28. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-5)
LAST SEASON: The Saints won the NFC South for a fourth consecutive season, and made the playoffs for the ninth time under coach Sean Payton, going 12-4 despite being without Drew Brees, the NFL’s all-time leading passer, for four games. Brees went 9-3 in his final regular season, while potential successor Taysom Hill went 3-1 in four starts. The Saints then won a first-round playoff game before falling to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in the divisional round. Dynamic running back Alvin Kamara led the Saints offensively and the defense was among the NFL’s best against the run and solid against the pass.
FREE AGENCY: Lost DE Trey Hendrickson, DT Sheldon Rankins, TE Jared Cook, FB Michael Burton, DB Justin Hardee. Released CB Janoris Jenkins, WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Josh Hill, G Nick Easton, LB Kwon Alexander, P Thomas Morstead. Traded DT Malcom Brown. Acquired TE Nick Vannett, EDGE Tanoh Kpassagnon, FB Alex Armah. Re-signed QB Jameis Winston, CB P.J. Williams, RB Ty Montgomery, RB Dwayne Washington, OT James Hurst, OL Will Clapp, DL Noah Spence, S J.T. Gray, DL Marcus Willoughby. Franchise-tagged S Marcus Williams.
THEY NEED: CB, DT, EDGE, WR, LB.
THEY DON’T NEED: S, RB, QB, RB, OL.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Penn State EDGE Jayson Oweh, Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II, Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley, Tulsa LB Zaven Collins.
OUTLOOK: The Saints still have many of their most productive players from their recent run of NFC titles: Kamara, WR Michael Thomas, LB Damario Davis and DE Cam Jordan. But there is very little depth after gutting the roster of veteran regulars to get under the salary cap. Payton has said he has a healthy competition between Hill and Winston to succeed Drew Brees, but the Saints will want more talent in the defensive backfield, along the defensive line and at receiver. They also won’t likely pass up a prospect at QB or linebacker. The Saints have been known to unload later-round draft picks in order to trade up in search of quality over quantity, so it would be no surprise to see them move up.
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