why:

RUSHERS (INSIDE, OUTSIDE). The Saints need someone who can put some pressure on the quarterback.

With defensive tackles David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle (seven combined sacks in 2022) gone, the Saints filled their spots with free agency acquisitions Khalen Saunders (3.5 sacks for the Kansas City Chiefs) and Nathan Shepherd (1.5 sacks for the New York Jets).

It’s notable that Allen mentioned run stopping ability when discussing them on the defensive line.

“Khalen Sanders reminds me a lot of Hollis Thomas, kind of a big square body, athletic, can move, good run stopper but yet has some pass rush ability, sneaky pass rush ability, the ability to push the pocket inside,” Allen said. “So I think he’s going to help us in that regard. Maybe slightly more athletic than what we saw with Shy.

“I really think Nathan Shepherd is a similar player to David [Onyemata], big physical run stopper, another guy that probably doesn’t give enough credit in terms of his ability to rush the passer. I think that’s still an area he can improve on, and yet I think there’s something there that hasn’t been tapped into yet.”

Some of the Saints’ success on the outside has come with an inside rusher to compliment the the edge rushers. Defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson combined for 21 sacks in 2020, the same year Onyemata had a career-high 6.5 himself. Former Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was also a good compliment to Jordan, and the two combined for 20 sacks in 2018.

But there still remains some uncertainty on the outside. With Marcus Davenport gone after finishing with 0.5 sacks in 2022, the Saints must rely on the 33-year-old Jordan to help siphon out the untapped potential in 2021 first-round pick Payton Turner, who has three career sacks.

Carl Granderson, who had 5.5 sacks last season, has promise going into his fifth season in New Orleans, but it’s unclear if he’s the answer as a full-time starter.

THERE’S NO QUESTION about Thomas’ talent, but his availability is a concern with only 10 games played between 2020 to 2022.

Allen also said Thomas is not yet 100% after having surgery on his toe last fall, although he seemed optimistic about his future.

“I expect him to be fully healthy and ready to go,” Allen said. “When that point and time is, I don’t want to get into those speculations, but yeah, we feel good about where he’s at.”

But the Saints can’t bank everything on Thomas staying healthy. There is potential in Rashid Shaheed and also 2022 first-round pick Chris Olave, who had 1,042 receiving yards in his rookie season.

But it would make sense for the Saints to continue to try to add to their receiving group. The question is whether they look for a pure receiver or a pass-catching tight end.

The Saints haven’t had a superstar tight end since Jimmy Graham, but they traded him to the Seattle Seahawks after the 2014 season. Their tight end room is: converted quarterback Taysom Hill, converted receiver Juwan Johnson and 2020 third-round pick Adam Trautman. Although the Saints re-signed Johnson, who had seven touchdowns last season, Trautman is entering a contract year, making it possible they try to upgrade.

The Saints are clearly on the hunt for a tight end after they brought in free agent Foster Moreau (12 career touchdowns for the Las Vegas Raiders) for a visit. Moreau ultimately did not sign after a physical conducted by the Saints medical staff revealed that he has Hodgkin Lymphoma and will need to step away from football for treatment.

THERE MIGHT NOT be a lot of buzz for a high draft pick on a guard, but the Saints might need to start looking for their left guard of the future.

New Orleans was able to keep veteran guard Andrus Peat in the fold after he took a pay cut to return in 2023, but his contract will void next year. The 29-year-old, who was drafted in the 2015 first round as a tackle prospect, has struggled with injuries and hasn’t played more than 13 games since the 2017 season.

The Saints have spent a lot of early picks on linemen in recent years, drafting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk in the first round of the 2017 draft, right guard Cesar Ruiz in the first round of the 2020 draft and left tackle Trevor Penning in the first round in the most recent draft. New Orleans did not have a first-rounder in 2019 but took center Erik McCoy with its first pick at No. 48.

Peat’s eventual replacement might not come on Day 1 this year, but the Saints will likely be keeping their eye out for their next long-term lineman prospect.

Source : ESPN