• 70°

Saints look for help in the draft to get over the top

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton could transform legacies by finding a big-play talent or two when the NFL draft begins on Thursday night.

Chances are running out for star quarterback Drew Brees to play in a second Super Bowl. The Saints also brought back another member of their 2009 championship team in free agency when they signed safety Malcolm Jenkins away from Philadelphia.

The 41-year-old Brees and 32-year-old Jenkins will occupy leadership roles on a club that has retained most key players from a run of three straight NFC South titles, including 13-3 records the past two regular seasons.

But each of those division crowns was followed by excruciating exits from the NFC playoffs — twice in overtime and once by giving up a long touchdown pass on the final play of regulation.

When the margins are that tight, drafting immediate contributors can make the difference between devastating postseason defeats and Super Bowl celebrations.

Wide receiver and linebacker are positions where new talent could help most. But neither position represents a major weakness. If the Saints are more confident in the talent available at tight end, defensive back, running back, or even on the offensive or defensive lines, it would hardly be surprising to see them go that way.

“We’re going to be smart with the draft relative to the grades and paying attention to our board,” said Payton, whose team is slated to make its first pick at 24th overall. “There’s still a handful of things we’re looking at.

“Interior offensive lineman is something we’ll pay close attention to,” Payton continued. “Obviously, there’s a lot of receivers in this draft. I think from a secondary standpoint we’ll pay close attention to the corner market and then I would say also linebacker.”

After No. 24, the Saints don’t have another pick until the third round at No. 88. The Saints traded their second round pick to move up in the 2019 draft and take Texas A&M center Erik McCoy, who started all 16 games last season.

They also have the Nos. 130, 169 and 203 selections in rounds four through six.
While the Saints expect to retrain reserve quarterback Taysom Hill as a backup to Brees, Payton said Hill’s ability to serve as a utility player on offense and contribute on special teams means the Saints are in the market for another quarterback.

“The uniqueness of Taysom’s role will make it important for us to have a third quarterback. But what we are looking for in that third quarterback is another player we want to develop, work with and improve,” Payton said. “We’re not specifically saying that has to be a player that comes through the draft. We’re not saying it has to be a veteran player. It’ll be the best available player that we feel like fits our program.”