The glorious 2015 season is nearing its end. Although things haven’t played out the way we would’ve liked, the season was still great. At the end of the day, football is football. I’ll have a few more weeks of football, and then it’ll be on to baseball. The Saints struggled mightily this season. Despite the hardships, there were a few bright spots. The 2016 draft is what many football fans are now looking ahead to.
Wanting to get some thoughts on the season and insight into the draft, I turned to John Sigler. He can be found on Twitter @SaintScribe. Make sure to follow him for information about the Saints and the upcoming draft; he is always ready to talk football!
Christopher: Which new addition to the team has impressed you most?
John: Wide receiver Willie Snead. He’s been a great story to follow since the Saints signed him last January, after he bounced around some other squads as a rookie from a small program. He’s a very smart player who did a great job picking up the offense and stepping up as our WR2. He’s 51 yards away from hitting 1,000 yards. If he gets it, it’ll be the first time since 2012 for the Saints to have two 1,000-yard receivers in Snead and Cooks.
Christopher: Which new addition has been the least impressive?
John: Running back C.J. Spiller was a guy I personally hyped up as the next great receiving-back in the mold of Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles. But a training camp injury and knee scope have kept him off the field. That injury and an apparently-unsuccessful rehab have sapped the gamebreaking speed he flashed in Buffalo. There’s also been talk of him not picking up the offense and having some practice habits that grind on Drew Brees’ nerves. Travaris Cadet nearly matched Spiller’s season-high snap count despite not being on the team all year.
Christopher: How do you think the 2015 draft class has performed so far?
John: Those players who have been healthy have been good. Stephone Anthony has shown that he can do a lot of things well and has visibly improved between Week 1 and Week 16. He’s on pace to fall just short of Rickey Jackson’s record for tackles in a rookie year (Anthony has 107 with one game to go, compared to Jackson’s historic 125), but the Saints haven’t had a linebacker like him in the Sean Payton era. He’s a dark horse Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Andrus Peat was serviceable in spot duty at guard but was great as expected at his natural position at right tackle. Hau’oli Kikaha has been better than players drafted ahead of him like Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree, but a badly-timed ankle injury and bad coaching decisions have hurt his stats. Tyeler Davison, Bobby Richardson (an undrafted rookie), and Obum Gwacham (a rookie poached from Seattle’s September cuts) have flashed on the defensive line. Rookie defensive back Damian Swann looked good in-between a series of unlucky concussions, and punt return specialist Marcus Murphy is worth keeping around for another year.
Christopher: Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead have become the top two receivers. How do you think they’ve played, and where do they fit into the Saints’ plans moving forward?
John: They’ve been sufficient in their roles but I’m not sure the Saints are satisfied with that. I really like them as the number two and three receivers on the depth chart but neither is suited to being a number one at this stage. They’d both benefit from running with a true big-bodied receiver to draw attention away from them. Cooks has broken 1,100 receiving yards and Snead is on the cusp of 1,000 himself. Imagine how much more productive they’ll be when they’re facing second and third cornerbacks rather than double teams or shutdown number ones.
Christopher: In your opinion, what is the Saints’ biggest need? What position do they draft in the first round?
John: The defensive front seven needs the most help as a unit and that’s where they should start to add pieces in the draft. The only offensive player I’d consider drafting in first round right now is Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. In his absence, I’d go with one of the athletic, playmaking defenders like Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, or Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. It’s hard to point to one position and say, “draft a guy who plays this position” because that may not be the best guy available. I think they should instead say, “This is an area of weakness on our team, which players can help fix it?”
Christopher: What other positions do they desperately need to address?
John: Weakside linebacker is the biggest void on the roster. Dannell Ellerbe has been lights-out at times when healthy but he’s no guarantee to start many games. The Saints have played five different linebackers in 100 to 300 snaps to fill in at the weakside this year. They need someone who can reliably see 900-plus snaps there, and luckily this draft is full of candidates for that. Jaylon Smith is my favorite prospect at that position, but guys like UCLA’s Myles Jack, Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers, Ohio State’s Darron Lee, and LSU’s Deion Jones also fill in nicely. Boise State junior Kamalei Correa is intriguing.
Other positions to address include wide receiver, offensive guard, cornerback, tight end, and linebacker (inside and outside).
Christopher: What players are you particularly fond of that might not play a position of concern for the Saints?
John: I’m partial to running backs so guys like Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams, and Arizona State’s hybrid slot receiver/ scatback D.J. Foster are high on my radar. I know that bigger program prospects like Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot and Utah’s Devontae Booker get more attention, but I’m a bigger fan of these less-heralded runners.
Christopher: The Saints will likely be picking in the top ten. Is there any player worth trading up for?
John: The only players I’d consider moving up for are Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, Treadwell, Smith, or Buckner. The Saints only have six draft picks right now and won’t qualify for compensatory picks so they need another conservative year of maximizing selections. Make no mistake, this is a bad team with depth issues (thanks to bad drafting and a failure to coach up project players, not Brees’ big contract). They need all the help they can get to inject talented youth to the roster, and mortgaging a lot of picks for one or two players isn’t wise.
Christopher: What future lies ahead for C.J. Spiller and Brandon Browner?
John: Brandon Browner is as good as gone. He obviously hates it here and the fans don’t want him here. He doesn’t bring anything so far as leadership or onfield contributions which is very discouraging when you consider preseason expectations for him. I think that C.J. Spiller stays around but he’s on thin ice and will probably be competing with someone for a roster spot, whether it’s the prodigal son Travaris Cadet or another fresh face.
Christopher: Do you see Sean Payton staying in or leaving New Orleans?
John: I’m not counting on Sean Payton being the coach of the Saints this time next month. There’s too much smoke to the fire of him looking for a trade to another team, and if we’re honest his time has mostly run its course in New Orleans. Few coaches get a run of eight, nine, or ten years like he has. He hasn’t been successful since returning from the yearlong suspension and could use a new start in a new city. If he’s thinking the same way, the Saints need to do whatever they can to get reimbursement for him leaving. It sucks to think about the Payton-Loomis-Brees era drawing to a close (especially with only one title to its name) but Father Time is undefeated.
I’d like to thank John for taking the time to answer my questions. Like I said earlier, he can be found on Twitter @SaintScribe. Let us know in the comment section what the Saints’ biggest need is and who they draft. There will be a preview of the season finale against the Falcons posted later in the week.