The New Orleans Saints were still waiting to make their first pick of the NFL draft when Thursday night’s first round ended.
The Saints are slated to pick late in the second round at 62nd overall on Friday night and will try to acquire a player capable of contributing next season to a team widely expected to be a playoff contender.
That’s the only pick New Orleans currently has in the first four rounds because of a series of 2018 trades designed to help the club contend for another title while record-setting quarterback Drew Brees, who turned 40 last January, is still playing.
The Saints traded away this year’s first rounder during the 2018 first round in order to move up and select defensive end Marcus Davenport.
The Saints gave up their 2019 third-round pick in a trade for reserve quarterback Teddy Bridgewater late in the 2018 preseason. And in the middle of last season, they exchanged this year’s fourth-round pick for former New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple.
That left general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton limited assets with which to propose a trade back into this year’s opening round. But with five picks clustered in the final three rounds, they might be able to trade up on the second or third days of the draft.
An area of immediate concern is along the interior defensive line. Sheldon Rankins, a 2016 first rounder, is recovering from an Achilles tendon tear, David Onyemata is facing a possible suspension of up to four games for a misdemeanor marijuana citation and Tyeler Davison left in free agency.
If all goes well, Rankins and Onyemata will both be back and in form by the second month of the season, but that’s no easy forecast. Recovery from an Achilles tendon injury can be tricky. Davison’s decision, which came less than two weeks before the draft, might be the bigger blow. He was a solid role player who started 43 games in the past three seasons.
The Saints nearly made the Super Bowl last season, falling to the Los Angeles Rams in overtime of an NFC title game tainted by late-game officiating mistakes that top NFL officials acknowledged after the game.
For the most part, New Orleans has been able to keep most of its 2018 team together and moved quickly in free agency to add projected replacements for the few veterans who left.
New Orleans signed running backs Latavius Murray and Malcom Brown, as well as defensive end Mario Edwards, following the departures of running back Mark Ingram and defensive end Alex Okafor. And when center Max Unger retired, the Saints signed center Nick Easton.