In order to put the unfortunate end to the Saints’ 2010 season out of our heads, it’s time to look towards the future. Though free agency technically comes before the draft, it would be pointless to speculate about who the Saints may target until the players eligible to become FAs decide whether or not to re-sign with their current teams. Instead, let’s look at some of the Saints’ biggest needs for this offseason.
Biggest Needs – Offense
RB - The Saints are going to need some help at the Running Back position, given all of the injuries they’ve had at the position as well as expiring contracts. With Pierre Thomas’ injury-riddled sub-par season, the Saints may try to re-sign him if he comes at a discounted price tag, but I honestly don’t see it happening. Chris Ivory showed promise, but it would be a huge gamble to roll with him as our unquestioned future back. As for Reggie Bush, I think it became painfully clear this season that he simply cannot be relied on for consistent production or to even stay healthy. RB is a big need this offseason.
T - The tackle position is more of a secondary need, but the team still really needs to add depth to this position. Stinchcomb is solid at RT, but with any injuries to him or Bushrod, there would be a serious dropoff in talent; Zach Strief is nothing more than an average backup, and Charles Brown still doesn’t quite seem to be NFL-ready. This may be a position that the Saints can address through free agency instead of the draft, since Brown was the team’s second round choice last season and should have a promising future down the road.
Biggest Needs – Defense
DE - Much like the Tackle position on offense, Defensive End is a position where the Saints simply need to add a little depth. Brown and Smith are a solid starting core, but if one of them were to go down, the dropoff to Jimmy Wilkerson or Jeff Charleston would be pretty rough. The Saints would be smart to find a run-stopping DE that the team can deploy in short-yardage situations.
DT – The Defensive Tackle position is unquestionably one of the Saints’ biggest needs going into this offseason. Behind Sedrick Ellis, the unit is incredibly thin. Fellow starting DT Remi Ayodele would only be a run-stopping backup for most teams in the NFL, and Anthony Hargrove isn’t talented enough to be an NFL starter; behind those three, the team has nothing. Look for the Saints to focus a great deal of attention this offseason to shoring up their defensive line.
OLB – Potentially the only need greater than DT for this Saints team is at Outside Linebacker. Starting MLB Jonathan Vilma is one of the best defensive game managers in the NFL, helping this linebacking unit immensely, but it is still a major area of weakness. The three OLBs who saw the most playing time this season were Scott Shanle, Danny Clark, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar, all of whom would likely be just solid backups for most NFL teams. Jonathan Casillas showed a great deal of promise throughout the preseason, but suffered a season-ending injury in the Saints’ final preseason game; hopefully, he can return to form and become a valuable asset to our defense next year. Even so, the Saints have major holes at this position that they really need to address.
Later on, we’ll look at these needs as it pertains to this year’s NFL Draft, focusing on the best talent available at each draft spot in all of the Saints’ need positions. For another opinion on the topic from someone with much better credentials than us, check out ESPN.com offical NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas’ take.