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2014 NFL Draft primer: New Orleans Saints

Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. Photo Credit: AP

This is the latest in our NFL Draft two-a-days that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit. The draft begins Thursday.


2013 record: 11-5

Key offseason acquisitions: FS Jairus Byrd, CB Champ Bailey.

Key offseason departures: WR Lance Moore, FS Malcolm Jenkins, SS Roman Harper, C Brian De La Puente, CB Jabari Greer.

Biggest holes: Edge rusher, cornerback, center.

When people think of the Saints, they think of Drew Brees and Sean Payton's high-flying offense. But their defense quietly became one of the NFL's strongest in 2013.

New Orleans had the league's second-best pass defense in 2013 (194.1 yards per game) and their 49 sacks were fourth in the NFL. The unit is in pretty good shape, too. There aren't too many glaring holes that need to be filled. Still, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan always could use some new toys, so look for the Saints to add even more playmakers on defense as they keep building for the future.

Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier would be a nice addition if he falls to here. Shazier reportedly ran an unofficial 4.36 40-yard dash at the Combine, and his 42-inch vertical at the Combine was the highest of any player in attendance at any position. He uses that athleticism to go from sideline to sideline and close in on the ballcarrier no matter where he may be. He's a solid tackler (317 total tackles in three seasons, including 45 1/2 for loss) and has good coverage ability. Ryan would have quite a bit of fun creating gameplans around Shazier's every-down talent.

Demarcus Lawrence has risen up draft boards and also could be a fit here. The 6-3, 251-pound Boise State product has good speed and acceleration off the edge and uses his disruptive hands to get off blockers. However, he's a "tweener" who's not big enough to play defensive end yet lacks the coverage skills to be a full-time linebacker. He could make his name as a pass-rushing specialist in Ryan's 3-4 defense until he either bulks up or learns coverage skills. He also faced three one-game suspensions in college, so his character may need some further investigation.

It's a possibility that Auburn's Dee Ford will be available here. If he manages to get by the Bengals one pick earlier, the Saints would have to consider him. Ford has an incredibly explosive first step and uses his speed to bend the edge. He's not terribly strong, however, and he's similar to Lawrence in that he's more of a hybrid end/outside linebacker. But, like Lawrence, he can come in and contribute immediately as a pass-rushing specialist.

The Saints also could start planning for the future at cornerback. Keenan Lewis had a good debut with the Saints in 2013, nabbing four interceptions and forcing a fumble. New Orleans signed future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey to play across from Lewis, but the soon-to-be 36-year-old is just a stop-gap option at this point. The Saints could take a cornerback in the first round and let him learn under Bailey.

At this stage of the draft, there are likely only going to be two options available: Ohio State's Bradley Roby and TCU's Jason Verrett, provided they're still on the board at this stage. Both Roby and Verrett are very athletic, tough cornerbacks with good ball skills. Roby isn't quite as instinctive as Verrett and will lose focus at times, while Verrett is undersized at 5-9 and 189 pounds. Either one can play in the slot as a rookie and move to the outside once Bailey hangs it up.

Possible Day 2/Day 3 options include Georgia Tech DE/OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Louisville DE Marcus Smith, Florida State OLB Telvin Smith, Florida State CB/S Lamarcus Joyner, Utah CB Keith McGill, Colorado State C Weston Richburg, USC C Marcus Martin and Arkansas C Travis Swanson.

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