The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
2021 New Orleans Saints Draft Picks
Round 1 (28)
Round 2 (60)
Round 3 (98)
Round 3 (105)
Round 4 (133)
Round 6 (218)
Round 7 (229)
Round 7 (255)
New Orleans Saints Offense
By Rich Hribar
With the official retirement of Drew Brees, New Orleans is immediately trying to hold open the window they have created in the division and conference altogether.
Signing a one-year deal, Jameis Winston is expected to be the frontrunner to lead the Saints in 2021, but the team will also let Taysom Hill compete for the job after Hill restructured his deal just days prior to bringing Winston back.
The last time that Winston was a full starter in 2019, he led the league in passing yards (5,109) and was second in touchdown passes (33), orbiting a league-worst 30 interceptions. When Brees went down mid-season last year, Winston got the immediate call in relief, but in going 6-of-10 with multiple turnover-worthy plays, the Saints then turned the next four starts without Brees over to Hill.
Hill was serviceable as a spot starter for a four-game stretch, but still has a ton of question marks as a full-time passer. We also know that even if the team goes with Winston as the starter, that Hill will still be involved in sub-packages and near the goal line.
Both Winston and Hill essentially have one-year deals even though there were some hoops jumped through on moving around Hill’s cap hits. Backup Trevor Siemian is also under contract solely for 2021. We have heard whispers surrounding the Saints and a few lower-tier passers such as Kyle Trask, so we know there is at least some smoke in trying to find a long term option, whether that be Winston revitalizing his career on this audition or a young option set up to compete down the line.
Alex Armah (FB)
The Saints are an effective running team, coming out of 2020 as the fifth-ranked team in expected points added via their rushing attack. Taysom Hill chips in here as well, but New Orleans has one of the best combo-backs in the league in Alvin Kamara, who signed a five-year extension last offseason. Kamara is coming off 1,688 yards and a league-high 21 touchdowns in 2020.
Behind Kamara, Latavius Murray is a proven backup and ancillary back. Murray still has two years left on his current contract, but is also 31 years old. Reserves Ty Montgomery, Dwayne Washington, and Tony Jones all have expiring deals after this upcoming season. The Saints have more than enough at the top of their backfield depth chart, but may still explore adding a back on day three as future depth.
2020 was about a throwaway season for Michael Thomas. Saddled through an early-season ankle injury that was a problem all season long, Thomas had career-lows in receptions (5.7) and yardage (62.6) per game while failing to catch a touchdown pass in the regular season.
In a smaller sample, Thomas has actually thrived as a target hog in his sample without Drew Brees, including this past season with Taysom Hill under center. In 11 games the past two seasons with Brees out or forced from the game early, Thomas has secured 84-of-109 targets (32.2% of the team targets) for 1,010 yards, but just three touchdowns.
Thomas is under contract through 2024 and carries dead cap hits of $32.6M and $22.7M over the next two seasons.
This passing game has largely run jus through Thomas and Kamara the past three seasons, but with a potential transition coming without Brees here, the Saints have a lot to be desired behind Thomas. When Thomas went down last season, they had veteran Emmanuel Sanders step in and lead the team in receiving, with flashes from Marquez Callaway and Tre’Quan Smith.
Callaway is the only non-Thomas wideout here under contract beyond this season while the team has rights to Deonte Harris, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and Juwan Johnson. The Saints have a need for talent and contractual depth behind Thomas.
With both Jared Cook and Josh Hill leaving New Orleans this offseason, Adam Trautman will be elevated as the team’s starting tight end.
The Saints took Trautman in the third round last year (pick 105) after a decorated collegiate career with the most career receptions (178), yards (2,295), and touchdowns (31) among tight ends in the 2020 class. The rookie found the field for 37% of the team snaps in 2020, catching 15-of-16 targets for 171 yards and a touchdown.
New Orleans also added veteran Nick Vannett on a three-year contract to occupy the vacated role left from Hill. We also know that Taysom Hill will moonlight here on occasion as he took 46 snaps inline in 2020.
Depth players in Garrett Griffin and Ethan Wolf have expiring contracts, with the Saints only looking for tight end help as a day three depth play if they entertain adding to the position.
LT: Terron Armstead/Calvin Throckmorton
LG: Andrus Peat/Derrick Kelly
C: Erick McCoy/Nick Easton
RG: Cesar Ruiz
RT: Ryan Ramczyk/James Hurst/Ethan Greenidge
New Orleans still has one of the best offensive lines in the league. In 2020, they ranked fifth in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (63%) and ninth in Run Block Win Rate (72%) while ranking 13th and eighth at Pro Football Focus in team pass blocking and run blocking grade.
The Saints are set in the middle of the offensive line. Starting center Erick McCoy and right guard Cesar Ruiz both have multiple seasons remaining on their rookie contracts while the team has left guard Andrus Peat locked up through the 2024 season (with an out year after the 2022 season). Peat has yet to play a full season in six years, but
The Saints have arguably the best tackle combination in the league, but Ryan Ramczyk is an unrestricted free agent after this season while Terron Armstead is entering the final season of his contract extension. Armstead did restructure his deal to add multiple void years to spread out cap hits, but Armstead will also be an unrestricted free agent. Keeping both tackles when each is due massive paydays and the Saints are expected to be against the cap once again in 2022 will take some more of that magic Mickey Loomis maneuvering.
New Orleans does have veteran James Hurst under contract through 2023 as insurance for losing either option, but we also may see the Saints jump ahead and look for a rookie contract tackle should they lose one or both of their star tackles after 2021.
New Orleans Saints Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
David Onyemata was one of the league’s best pass-rushing defensive tackles last season. He ranked 10th in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate at the position and was third in pressure rate, according to Sports Info Solutions. Onyemata played 57% of the Saints’ defensive snaps while a number of interior defenders rotated with and alongside him. Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown, who had the second- and third-most snaps inside are both gone.
Shy Tuttle was close behind with 31% of the snaps and the third-year undrafted player is likely in for a bigger role next to Onyemata in 2021. Malcolm Roach, an undrafted rookie from Texas, played 22% of the defensive snaps and would like in-line to play more snaps in the rotation.
With how much of a rotation there has been in the past, an addition or two could be in the cards. Buty given the success the Saints have with undrafted contributors, this could be a quantity over quality approach.
Cameron Jordan remains one of the NFL’s ironmen as an edge rusher. 2020 was the first time in Jordan’s nine-year career that he played fewer than 80% of the team’s defensive snaps. He still played 78% and started all 16 games. Jordan wasn’t the top-tier pass rusher (he ranked 62nd in pressure rate) but was still disruptive off the edge while he ranked ninth at the position in Run Stop Win Rate, per ESPN.
Trey Hendrickson had his breakout season last year and he signed a big contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency. That will force the Saints to rely more on 2018 first-round pick Marcus Davenport. Davenport has been productive when on the field (he was 36th in pressure rate in 2020) but hasn’t been able to stay on it consistently. He has yet to appear in more than 13 games in a season and peaked at 50% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2019. Carl Granderson was just behind Davenport in pressure rate (38th) on 27.8% of the New Orleans defensive snaps.
The only real addition from last season was Tanoh Kpassagnon who has yet to turn his massive frame and athleticism into success rushing the passer — he ranked 120th among 124 qualified edge rushers in pressure rate last season.
Demario Davis is still one of the league’s best all-around linebackers, even as he enters his age 32 season. He’s likely under contract for at least another two seasons. Davis has been one of the best blitzing linebackers in the league and the Saints might need to turn that up this season — he rushed on 19.1% of his pass snaps in 2020.
New Orleans envisioned a similar role for 2020 third-round pick Zack Baun, but he played just 8% of the defensive snaps in his rookie season despite appearing in 15 regular season games. Baun was making a transition from college edge rusher to more traditional off-ball linebacker, but it’s possible Baun sees more time on the field in a mix of those two roles.
Both Alex Anzalone and Kwon Alexander are gone, so the Saints will need to fill that second linebacker role somehow. New Orleans did play 28% of their snaps in dime personnel last season, the fifth-highest rate in the league, which only calls for one linebacker on the field. (Though 60% still came in nickel.)
What was once a deep position group currently has four players on the official depth chart. Marshon Lattimore has been up and down in coverage throughout his career. That was the case just in 2020 as he ranked 107th among cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap among 148 qualified cornerbacks but also had the 40th-lowest completion rate allowed in that group. He’s playing this season on his fifth-year option.
Patrick Robinson played 24% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2020 — a three-year high since his return to New Orleans — and the soon-to-be 34-year-old might have to play more often in 2021. Robinson was 98th among corners in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap and was one of the most targeted corners in the league by targets per coverage snap. Only three corners with at least 100 coverage snaps were targeted more often.
Grant Haley only spent one regular season game active with the Saints after two seasons of inconsistent play with the New York Giants.
The Saints are still deep and fairly versatile at safety, which helps the backend and can allow for some holes to be filled at corner. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson played more often in the slot last season and could continue to piss opposing players off from that spot in 2021.
Marcus Williams was the team’s deep safety to great success. The Saints ranked third by DVOA against deep passes, per Football Outsiders. Malcolm Jenkins remains a jack-of-all-trades at safety and his play has barely dipped as he enters his 13th NFL season at age 34.