NEW ORLEANS The New Orleans Saints hold a winning poker hand to upgrade a historically bad defense — five picks in the first three rounds, including the 11th and 32nd picks in Round 1.
They are well positioned to fulfill pressing needs at cornerback and edge pass-rusher with both picks.
And yet I will be shocked if general manager Mickey Loomis allows coach Sean Payton to spend both first-round picks on defensive players Thursday night when the three-day NFL draft kicks off at 7 p.m. from Philadelphia. SHOCKED!
Payton is an offensive-aholic. He craves offensive playtoys; the more the better. He always needs more ammo for his munitions cache, more scoring weapons for quarterback Drew Brees.
Read my lips: Defense, defense, defense.
Don’t be distracted by available running backs (Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey), wide receivers (John Ross, Mike Williams, Corey Davis), quarterbacks (Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes II, DeShone Kizer) or tight ends (O.J. Howard).
Saints officials are well placed to get quality defensive prospects if they stay put at No. 11 and No. 32, or if they decide to package picks to acquire an established defender from another team, such as New England cornerback Malcolm Butler or Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman or Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden, whom they pursued before last season’s trading deadline.
If Saints officials follow my train of thought when it comes to the defense, here are some potential picks at No. 11/32: Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore, Tennessee DE/OLB Derek Barnett, Michigan DE Taco Charlton, Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey, Missouri DE/OLB Charles Harris, USC CB Adoree’ Jackson, Washington CB Kevin King, LSU CB Tre’Davious White and Ohio State CB Gareon Conley.
Without further ado, here are my first-round picks.
With the 11th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select:
▪ DE/OLB Derek Barnett, Tennessee: He posted a NCAA-best 33 sacks over the last three years against quality competition. Last time I looked, the Saints need to get after opposing quarterbacks, beginning with Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston in the NFC South. Note: If Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore is on the board at No. 11, I take him here.
With the 32nd pick of the NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select:
▪ CB Kevin King, Washington: He is the NFL prototype at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds; a real plus covering big receivers in the NFC South like Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin. King did not allow a TD pass in 2016 and just one in his last 28 college games. Note: Another consideration is Washington CB Adoree’ Jackson, smaller at 5-10. but an excellent athlete with game-changing return skills.
Word to the wise: Take all of this with a grain of salt.
Thursday: Round 1, 7 p.m.
Friday: Rounds 2-3, 6 p.m.
Saturday: Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m.
TV: ESPN, NFL Network