A closer look at the positions the New Orleans Saints could target at the NFL combine in Indianapolis:
Positions of need: Defense, defense, defense. I usually buy into the "best available player" theory when it comes to the draft. But after yet another year in which the Saints ranked among the NFL's top two offenses but bottom two defenses, it really should be the "best available defensive player." The most glaring needs are defensive line (end and tackle) and an outside linebacker who can drop back in pass coverage. New Orleans has talent in the secondary but could certainly make room for more after setting NFL records for touchdown passes allowed and opponents' passer rating. The Saints have needs on offense, too, including guard, tight end and receiver. But they have proved they can manage without elite talent at those spots.
Players the Saints could focus on at combine:
Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA, and Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame: It's all about the medical testing for these two tremendous athletes, given that they won't do much else after major knee injuries. Jack is close to returning from a torn lateral meniscus, but he intends to do only the bench press. Smith has longer to go in his recovery from a torn ACL and MCL. Those injuries could prove to be a blessing for New Orleans, however, since they could allow one or both to fall to the 12th pick. Both are precisely the type of playmaking athlete the Saints have been missing -- outside linebackers who can cover tight ends, chase down running backs and rush the passer at times. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Smith might be the best talent in the entire draft, and he says Jack "can cover as well as a good safety."
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson: The Saints' defense would be in much better shape if the team just drafted a player from Clemson every year. Last year, New Orleans hit with middle linebacker Stephone Anthony. Now, it should take a close look at Lawson, a first-team All-American who led the nation with 25.5 tackles for loss. Lawson has the size to play end in a 4-3 defense at 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, unlike many tweener edge rushers. Although he might not be an elite pass-rusher, he's a very good one while also being an asset against the run. And after just one year as a starter, Lawson is still developing.
A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama: Fortunately for the Saints, this is a great year to be in need of an interior defensive lineman. They already got a close look at Louisville's Sheldon Rankins and Alabama's Jarran Reed at the Senior Bowl, among others who could be in play at No. 12. Robinson (6-3, 313) has great athleticism for his size, which could really stand out at the combine. He was a first-team All-American as a junior. Although he had only 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, he was recognized as a disruptive run-stuffer and pass-rusher for the Tide's dominant front.