INDIANAPOLIS — Two years ago. Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints had seven draft picks and came away with perhaps the greatest draft class in franchise history.
The Saints have only six picks this time around.
The first of those picks doesn't come until late in the second round at No. 62.
The draft order is set.
But that doesn't mean Payton, scouting director Jeff Ireland and general manager Mickey Loomis have been scaling back any on this year's trip to Indianapolis for the NFL combine.
"You don't approach it any differently," Payton said on Friday. "You're grading everything because it's very easy to acquire an asset. Someone may say, ‘Well you don't have a first-round pick.’ Well, right now we don't, but if we wanted one we could probably get one. So you have to be on top of how you see the players and how you see the value."
Payton wasn't implying that the Saints plan to make a trade for a first-round pick, but was just showing how he and the scouting department aren't evaluating this year's draft class any differently. In addition to the second round pick, the Saints have one pick in the fifth round, two in the sixth round and two in the seventh round.
"We would only move forward or backward relative to a certain player, like we've done before," Payton said. "Right now we are preparing with the picks we have and planning that way."
Payton says the team's biggest needs are adding depth on both the offensive and defensive lines. The d-line became even more important after Sheldon Rankins tore his Achilles in the playoffs. And with Ben Watson retiring, the team will also be looking closely in either the draft or free agency for a tight end.
A total of 337 players will make their way to Indianapolis for the NFL combine, which begins Tuesday and concludes March 4.
"There will be a few positions," Payton said. "The mistake when you're picking in the second or fourth or fifth round, we need to have a decision based on the best player. Now that doesn't mean you can't target and move a little for a player, but line depth, defensive line depth certainly and tight end would be a position that's a starting point."
In addition to those needs, Payton also has to have a contingency plan in case the team loses key players in free agency. Because of that, the team can't overlook a running back in case Mark Ingram signs elsewhere, or a quarterback in case Teddy Bridgewater leaves.
"You have to be able to take those free agents on your list and move them over to the right and pretend they aren't there and then address those needs," Payton said.
The Saints are one of five teams with six picks.
Only the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears have fewer. The Seahawks have only four, the fewest in the league.
“It’s a challenge,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said on Wednesday. “We try to fix our team all throughout the year. It isn’t like the draft is the only avenue that we build our team. We’re constantly working the waiver wire, practice squads, with the trade deadline. ... It's a challenge, but it's exciting."
INDIANAPOLIS - The last offensive lineman from the Southwestern Athletic Conference to attend the NFL Combine was Saints left tackle Terron Armstead.
Now the Saints get to face that challenge.
"The key is identifying players that fit what we are trying to do and there is a clear vision for and I think last season we were able to do that," Payton said.
The NFL Combine list was released on Thursday.
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