The biggest difference between the New Orleans Saints and the elite teams in the NFC during the 2013 season was defense. There was a clear distinction in the quality of defense between the Saints and teams like the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers, and it prevented them from being serious Super Bowl contenders despite returning to the playoffs.
The Saints made a splash earlier in the offseason by signing safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Champ Bailey, but they also did a good job of continuing to add talent and depth to their defense during the 2014 NFL Draft. This will ensure an improved defense in 2014 and give them a chance to have one of the top defenses in the NFC.
Second-round pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste provides immediate depth at cornerback as well great size and potential. He will be available as a rookie to guard against an injury to the old and injury-prone Bailey. Because of his size and strength he has a chance to become an elite cornerback if everything comes together, meaning he has both short-term and long-term value for the Saints.
Fourth-round pick Khairi Fortt as a natural fit for the New Orleans defense, and even though his durability is a concern, he has explosive athleticism and is able to cover a lot of ground. Fortt does well to diagnose running plays and has the ability to close space quickly while also possessing the ability to drop back in coverage and run with tight ends. If he can hold up physically and stay healthy, Fortt will be a three-down player who immediately makes the Saints better at linebacker.
Fifth-round pick Vinnie Sunseri is the perfect candidate to be the Saints’ third safety behind Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro. He has the kind of intelligence and instincts that teams love to have on the back end of their defense to help line everyone up appropriately and diagnose plays quickly. The things he lacks physically he makes up for with great intangibles, and as a third safety who can rotate into the lineup, he’s a great addition for the Saints.
The Saints’ other fifth-round pick, Ronald Powell, may have a chance to make the biggest impact of any rookie New Orleans drafted on the defensive side of the ball. He battled injuries in college, but if healthy he still has the talent that made him one of the country’s elite players coming out of high school. He fits well as an outside linebacker in the New Orleans 3-4 defense, where he’ll provide immediate help for a team that needs another pass rusher.
New Orleans drew a lot of attention with the free agent signings of Byrd and Bailey, but the defensive players the Saints drafted this year were all quality picks who will be useful in both the immediate future and for years to come. With four good draft picks to supplement a pair of high-profile free agent signings, the Saints have taken a big step this offseason towards stacking up with the other top defenses in the NFC.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.