With the NFL combine beginning this week, New Orleans Saints fans have turned their attention to scouting reports and draft scuttle.
Here are 10 big questions posed to The Advocate's Joel A. Erickson by readers in a recent live chat.
Top three draft needs?
Erickson: 1. Weak-side linebacker; 2. Defensive tackle; 3. Guard.
What order 1-6 do you rank needs? Weak-side linebacker, defensive tackle, guard, defensive end, wide receiver and defensive back?
Erickson: I like the first four in that sequence, Robert, as you can see below. After WLB, DT, G, and DE, though, I'd probably slot in tight end there instead of wide receiver. I know it's not a popular opinion, but I think the Saints are actually in really good position at wide receiver with the complement of younger guys they have right now. Cooks and Snead are a good tandem, and I think Brandon Coleman can handle Marques Colston's role.
Do you think New Orleans will trade its first pick to move up or down?
Erickson: If they really want to get one of the consensus two top linebackers, UCLA's Myles Jack or Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith -- both of whom have incredible coverage skills -- they might need to move up. That being said, to move up, you usually have to give up picks, and I think this is a Saints team that absolutely needs to stockpile and make as many picks as possible.
Will the Saints draft an LSU player this year?
Erickson: It's not as big of an LSU draft class as we've seen in recent years, which limits the possibilities, but there is a potential match of need and LSU talent for the Saints. Vadal Alexander's a guy who could play guard, one need for the Saints, and if New Orleans misses out on the top coverage linebackers, Deion Jones really impressed at the Senior Bowl. Now, as to the policy of drafting LSU players in general: I'm not big on it. A team has to make picks based on the player, not the college represented. I realize a lot of LSU players have had great careers, but there have been some busts, too, and the Saints have to trust their evaluations.
At the combine, whom do you think are a couple players the Saints will have their eyes on?
Erickson: I think they'll want to see how Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith are coming along as they recover from injuries. New Orleans probably also has a long list of defensive tackles and guards to keep an eye on there, too.
Outside of Jack and Smith what other lb could the saint's draft for weak side?
Erickson: I really like this question, because both of those guys are highly-regarded and might be gone by the time the Saints pick. Ohio State's Darron Lee is a highly athletic player who's being mentioned around the 12th pick now, LSU's Deion Jones is another one who can cover, and Florida's Antonio Morrison had some good moments in coverage at the Senior Bowl. Another player who is very athletic and moved well at the Senior Bowl, Oklahoma's Eric Striker, looks the part, but he wants to be a pass rusher and might be too headstrong about his position.
How do you think the Saints will restructure Drew Brees' deal? Or won't they?
Erickson: I think the most likely thing that will happen is the Saints sign Brees to an extension that lessens his cap hit in 2016, frees up a lot more money and keeps him around until he's at least 40. Brees has been remarkably free of major injury since the shoulder reconstruction that brought him to New Orleans, and we saw last year that he's still playing at a high level.
Do you see Brees having a 3 year? Or will it be longer more, based on the possiblilty of having the heir apparent for now or in the near future?
Erickson: Excellent question. I think extending him until he's 40 or 41 makes the most sense. He's playing well, but that's still old for any NFL player, and you don't want to lock yourself in too long. I don't think the heir apparent question matters at this point for the Saints. Even with Grayson in the fold, I don't think New Orleans knows one way or the other if they have a true heir apparent ready now, so they're planning to roll with Brees until they see some sort of decline.
Do you think the Saints will cut anymore players?
Erickson: I think that's a possibility. Marques Colston's $5.9 million cap charge is too much for the production he gave last year, and the Saints could decide to move on from Zach Strief, although I think I'd rather have Strief around as an insurance policy. Unlike last year, though, it seems like a lot of the Saints' cost-cutting moves have already happened, so most of that work is already done.
Last draft question...One area that has really been rough the last few years has been consistent kicking. Do you see the saints drafting one in the later rounds?
Erickson: Roberto Aguayo is the guy out of Florida State, and he's incredible. One of the most accurate kickers in the history of college football. I actually like the idea of taking a kicker late myself; New Orleans was 31st in the league in field-goal percentage last year, and 69.2 percent just doesn't cut it. It also forces the Saints to make tough decisions on drives that could end in an automatic 3.