From the moment they were crowned World Champions all the way to the season opener in the fall against Brett Favre and the Vikings and beyond, the New Orleans Saints battled the dreadful Super Bowl hangover to the last drop of blood. Though the Saints choked on their last breath of air, coming in the most disappointing fashion imaginable—to the first losing team to ever make the playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks (7-9), falling short 41-36, New Orleans still managed to crack the postseason in one of the NFL's most daunting divisions in 2010.
Simply put, injuries, magical defensive play and luck wasn't on their side. The Saints' inability to stop the run was made evident when Marshawn Lynch turned more beastmode than Bobby Ray (B.O.B.). Success in turnovers and a consistent offensive balance were all too rare, as Reggie Bush, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas were all plagued with injuries at some point during the season. The current NFL Lockout situation has also placed a clear burden on New Orleans, having the most to lose through free agency.
Nevertheless, Sean Payton and Co. are determined to make the most with the five picks in the 2011 NFL Draft. It certainly won't be a day at the beach for the decision makers, but look for the top priority—the defense—to be addressed right away and strengthened with some skilled, high-calibar players.
With the 24th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Akeem Ayers, outside linebacker, UCLA.
Just like in his senior year at UCLA, the athletic and versatile Akeem Ayers has clear ability to mature into a team leader at the next level. Ayers is equipped with great strength, size, speed and the willingness to take on massive offensive lineman. He's not a consistent hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end, but he should gel with the Saints as a 4-3 outside linebacker.
With the 56th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Marvin Austin, defensive tackle, North Carolina
The Saints stick with solidifying the front four with a long-term solution next to Sedrick Ellis at defensive tackle. Marvin Austin possesses the size and power to become an excellent defender in the NFL. Austin also has terrific movement and flexibility. Though there are some red flags with character, he's a definite steal in the latter part of the second round and they should fade away once he becomes a part of the Saints' organization and joins the veteran defensive front.
With the 72nd pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select James Carpenter, offensive tackle, Alabama.
The first of New Orleans' two thrid-round selections targets the best offensive lineman available—James Carpenter, a tough, athletic tackle who could become a reliable and durable starter for the Saints in the near future. The more protection for Drew Brees and the injury-plagued backfield, the better.
With the 88th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Tyler Sash, safety, Iowa.
Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper are solid starters at safety, but Harper is unsigned and no quality depth exists beyond him. New Orleans also needs to explore options to replace 14-year-veteran Darren Sharper down the road. There's clearly a cloudy fog looming at the safety position.
Tyler Sash may not have the size or hard-hitting ability of a John Lynch, but he possesses good instincts and great hands. Sash was extremely productive at Iowa, posting 217 career tackles and 14 interceptions in three season of college play.
With these choices New Orleans crafts together in the draft, look for each of them to provide a force, re-energize, refocus and commit to winning that elusive ring once again in 2011.