Saints not handcuffed by defensive needs

Posted March 25, 2010 @ 12:31 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

Some expect the Saints to select an outside linebacker, defensive end or defensive tackle with the 32nd pick in the first round of the draft April 22. While the team has needs at each of those positions, it has taken a best-player-available approach in the past, so team observers say plucking an offensive player can't be ruled out.

Sources said tight end could be a spot the team addresses at some point in the draft, perhaps as early as the first round.

TE Jeremy Shockey is signed through the 2011 season, but he'll turn 30 in August and has been prone to injuries throughout his career. He's missed seven games in his two seasons with New Orleans because of injuries and has been limited in many others because of nagging ailments.

Shockey has made some big plays since coming over from the Giants, including a touchdown catch in the Super Bowl, but even while playing in one of the more productive offenses in the league, 2008 and '09 were two of his least impressive seasons statistically.

The Saints have solid depth behind Shockey at tight end, but it's made up of role players. They lack a young, versatile threat who could allow head coach Sean Payton to expand his playbook further. It's not too early for Payton to find a player he can develop into an eventual replacement for Shockey.

Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham and Arizona's Rob Gronkowski are the two tight ends in this draft who have drawn the most attention. Both have the tools to become elite performers and could intrigue New Orleans. While Gresham is likely to be off the board when the Saints pick, Gronkowski may be available. Some will consider it a reach if he is selected that early, though, especially with young talent sure to be available at positions of need on defense.

The Saints lost OLB Scott Fujita to the Browns in free agency and cut DE Charles Grant. FS Darren Sharper is an unrestricted free agent who could sign elsewhere. All three of those players were starters last season, and the Saints haven't made moves in free agency to fill those voids. While adding another weapon for QB Drew Brees has to intrigue Payton, it's clear that the team's most pressing needs are on the other side of the ball.


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