The future stars of the NFL are almost here. The first round of the 2013 Draft kicks off on April 25, and every team will look to build for both present and future. This is the 15th in a two-a-day, 30-part series that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit.
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2012 record: 7-9
Key offseason acquisitions:
Rob Ryan, defensive coordinator
Keenan Lewis, cornerback
Jason Smith, tackle
Jim Leonhard, safety
Key offseason departures:
Jermon Bushrod, tackle
Sedrick Ellis, defensive tackle
Devery Henderson, wide receiver
Biggest holes in roster: Linebacker, defensive tackle, offensive lineman
There's really no other way of putting it: New Orleans' defense was atrocious in 2012. The Saints gave up the most total yards (7,061), the most rushing yards (2,361) and the second-most passing yards (4,681) in the league last season. They also gave up more yards per play (6.5) than any other team, and their 7.4 yards allowed per pass play and 5.2 per rush were also worst in both categories. It's safe to say that head coach Sean Payton will have his work cut out for him after returning from his year-long suspension.
The Saints' biggest move to fix the defense wasn't signing someone on the field, but someone on the sideline. They inked ex-Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to the same position, replacing Steve Spagnuolo. Ryan brings an attacking 3-4 style that relies on good edge rushers who can get to the quarterback, a role that DeMarcus Ware filled during Ryan's time on the Cowboys.
Jarvis Jones of Georgia could be Ware Lite for the Saints. Though a bit undersized at 6-2 and 245 pounds, Jones was a consensus first-team All-American in 2011 and 2012 after spending his freshman season at USC. He was a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, racking up an incredible 28 sacks in two seasons as a starter, including a school-record 14 1/2 in 2012. (No Saint had more than eight sacks last season.) He also had a school-record 24 1/2 tackles for a loss in 2012. In a nutshell, he was the best defender in the best conference.
So why is Jones slipping to the middle of the first round? Two reasons. Jones missed his entire freshman season at USC with what was diagnosed as spinal stenosis, or a narrow spinal column -- the same condition that forced Cowboys WR Michael Irvin and Chargers lineman Marcus McNeill to call it quits. After transferring to Georgia, an independent orthopedist cleared him to play, saying that it was only a mild spinal-cord concussion. Still, most teams would rather be 100 percent sure of his health before deciding if he'd be worth a first-round pick.
Then there's his pre-draft performance. After skipping the Combine (which raised a few health-related red flags in and of itself), Jones disappointed at his Pro Day, clocking an abysmal 4.92 in the 40. That time would have been second-slowest among participating linebackers at the Combine. So the question looms: which Jones is the real one? Is it the Jones who terrorized offenses at Georgia, or the slow-footed Jones whose health may force him out of the league at some point sooner than later?
If the Saints think it's the latter, they could pass on Jones and pick up Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Richardson is versatile and athletic enough to play inside or drop back into zone coverage. He doesn't have much game film, but his pure athleticism may pique Ryan's interest.