Brian Allee-Walsh

Saints in good position to upgrade through draft

JONATHAN BACHMAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS 
 Ole miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (1) scores a touchdown as Oklahoma State cornerback Darius Curry covers in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1. Treadwell could become a target for the New Orleans Saints in this year's NFL Draft.
JONATHAN BACHMAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS Ole miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (1) scores a touchdown as Oklahoma State cornerback Darius Curry covers in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1. Treadwell could become a target for the New Orleans Saints in this year's NFL Draft. AP

Ahhhh, can you smell it? The month of April is in full bloom.

For avid sports fans, these 30 days of spring boast a veritable smorgasbord of marquee events -- Major League Baseball, Men's and Women's Final Four, NHL and NBA playoffs, the Masters and the annual NFL draft to name a few.

It's 22 days and counting until NFL commissioner Roger Goodell steps to a podium at the Chicago Auditorium Theater and utters those eventful words -- "And with the first pick of the 2016 draft ... ''

At the moment, the Tennessee Titans are sitting in the hot seat but that could change in the coming days and right up to the moment of truth at 7 p.m. on April 28th. Will the Titans select Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil as most mocks forecast, or will they trade out for a king's ransom? Time will tell.

With regards to the New Orleans Saints, General Manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton appear to have positioned themselves nicely at No. 12 after spending the past few months restructuring their bloated salary cap and tweaking their roster.

They remain quarterback rich (with Drew Brees holding the NFL's biggest cap hit of $30 million as of this writing) and salary cap poor with several recently acquired second-tier free agents to show for their recruiting efforts -- linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and tight end Coby Fleener.

Solid additions on paper. Each fills a glaring need. But none will soften the hit of a season-ticket increase for a loyal fan base or lessen the odds of the team winning Super Bowl LI.

Now, all eyes turn to the draft where Loomis, Payton and their scouting department need to score more hits than misses. They currently possess six picks -- one each in rounds 1-2-3-4-5 and 7, overall picks Nos. 12-47-78-112-152 and 237.

With a projected draft pool of $5,532,190, the draft remains the cheapest and, arguably, the best long-term method to building a championship roster for the Saints. Again, it requires their brain trust to score more hits than misses.

So which direction should the Saints go at No. 12? Best player available? Biggest need? A combination of both?

I'll eliminate quarterback, running back/fullback, center, tackle, tight end, safety and all specialists at No. 12. That leaves pass rusher/OLB-DE, guard, wide receiver, defensive tackle and cornerback as potential persons of interest.

Those on the Saints radar at No. 12 -- or later in round one should they trade down -- could be DE Shaq Lawson (Clemson), DT A'Shawn Robinson (Alabama), DT Jarran Reed (Alabama), WR Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss), DT Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), CB Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), G Cody Whitehair (Kansas State) and DE Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), among others.

Stay tuned. The annual NFL crapshoot (April 28-30) is just around the corner.

Meantime, enjoy everything April has to offer. It's truly a sportsman's paradise.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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