The 2016 season for the New Orleans Saints was a familiar tune to seasons’ past. The Saints had a high-powered offense, led by ageless quarterback Drew Brees. The team’s defense again struggled, finishing 31st in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed per game. The result was a third consecutive 7-9 finish.
The Saints made some moves to help their defense. First, they smartly re-signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Later, the Saints signed free agents defensive end Alex Okafor and linebacker A.J. Klein. That’s a good start for New Orleans.
Now, it’s time for the Saints to turn to the draft and reinforce their free-agent moves. The Saints have four picks in the first two days of the draft, including the 11th and the 32nd pick they got from the New England Patriots after trading receiver Brandin Cooks.
Here are five early-round fits for the Saints.
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
The Saints have a solid pass rusher in Cameron Jordan. They need someone else who is going to come off the edge and give the quarterbacks and tackles in the NFC South something to worry about.
Enter Derek Barnett from Tennessee.
Barnett had double-digit sack totals his three years with the Vols and broke Reggie White’s career school record for sacks. Barnett also had 52 tackles for losses. While critics say Barnett is not the most athletic, he has a high motor that drives him non-stop. That is what the Saints will need, a relentless end that constantly attacks.
DE Taco Charlton, Michigan
If Barnett has already been taken, then the Saints may look at another defensive end with that first pick. This defensive end’s college career started slow but finished strong.
Taco Charlton played out of position in the 3-4 but last season, the school switched to a 4-3 and Charlton excelled. He had 9.5 sacks and earned First-Team Big 12 honors. He improved each season and if the Saints pick him, Charlton could be used as a situational pass rusher until he gets comfortable with the NFL game.
CB Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson
Did we mention how bad the Saints were on defense? The pass defense wasn’t an exception. Only four teams had less than the eight interceptions the Saints had in 2016. Thus, with its second pick in the first round, the Saints could look at Cordrea Tankersley for help.
He had eight interceptions in his two years as a starter with the Clemson Tigers. Last season, he had 4 picks and 11 pass breakups. This is the kind of playmaker the Saints need in the secondary. He’s 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds and is adept at playing man or zone.
QB Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech
The Saints eventually have to find a replacement for Brees, right? Patrick Mahomes II could be the guy. A two-year starter in the pass-happy Texas Tech Red Raiders’ offense, Mahomes threw for more than 5,000 yards in both of his seasons. He is also athletic, having been drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 37
He is also athletic, having been drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 37th round of the 2014 MLB Draft. By taking him with their second first-round pick, the Saints wouldn’t have to rush him to play, and he could learn from one of the league’s best.
RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
Despite having some good offensive numbers, the Saints still need some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Joe Mixon from Oklahoma would be a good second-day pick for the Saints.
Yes, there would be some controversy with this pick. Mixon is the kid who punched a young lady, and it was on video. The Sooners suspended him from the team for a year but that incident happened when he was a freshman in 2014.
Last season, Mixon started five games but finished second to Christian McCaffrey in all-purpose yards. A good runner, Mixon also has good pass-catching ability. That would make him extremely dangerous with Brees throwing to him.