During the last few years' worth of NFL Drafts for the New Orleans Saints, the team has listed finding a top-rated EDGE pass rusher to fully complement the notable strengths of All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan as one of their top priorities.
However, the team hasn't been fortunate enough to land one; and the only time that it's been addressed thoroughly was during last season's 2017 NFL Draft, when the team selected defensive ends Trey Hendrickson (#103rd overall) from Florida Atlantic in Round 3, and Al Quadin-Muhammad from the Miami Hurricanes (#196th overall) in Round 6.
The EDGE position might have been adequately addressed last year by signing free agent Alex Okafor, a free agent "bargain" last year who had a career year — until he ruptured his Achilles against Washington in Week #11.
Okafor was re-signed last month, but there still are concerns that must be addressed further, such as how well and how long it will require Okafor to fully recover, and whether or not Hendrickson, who looked good in limited action last year, can handle the duties full-time.
“We went into this process, it’s a ‘must,’ ” Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters 2 weeks ago about the EDGE position at the NFL Annual Owners Meeting in Orlando, Florida. “And so, we haven’t addressed it yet. It’ll be important."
“It always impacts the draft when you identify those musts. Those musts don’t have any flexibility – we have to accomplish that. Now, there’s still a lot of time and a lot of opportunities prior to the draft. Certainly, we’ve got to look closely at that during the draft.”
With the Saints picking at #27 overall, most of this year's top-rated EDGE prospects are expected to be gone before New Orleans gets 'on the clock'. North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb is this year's #1 player at the position, and is expected to be taken #2 overall by the New York Giants. University of Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport is considered by most as the 2nd best pass rusher in the class, and is expected to be taken anywhere in the late teens to early 20's.
But after Davenport is expected to go off the board, that's when things could get interesting for the Saints.
The 3rd best EDGE rusher (although it's debatable that he actually should be rated 2nd) in the class is Harold Landry of Boston College, who may or may not still be available when they finally pick at #27.
As we've mentioned previously:
The biggest question with regard to Landry is WHEN he will be taken.
Some feel he's worthy of being taken somewhere in the teens, while others see him as more of a late 20's pick and he's even been Linked to the Saints in several recent Mock Drafts, such as this one by ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay (which you can click HERE to read).
But where ever Landry ends up, some lucky NFL team is going to get a player that could end up being one of the Class's best players when all is said and done.
After Landry, there's Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard; who shouldn't be disregarded as a possible Saints top pick at #27, thanks to the notable connection between the school's legendary Buckeyes football program led by head coach Urban Meyer, and the Saints franchise (dubbed as "The Ohio State Connection").
After those 4 players, there is a slight drop-off until the next highest-rated EDGE prospect in Florida State University defensive end / EDGE rusher Josh Sweat.
CBS Sports.com draft analyst Jason LaCanfora on Wednesday listed Sweat as one of his "sleeper prospects", and said that the guys (scouts) that he's talked to believe Sweat has more than enough pure talent to lure someone into taking him at the end of Round #1 in a little less than two weeks from now.
"He has the best first step in this draft for me," said one "anonymous" evaluator who has watched him closely, to LaCanfora. "I'd put Chubb ahead of him and [Marcus] Davenport, but Sweat is the third-best pass rusher in this draft. And he's got all the numbers you look for, too -- height, weight, speed, all of it. Those guys don't last long on draft day."
LaCanfora notes that the issue for Sweat is a medical, primarily, with a knee perhaps worrying some teams.
Added the "anonymous" NFL scout to LaCanfora:
"Maybe he's down because people are down on him because they had him playing five-technique at Florida State at 250 pounds, but that's not how I write him up. This kid will get it done in space. He's an edge guy. Put him at outside linebacker."
Clearly if Sweat is as good as the anonymous scout believes that he is, then you can his name to the long list of potential / possible / likely Saints picks at #27.
But then the Saints do not pick again until the 91st overall pick in Round 3, meaning that in all likelihood if they don't grab an EDGE rusher at #27, they'll be repeating last year's draft by waiting it out until Round 3 (or later) to address it.
The hope for the Saints will be that if they decide to wait and not target the EDGE position until that point (#91) beginning in Round 3, that a few "diamonds in the rough" will still be available to them, such as SMU pass rusher Justin Lawler.
However, there's just as good of a chance that the "pickings" will be very slim by that point, which would make landing one much earlier than that, a team priority.
Should the Saints trade up if need be, to get an EDGE pass rusher that they covet?
That's something that they'll have to take into consideration, especially if a player like Landry is still on the board in the early 20's.
Assuming that team brass still considers the EDGE position as a "must" and with the notable questions surrounding Okafor's health and Hendrickson's development, it would seem that all possible trade options to get one of the class's premium players at the position such as Landry, are viable.
Otherwise, chances are that they'll have to "settle" for whoever their highest-rated player at that position is, whenever they finally do.