Super Bowl LVIII is complete, finally bringing the 2023-24 NFL season to a close. With the Kansas City Chiefs defeat of the San Francisco 49ers, the selection order for the 2024 NFL Draft is also officially set.
The New Orleans Saints have the 14th selection in the first round. New Orleans officially has picks in the first, second, fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds. They will also receive three compensatory picks, expected to be Day 3 selections.
After finishing 9-8 and missing the playoffs for the third consecutive year, the Saints have several glaring needs heading into the offseason. Salary cap issues will limit their activity in free agency, forcing them to do most of their replenishing through draft choices.
NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter outlined his views for the top needs facing every NFL team over the weekend. Here is what Reuter said about the Saints.
New Orleans Saints
Biggest needs: Edge, WR, OT, CB, DT
The Saints have veterans at many key positions, but even former top picks or valued free-agent signings could see rookies in the rearview mirror pushing for playing time in 2024. The team must also decide whether to move on from former All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas, who’s signed through next season, but has played in just 20 total games since 2020 because of injuries.
There is no doubting that edge rusher and offensive tackle top the list of needs for the Saints. Probably equally so, perhaps even 1a and 1b at the top of the list. Not pointed out by Reuter is the fact that New Orleans also needs to upgrade their interior blocking. This definitely supercedes some of the other needs he highlighted.
There also isn't much question whether Michael Thomas will be back with New Orleans in 2024. Yes, his lack of durability is an issue. Thomas has missed 47 of the team's last 67 games. He's also made it extremely clear that he doesn't want to be back. A restructuring of Thomas' contract leading into last season has made it far easier for the two sides to part ways this offseason.
Wideout isn't nearly the big need that Reuter suggests. The Saints have gamebreakers Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, and got a promising performance from 2023 sixth-round choice A.T. Perry. Assuming Thomas isn't back, a big-bodied pass catcher could be a key roster addition, but the receiver spot is certainly not lacking weapons.
Anyone who has watched the Saints over the last two seasons would realize that cornerback is not a need. Yes, the Saints were a bit vulnerable in the slot, but this is the strongest position on the team. Even if Marshon Lattimore were surprisingly traded, highly unlikely, then New Orleans would still have Paulson Adebo, Alontae Taylor, and even Isaac Yiadom if he can be re-signed. A slot specialist is possible, but low on the list of priorities for a defense that ranked near the top of the NFL in pass defense and interceptions despite the lack of a pass rush.
Defensive tackle was another curious listing. Bryan Bresee, a first-round choice last season, showed the potential of a future All-Pro. Nathan Shepherd, Khalen Saunders, and Malcolm Roach formed a solid, if unspectacular, interior rotation. Roach is an unrestricted free agent, which does thin the Saints out inside if he cannot be re-signed.
New Orleans had just 34 sacks last season, the fourth fewest in the NFL. The defensive ends contributed only 16 sacks and just 25 of the team's 70 tackles for loss. This was with a breakout season from DE Carl Granderson of 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. A dynamic disruptive presence is definitely needed up front. End is the bigger need, but the Saints could also add a dynamic interior rusher if a difference-maker at end isn't available.
Reuter overlooked a few much bigger needs than WR, CB, or even DT. We already mentioned offensive guard above. Safety, a two-way tight end, and an off-ball linebacker to complement 35-year-old Demario Davis are also big needs.
Interestingly, Reuter had the Saints ignoring their top two needs with their first two picks in his first mock draft. Reuter projects that New Orleans drafts Washington WR Rome Odunze and Michigan G Zak Zinter in the first two rounds of his mock draft, published on February 11. Odunze would certainly add a big-bodied playmaking threat to the offense, while Zinter would provide a much-needed upgrade to the interior offensive line.