What the Saints could do in the 2024 NFL draft

Cameron Jordan to Pat McAfee: I'm focused on winning a Super Bowl in New Orleans (1:15)

Saints DE Cameron Jordan joins Pat McAfee to discuss his football aspirations and his broadcasting plans once he retires. (1:15)

NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints' biggest roster needs have become clear with two weeks until the 2024 NFL draft.

The Saints added defensive end Chase Young in free agency but lost safety Marcus Maye, wide receiver Michael Thomas and offensive lineman Andrus Peat.

New Orleans has nine picks after receiving three compensatory fifth-round picks this year (Nos. 168, 170, 175). They only have two picks -- No. 14 in the first round and No. 45 in the second -- in the first three rounds after trading up to select offensive tackle Trevor Penning in 2022 and offensive lineman Nick Saldiveri and quarterback Jake Haener in 2023. The Saints will pick again in Round 5 with their compensatory picks and No. 150 pick, twice in Round 6 (Nos. 190 and 199) and once in Round 7 (No. 239).

Here's a look at what positions the Saints might be considering with their top picks in 2024:

Offensive tackle

The Saints' offensive line was considered one of the team's strengths just a few seasons ago.

But that unit has been on decline since the 2021 season. The Saints haven't found a replacement for Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead, who departed before the 2022 season, and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk has battled knee issues since the 2021 season.

Quarterback Derek Carr was sacked 17 times in the first six games last season. New Orleans figured out some solutions to the protection issues, as Carr was sacked 31 times total, but he still left three games with injuries during the season.

Now they're potentially looking for long-term replacements at both offensive tackle spots. The Saints are poised to potentially draft that position in the first round for the second time in three seasons.

The Saints have said they aren't giving up on Penning, who was selected with the No. 19 pick in 2022, nor have they committed to moving him to guard like they did with Peat, who was initially drafted to be a left tackle in 2015.

But considering Penning almost never saw the field again after being benched early in the season, he's not a sure thing to win a starting spot. Ramczyk's long-term future is also in question because of his knees, and Saints coach Dennis Allen shared his concerns about that at the league's annual meeting in March.

"I don't know that I'm seeing as much progress as I was hoping to see at this point," Allen said. "So I think that still remains to be seen."

The Saints also need to look to the future at the left guard position. Peat lost that competition to veteran James Hurst last offseason, but he became a starter again at left tackle after Penning was benched. Hurst, who has one year remaining on his contract, took a pay cut to return in 2024 and will likely have to compete for a starting job again.

Nick Saldiveri, a fourth-round pick in 2023, is an in-house candidate at guard despite playing only 17 offensive snaps as a rookie. Saldiveri played mostly at the right tackle spot in college, but the Saints said they view him as a guard.

"Here's another young guy that we feel optimistic about, but we really don't know a lot about," Allen said. "We're anxious to see him get out there ... and see what he can do. When we drafted him, we drafted him as a kid we could bring in, develop and ultimately our vision would've been for him to develop into a starting guard. So we'll see how quickly we can make that vision come to life."

Defensive end

The Saints had 34 sacks in 2023, tied for 28th in the NFL.

That's not for lack of trying. New Orleans has invested a significant amount of money and draft picks into its defensive ends. The team gave Carl Granderson a new contract last year and selected Isaiah Foskey with a 2023 second-round pick.

Payton Turner (2021) and Cameron Jordan (2011) were both first-round picks, as was Marcus Davenport (2018), who left in free agency last year.

The Saints signed Young, the second pick in the 2020 draft, to a one-year, $13 million contract in free agency. Young is currently recovering from a neck procedure that puts his training camp status in question.

But that hasn't fixed the long-term outlook of the position. Jordan will be 35 in July and had two sacks last season while battling various injuries. Foskey had limited snaps last year, and Turner's injuries have limited him to just 15 games and three sacks going into his fourth season.

New Orleans could be in a tough spot in 2025 if Jordan retires and the Young signing doesn't pan out. That means it's not out of the question to try to restock their pass-rushers in the draft this year.

"I think anytime you affect the quarterback, whether it's offensively by being able to protect the quarterback or ... defensively, being able to rush the quarterback, being able to defend the pass, those are areas that you're always looking to improve," Allen said. "I don't think you can ever have enough good corners in your building, I don't think you can ever have enough pass-rushers in your building."

Wide receiver

The Saints have a very young wide receiver room with Thomas gone. That's one of the reasons they hired a veteran wide receivers coach in Keith Williams and signed former Miami Dolphins receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. to a two-year deal.

"The addition of, in particular, Cedrick Wilson, gives us a little bit of a veteran presence," Allen said. "So I thought that was a good piece."

Former first-round pick Chris Olave is slotted into the No. 1 role, Rashid Shaheed is the kick returner and deep threat and 2023 sixth-round pick A.T. Perry showed promise late last year with four touchdowns.

But the investment in Olave, who was selected No. 11 in the 2022 draft, shouldn't stop the Saints from looking for ways to improve their offense. The Saints overhauled most of their coaching staff on that side for a reason and will likely continue to see how they can improve their offense after struggling in the red zone for the first half of last season.

"I certainly think that's an area, in terms of a pass-catcher, not necessarily a wide receiver, but a pass-catcher ... we're going to continue to look at," Allen said. "I feel better about our depth now than I did a month ago, but I think that's still probably a position we'll look to see if we can't find somebody to add."