New Orleans signed Nick Fairley, but he’s a boom-or-bust vet on a one-year deal, and nose tackle John Jenkins is also entering the final year of his rookie contract. Beyond the expiring contracts, the Saints desperately need somebody who can provide a consistent pass rush from the interior. In the Saints’ 4-3, that means a freakishly quick big man in the Aaron Donald mold who can get off the ball and get in the QB’s face, collapsing the pocket and eliminating escape routes that opposing passers often exploited for big plays last season.
The Saints’ revamped linebacking corps needs somebody fast and athletic enough to run with receivers out in space. New Orleans gave up the most receiving yards to running backs and tight ends in the league last season, and although Dannell Ellerbe flashed at times, his chronic injury issues and age make him a short-term proposition. A new wave of fast, undersized linebackers form the meat of this class; the Saints need a player who could make a difference in the passing game, like Tampa Bay’s LaVonte David and Carolina’s Thomas Davis, for years to come.
The end of the Jahri Evans era left a gaping legacy on the right side of the line. New Orleans brought back Tim Lelito on a one-year tender and re-signed versatile backup Senio Kelemete, but the Saints could use a difference-maker next to Max Unger inside, particularly to pave the way for a running game that ranked just 25th in the NFL in yards per carry last season. With Andrus Peat expected to battle Zach Strief for the starting job at right tackle, the Saints would like to add another potential starter to the competition inside.
Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd are entrenched as the starters, but the loss of Rafael Bush in free agency left a void at the all-important third safety slot that could factor into Dennis Allen’s sub-packages or step in at a moment’s notice if something happens to Byrd and Vaccaro. From a future perspective, the Saints might also want to find an understudy and possible successor to Byrd, whose knee injury in his first season with the Saints has prevented him from making the kind of impact required by the big-money contract he signed in free agency.
The Saints have a history of finding productive pass-catchers for Drew Brees in unlikely places. But that doesn’t mean New Orleans has no need for another receiver. Beyond Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman, the Saints don’t have another player who has been active for an NFL game. With the end of Marques Colston’s time here, the Saints could go two ways with a receiver: either finding another big-bodied slot receiver like Colston or a Devery Henderson type who can stretch the field and take the top off of a secondary.
New Orleans has a Pro Bowler at defensive end in Cameron Jordan, but the rest of the situation is tricky. If the Saints have moved Hau’oli Kikaha and Davis Tull to the Jack position, New Orleans might already have a young, talented group of prospects at the end position. Add Kasim Edebali and Obum Gwacham to the mix, and the Saints would have four young, up-and-coming pass rushers, which could allow Bobby Richardson to move inside. On the other hand, premium pass rushers are hard to find, and if New Orleans thinks there’s one available, the Saints have to take him.