The 2013 New Orleans Saints are in an obvious rebuilding mode, at least on defense. Some of the recognizable veterans will be playing elsewhere if at all while new arrivals - both free agents and rookie newcomers - will fill their spots on the roster.
It's challenging to get a good gauge on which direction Saints head coach Sean Payton wants to begin the process, but one consideration will be to fill some needs via the draft. The lack of productivity in that area from 2012 ratchets up the need to hit on this year's draft choices.
This need increases the possibility that the Black and Gold may try to obtain draft picks in return for some of their veterans. Also, Payton and GM Mickey Loomis might attempt to add draft choices by trading down. Both options will be given careful consideration.
There are some players receiving attention from NFL scouts since the season concluded and the curtain for the all-star game circuit has dropped who might have specific interest from New Orleans.
Here are a few players, some familiar names and others soon to be known well, who helped themselves during the postseason all-star games. A few of these will be given every consideration by the Saints brass when their number is called.
New Orleans wants to grab players that are versatile enough to play more than one position, hybrid types to fit their new 3-4 defensive scheme in particular.
One player receiving increased interest is UCLA DE Datone Jones (6'4-282) who turned a sub-4.9 forty time, can play right or left side end and is skilled enough to move inside, similar to current Saints DE Cameron Jordan.
Jones was moved around quite a bit by the Bruins staff. He has quickness and explosive power while using his hands and long arms well fending off opponents. He has the strength to bull rush. One drawback is that Jones doesn't disengage quickly enough. He has played in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defensive set.
Jones broke his right foot in 2010 but returned strong in '11 dismissing any concerns. He is a leader both on the field and in the locker room.
Strong safety Jonathan Cyprien (6'0-208; 4.55 speed) out of Florida International is very aggressive, an ideal special teamer early on in the pros. He plays the game very fast and even practices at full speed. Always aggressive, Cyprien possesses outstanding overall athletic skills. He had 93 tackles this past season with four interceptions. An experience prospect with 45 career starts for the Panthers, he is a good character individual (a must for a Sean Payton team) with intelligence.
Another player who could slide into the second round of the draft and might be available when the Saints pick is Texas A&M LB Sean Porter, especially if they trade down early to accumulate additional picks. Porter (6'1-231) comes off the edge aggressively and sports 4.55 speed that makes him a valuable asset as a speed rusher. He represented himself well in pass coverage opportunities by finding the passing lanes quickly. Porter can play OLB in the 3-4 set.
One player with somewhat local ties is Jamie Collins out of Southern Mississippi. The former Meadville, Mississippi star now arrived from the prep ranks as a 210-pound quarterback who led his team to the state finals. The now 6-foot-3, 245 pounder had 92 stops this seasons with an impressive 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. there seems to be not a lot of difference between Collins and Porter. He was the only bright spot on the 0-12 Golden Eagles squad this year who plays like every down is important. He will also be a good special teamer right away.
Florida LB Jelani Jenkins (6'0-237, 4.55), who missed the Sugar Bowl with a thumb injury, is skipping his senior year with the Gators. His 182 career tackles are an impressive stat for someone who could be an ILB in the 3-4.
If the Saints decide to address the middle up front (expect that to happen early), listen for the name Brandon Williams (6'2-341), a NT from Missouri Southern. He should be around by draft Saturday (Rounds 3-7). He can hunker down the middle of the defensive line and moves well, boasting a sub-5.0 forty at that weight. He was a three-time All American with 27 sacks (a school record). In 2012, the big bearlike prospect recorded 68 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Having a nose tackle who can stop the run while pushing the pocket on passing plays is essential for a successful 3-4 look the Saints want to employ.
How about David Bass (6'4-263; 4.8) out of Missouri Western State? He is the protoypical big fish in a small pond, tallying 39.5 career sacks. Very explosive off the line, Bass beats the offensive line with quickness but with a little added strength can move inside. He plays with good leverage at the point of attack yet plays fast with a lot of energy. He can play tackle or end in a 4-3 and end in the 3-4.
Southeastern La. CB Robert Alford (5'10-186, 4.35) is the first Lion player since LB Ronnie Hornsby (1970) to play in Senior Bowl. He is a lock-down cover guy who amassed five interceptions in 2012. With a track background, his second step has him moving at full speed. Alford seems to make the big play at a critical time. Also an outstanding return man, expect Alford to be a second or third rounder.
One especially intriguing prospect to me is DE Cornelius "Tank" Carradine (6'4-265) out of Florida State. He could be a real gem in the mid-to-late rounds. He tore his ACL and missed three games this season yet still finished with 80 stops, 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
LSU's Lavar Edwards (6'4-272) can run in the 4.78 range. He played in 51 contests with 15 starts and had 93 career tackles plus 10.5 sacks. He scooped and scored on two occasions. Versatility and a high-motor make him an ideal rotation player on the next level.
Ricky Jean Francois is a player who split time at LSU, winning the MVP honors in the 2007 BCS title game. He has been a prominent member of the 49ers stout defense. Edwards' career could mirror Ricky Jean's.
Edwards played outside at end but can move inside as well where even saw a few reps at nose tackle. Very strong and athletic, he played tight end and running back in high school. His jersey #89 indicates he had initial hopes of running under a few touchdown tosses in Tiger Stadium. This jack-of-all-trades has a place in the NFL.
One mid-to-late round consideration for the Saints might be Michigan's Craig Roe (6'4-285; 4.88 speed) an intense competitorand workout warrior. He can play at DE or DT. He spent time as a end and even lined up at OLB as a true freshman in 2009.
Roe plays at full speed and doesn't take plays off due to a tremendous passion to be the best. He disengages quickly and is very intelligent. That high football IQ is aided by the fact Roe watches film and picks up tendencies on opponents in a hurry.
If your tastes are for offensive linemen where the Saints have needs in depth and perhaps even a starter at left tackle, Louisiana Tech's Jordan Mills has seen his stock rise this off season after a good showing as a late addition to the Senior Bowl and a solid performance in the Texas vs. The Nation game.
Mills displays good explosion for a 6'-foot-5, 318 pound specimen. Playing in the pass-happy attack up in Ruston, he has gotten better in his pass protection with improved his flexibility and technique. Mills could play tackle or guard on the next level.
Center P.J. Lonergan (6'3-305) who prepped at Archbishop Rummel and completed a stellar career as a 3-year starter at LSU, played in the Texas vs. Nation all-star tilt and represented himself well. He is likely to be a free agent type.
Longeran is one of the strongest players to ever play in the pit for the Tigers with a 545 squat and 374 lbs. clean. He can handle the nose with man-on-man blocking and displays good technique with confidence and determination. He is a leader on- and off-the-field.
If he doesn't hear his name called during the later rounds, Lonergan will be an early phone call for undrafted free agents.
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