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NFL New Orleans Saints

2014 NFL Draft: Ranking the New Orleans Saints’ Top 5 Needs

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NFL Draft 2014: Ranking the New Orleans Saints' Top 5 Needs

Saints Draft Needs
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I outlined the five biggest stories surrounding the New Orleans Saints heading into Tuesday’s free agency. The majority of the focus revolved around their salary cap situation—how it affects them signing their own free agents, keeping players from the 2013 roster and adding players from other teams. With the third-least salary cap space, at just $1.567 million under the cap as of today, the team is unlikely to be major players in free agency. With the resources they have now in addition to what they can create by releasing another player or two, they are likely to use on re-signing their own.

To fill the rest of the outstanding holes that played a contributing role in their Divisional Round loss to the Seattle Seahawks, they will look to the 2014 NFL Draft. As of today, the team has six total picks in this year’s draft—they do not have their seventh-round pick.

All is not lost, however, as the team employs a very unique scheme on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Running a different scheme on both sides of the ball creates an opportunity for the Saints to find incredible value in the draft by using prospects in different formations, sets and positions than they may have previously played in.

For example, in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Saints found major contributors from their third and fourth round picks. John Jenkins, their third-round pick, excelled in Rob Ryan's scheme as a zero-technique nose tackle. They drafted Kenny Stills in the fourth round and he went on to rack up 641 yards and five touchdowns. Sean Payton used him as a situational deep threat who can take the top off of a defense and open up things underneath for Jimmy Graham and crew.

In the slideshow above, I rank the Saints’ five greatest positional needs heading into the draft.

Dan Schneier is a New York Giants writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @pff_dansc, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network through Google.

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5. Inside Linebacker

Saints Draft Needs
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s starting inside linebacker duo of Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne was uninspiring to say the least. The Saints’ major weakness on defense was their run defense, and once the back got to the second level of the defense he had major success. Because the Saints run a 3-4 defense, they have several prospects that make sense for them in the draft. Their best option is to find a rangy linebacker who excels in pass coverage to start next to Lofton. I mentioned Christian Kirksey in my post-combine Saints’ full mock draft.

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4. Free Safety

Saints Draft Needs
Matthew Sharpe-Getty Images

The Saints released veteran safety Roman Harper to clear salary cap space and all signs point to them letting free agent Malcolm Jenkins sign elsewhere. Last year’s first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro had an outstanding rookie season, but he is best employed at strong safety in the box and coming down to guard the slot. The Saints need to find a rangy free safety who can cover the deep half of the field. To some teams this is a major need, but in Rob Ryan’s system it is of less importance.

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3. Edge Rusher

Saints Draft Needs
Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Jordan had a breakout season for the Saints while racking up 12.5 sacks. Jordan is a 3-4 defensive end however, and for this defense to take the next step they will need to find an outside linebacker in Ryan’s defense. The team is interested in re-signing Parys Harlason, but his role is as an edge-setting run defender. Last offseason, the team had high hopes for OLB Victor Butler before he tore his ACL in training camp. Even if he returns to full health, the Seahawks proved you could never have too many pass rushers.

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2. Wide Receiver

Saints Draft Needs
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Some might not see wide receiver as a major need, but adding a dynamic threat at receiver will take this offense to an even higher level. The team can free up $2.57 million in cap space by cutting veteran Lance Moore, who has lost a step. Marques Colston is on the decline in his career and Kenny Stills is still raw. Adding a threat at wide receiver will attract defensive coverage away from Jimmy Graham. This is the perfect draft to find it in, with potential difference makers in almost every round.

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1. Cornerback

Saints Draft Needs
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In Ryan’s system, cornerbacks are often left on an island to defend without safety help over the top. Last season’s acquisition of Keenan Lewis proved to be one of the best free agent signings in the entire league. Who will start across from him in 2014 remains a question mark. The team released last year’s starter Jabari Greer for cap purposes. Former first-round pick Patrick Robinson has been a major bust and may also be on the chopping block. A press-man cornerback is exactly what the scheme needs and likely what the team will target.