Saints’ immediate future depends on draft success

Why did the Falcons reach the Super Bowl while the Saints were 7-9 for a third consecutive season?
 
Because they got April right, and the Saints haven’t.
 
Despite defeating the Saints twice in 2014, the Falcons finished 6-10, a game behind the Saints in the NFC South.
 
Since then, the Atlanta Falcons have aced the draft.
 
In 2016, their first two selections were safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones. The two rookies led Atlanta in tackles.
 
In 2015, the Falcons’ first three picks were defensive end Vic Beasley, defensive back Jalen Collins and running back Tevin Coleman. That is A-plus drafting. That’s how you climb from 6-10 to 8-8 and to 11-5 and become NFC champions.
 
The Saints, currently with five picks in the top 103, have the opportunity for a turnaround. Win the draft, and the Saints could be back in the playoffs. Lose the draft, and the Payton/Brees era could be over.
 
The Saints need impact players – now. That’s why if he’s somehow on the board at No. 11, the Saints should pick Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
 
Foster, the most valuable player in the SEC Championship Game (11 tackles, 2 sacks), fills an immediate void at middle linebacker. Yes, the Saints addressed the area in free agency with the additions of A.J. Klein and Manti Te’O, but Foster could be the Saints’ middle linebacker for the next decade.
 
The Saints tried to fill this void two years ago when they drafted Stephone Anthony with pick No. 31, but after a solid rookie season, Anthony disappeared.
 
Foster would give the Saints a physical toughness in the interior that they have lacked. When the Saints have been very good, they had such a player at inside linebacker. Think Sam Mills or Jonathan Vilma.
 
If the Saints don’t trade the last pick in the first round to New England for cornerback Malcolm Butler, they could use a third-round pick to jump several spots in the first round to draft a pass rusher. Cornerback is a need, one that could be filled either late in the first round or early in the second.
 
As draft day approaches, there are some common threads.
 
If the Saints draft a receiver, it will likely be a tall one. Last year’s second-round pick, Michael Thomas, was the prototype, standing 6-foot-3.
 
Brandin Cooks, the 2014 first-round pick who was traded to the Patriots last month, is the only receiver drafted by the Saints in the Payton era under six feet.
 
The Saints like to draft offensive lineman in the mid to late rounds and develop them. Zach Strief, Jahri Evans, Terron Armstead, Carl Nicks and Jermon Bushrod were all selected in the third round or later.
 
The Saints have been aggressive in trading up to retool their roster. Two years ago, tight end Jimmy Graham was traded to Seattle, and the Saints surrendered draft picks to trade up for Cooks and safety Vonn Bell.
 
Now, all they have to do is get it right, just like their longtime rivals from Atlanta.
 
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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