TAMPA, Fla. — The Saints win did more than give this team a moral victory and some pride to latch to as their disappointing season came to a close. It also damaged New Orleans’ draft position.
If the Saints had lost, they would have secured the No. 9 pick in the NFL draft. But by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon, before the late games, New Orleans fell back in the draft order to the No. 13 pick. By losing, Tampa Bay secured the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
New Orleans could have moved finished higher in the draft order if the St. Louis Rams had beaten the Seattle Seahawks. It remains possible that there could be movement in the draft order once the final strength of schedule numbers are calculated to break ties.
With the 12th pick of the 2014 draft, the New York Giants selected wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. out of LSU. On the shortlist of rookie of the year candidates, Beckham finished the season with 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. The St. Louis Rams picked Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 13th pick.
Behind Tampa Bay, the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and Washington Redskins will round out the top five. The Atlanta Falcons pick eighth.
New Orleans 2013 draft class did not perform up to expectations this season. First-round pick Brandin Cooks recorded 53 receptions for 550 yards with three touchdowns before landing on injured reserve with a thumb injury in November.
The rest of the class failed to make much of an impact. Second-round cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste could not get on the field at his position. Fourth-round linebacker Khairi Fortt was released, fifth-round safety Vinnie Sunseri contributed primarily on special teams before falling to injury, and sixth-round linebacker Ronald Powell logged three snaps all season.
Seventh-round offensive lineman Tavon Rooks finished the year on the practice squad.
Depending on what the team does in free agency, the Saints biggest needs likely exist at cornerback, pass rusher, and in the interior offensive line.
Prior to the scouting combine and Senior Bowl, Florida State’s duo of cornerbacks, P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, are widely considered to be among the top players at their position entering the draft. Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Michigan State’s Trae Waynes, LSU’s Jalen Collins are also highly regarded.
Some of the highly regarded pass rushers are Southern California’s Leonard Williams, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Clemson’s Vic Beasley, and Missouri’s Shane Ray.
It would take a special talent for the Saints to consider an interior offensive lineman in the first round of the draft.
New Orleans’ 2015 opponents have also been set. It will play home games against Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Dallas, the New York Giants, Jacksonville, Tennessee Titans, and Detroit.
It goes on the road to Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Washington, Houston, Indianapolis, and Arizona.