It is universally known that New Orleans would like to upgrade their talent defensively in this year’s free agency and draft class. Despite setting NFL records offensively in 2012, the Saints could advance no further than the second round of the playoffs, in part because the defense allowed an Alex Smith-led San Francisco offense to score two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. New Saints defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, will have tremendous input as to who is needed on the defensive side of the ball. Given the failure to consistently generate a pass rush, look for outside linebacker and defensive end to be highest on the priority list on draft day.
The Saints’ 2012 first round draft pick was traded to New England in the 2011 NFL draft, where New Orleans selected running back Mark Ingram. As a result, the Saints do not have a pick in the 2012 draft until the 27th slot in the second round (#59 overall). It is not out of the question that New Orleans could trade up into the first round again, as they have moved heavily every year that Mickey Loomis has been in charge. However, trading up is not likely and the Saints will have to discover some hidden gems in the middle to late rounds like they have with the likes of Jimmy Graham, Carl Nicks, and Marques Colston. We will take a look at three outside linebacker/defensive end prospects that could be a possibility for New Orleans with the 59th overall pick.
1. Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall: While other players like Quentin Coples, Melving Ingram, and Courtney Upshaw were the superstar defensive ends/OLBs of the Senior Bowl, Curry’s performance in practices really helped his draft stock. At times, he dominated going against highly touted offensive tackle Mike Adams from Ohio State. Scouts were pleased to see Curry checking in at an official 6-foot-3, 265-pounds, as it alleviated any concerns that he was viewed strictly as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Curry still could play OLB because of his raw speed and athleticism, but he showed the strength and size to be a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL. Curry was a base end in a 4-3 defense in college, so he already has a lot of experience lining up with his hand in the ground. Everybody knew that Curry was a quality pass rusher, but he performed well against the run also. It was an impressive week that really should open some doors for him with teams needing help on the edge in the early rounds of the draft.
With his versatility, Curry would be an attractive option for the Saints with their first pick because he can play multiple positions given certain down and distance circumstances.
2. Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma: Although only 6’2” and 244 pounds, Lewis has experience as a hybrid end, so the transition to full-time OLB in the NFL should not be too difficult for him at the NFL level. He has the athleticism and speed to make the switch, but definitely needs to add some bulk to his frame and get stronger at the next level. He is a phenomenal athlete and an intimidating force who plays with a nasty disposition. He is an underrated prospect who could be a pick that many teams eventually regret passing on, although it is probable he will be off the board by the time the 59th pick rolls around
3. Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska: David, along with Miami's Sean Spence, is your prototypical weakside linebacker prospect in a 4-3 alignment. At 6’1” 225 pounds, he is a tad short and definitely needs to bulk up and get stronger. However, he possesses excellent football instincts, and has the speed and aggressiveness to make a lot of plays in pursuit. Over his final two seasons at Nebraska, David racked up nearly 300 tackles and 24.5 tackles for loss. That type of production in major college football cannot be ignored when combined with the speed and athleticism that David possesses. He would be a safe choice for New Orleans in the second or third round.
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