Safety unlikely in Round 1, but still a need for Saints in the draft

Ranking the New Orleans Saints’ top draft needs, here are three more positions I don’t expect the Saints to target in Round 1. After this, I think any one of the top six positions are in play with the No. 12 overall pick.

No. 9: Middle linebacker

Current depth chart:

James Laurinaitis, age 29

Stephone Anthony, age 23

Craig Robertson, age 28

Outlook: I could have ranked this position as an even lower priority, since the Saints have only one middle linebacker spot in their 4-3 defense, and they now have three guys with starting experience there after signing veterans Laurinaitis and Robertson in free agency.

But the Saints’ defense needs a talent upgrade, and if they have a highly graded middle linebacker on their board, they can find room for him. For instance, they appear to be moving Anthony to strong-side linebacker. And if they were to draft someone like Alabama’s Reggie Ragland in Round 1 (unlikely), they could move him to the weak side.

Once the Saints get into the middle rounds, they’d be looking at guys who would make their biggest contributions on special teams early, with a chance to succeed Laurinaitis down the road. Arizona’s Scooby Wright is a potential mid-round bargain because of injuries that limited him to three games last year.

No. 8: Offensive tackle

Current depth chart:

Terron Armstead, age 24

Zach Strief, age 32

Andrus Peat, age 22

Bryan Witzmann, age 25

Outlook: It would be awfully surprising to see the Saints draft a tackle at No. 12 after they made the surprising choice to draft Peat at No. 13 last year. But I guess I can’t completely rule out the idea, since Strief won’t be around forever and Peat could be moved to guard. Also, Armstead is a free agent after this season and should command a big salary. But I can’t imagine the Saints will let Armstead get away.

More likely, the Saints will only consider this position in the later rounds. They could use some depth behind their top three guys – maybe the next version of Strief, who served for years as a backup swing tackle before locking down a starting job.

Since Strief went to cerebral Northwestern, I’ll throw out Harvard’s Cole Toner as one of those late-round possibilities.

No. 7: Safety

Current depth chart:

Kenny Vaccaro, age 25

Jairus Byrd, age 29

Jamarca Sanford, age 30

Vinnie Sunseri, age 24

Alden Darby, age 23

Erik Harris, age 26

Outlook: There are two reasons I don’t expect New Orleans to draft a safety in Round 1. First, they don’t have a glaring need for a starter, with Byrd and Vaccaro in the lineup. More importantly, the only safety projected to go among the top 20 picks is Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, and he'll be long gone by the Saints’ pick.

Once we get into Round 2 and beyond, however, I fully expect New Orleans to consider safeties. Coach Sean Payton listed it as a need in March after the Saints lost longtime No. 3 safety Rafael Bush in free agency. A rookie could step in right away as that No. 3, play some special teams and potentially replace Byrd in the starting lineup down the road.

Ohio State’s Vonn Bell, who has strong pass-coverage ability, will probably be gone before the Saints pick at No. 47. West Virginia’s Karl Joseph could be a steal as a hard-hitting athlete if his 2015 knee injury drops him that far.

Previous rankings:

No. 13-11 (RB, TE, specialists)

No. 10 Quarterback