NFL Draft 2017 preview: New Orleans Saints' top needs, pick predictions

By Frank Cooney,
NFL Draft 2017 preview: New Orleans Saints' top needs, pick predictions
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterbacks Drew Brees (9) and Luke McCown (7) during action against the Los Angeles Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans November 27, 2016. File photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | License Photo

This is one in a series that covers each team, offering viewers information for homework, suggestions and then the opportunity to make a draft pick.


When the NFL Draft begins selections in Philadelphia April 27, the New Orleans Saints have the No. 11 and No. 32 picks in the first round.

Here is an in-depth look at the team's needs, offseason changes, potential best fit and the selections by's experts.

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1. Defensive end: The Saints, who had just 30 sacks last season, re-signed Darryl Tapp and brought in Alex Okafor, but may still want to add a young, speedy pass rusher to pair with steady two-time Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan.

2. Cornerback: If the Saints cannot swing a deal to acquire a veteran corner before the draft, they're likely to go for one with the 11th or 32nd pick. They could also wait until the second round to pluck one from a deep talent pool.


3. Running back: With Mark Ingram having another good season, the Saints feel somewhat better about this position. Yet, they need a second one to replace Tim Hightower and spell Ingram, who has had injury problems in the past.

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4. Quarterback: While Drew Brees has shown no signs of slowing down, he's 38 and is entering the final year of his contract. The Saints could very well feel the need to pull the trigger and find his successor if the right one is there.

5. Tackle: Zach Strief, who has started on the right side since 2011, is entering his 12th season. Andrus Peat was drafted in the first round in 2015 to replace Strief one day, but may keep him at left guard after making strides last year.


No. 11: DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee: With only 30 sacks last season, the Saints desperately need some power and speed on the edge to line up opposite Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan. The 6-foot-3, 259-pound Barnett would fill the bill. Barnett is the next-best defensive end on the draft board behind Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas and his 33 sacks and 52 tackles for loss in just three seasons at Tennessee have to make him an attractive target for the Saints.


No. 32: CB Tre'Davious White, LSU: In head coach Sean Payton's first 11 drafts, the Saints have taken only one player (Al Woods in 2010) from right up the road in Baton Rouge. But if they stay in the 32nd spot, they may not be able to resist grabbing him. White is a sturdy, physical 5-foot-11, 192-pounder who can cover with his 4.47 speed. He's played mostly outside during his four-year career, but also got some experience as the nickel back this past season.


Rob Rang: No. 11: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan. The Saints ranked 27th in the NFL a year ago with just 30 sacks, a real concern given the quarterback talent in the NFC South. Help is on the way with former Arizona Cardinals edge rusher Alex Okafor, but he signed only a one-year deal. It took a while for the light to come on for Charlton at Michigan, but he led the Big Ten in sacks a year ago in his first season as a full-time starter. Boasting a terrific combination of burst, bend and length, Charlton has Pro Bowl potential.

No. 32: Adoree Jackson, CB, Southern Cal. The Saints ranked dead last in pass defense in 2016 and may opt to trade this or another pick for New England Patriots star cornerback Malcolm Butler in an attempt to fix the issue. Until that occurs, adding talent in the secondary is likely New Orleans' top priority. The reigning Thorpe Award winner is raw, but is a natural playmaker with the speed and ball skills New Orleans is currently lacking in the secondary and in the return game.


Dane Brugler: No. 11: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama. Projecting as either a MIKE or WILL linebacker in the NFL, Foster hits anything that moves with the closing burst and aggressive mindset to create violent collisions at contact. His Combine incident has teams scrambling for more information, but the tape shows a player worthy of this selection.

No. 32: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame. At 38 years old, Drew Brees, who is entering a contract year, is still playing at a Pro Bowl level, but how long will that last? And do the Saints wish to find out? Kizer needs time to sit and learn, but he has the highest ceiling of any of this year's quarterback prospects.

Jim Miller, No. 11: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee.

Pat Kirwan, No. 32: Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado.

Frank Cooney, IMO: Drew Brees needs help. He can't keep running up video game numbers to outscore opponents. Let's get some defense. At No. 11, Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan, should help the Saints' pathetic pass rush and, at No. 32, Chidobe Awuzie of Colorado is one of several excellent cornerbacks who should be available.


Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and, is in his sixth decade covering football and 25th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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