Saints Draft Need: Linebacker

In the third of a series of articles profiling the New Orleans Saints' 2008 NFL Draft needs, Matthew Postins examines what the Saints have at a key position, who they could draft and what kind of impact that player could have. Also, look for links to stories, video and audio of players the Saints could draft throughout the article.

Did you miss Saintinsider.com publisher Matthew Postins' first Saints mock draft last week? Don't worry. Click here to see who he thinks the Saints might select.


LINEBACKER

WHAT THE SAINTS HAVE

Jonathan Vilma, Scott Shanle, Mark Simoneau, Dan Morgan, Troy Evans, Scott Fujita, Marvin Mitchell.

WHY THE NEED?

Take a closer look at this group and you'll see one in need of an infusion of youth. Aside from Vilma (fifth year) and Mitchell (second year), this group has logged at least six NFL seasons. Morgan is in his eighth year and is likely one concussion away from being out of the NFL. Simoneau, at least to one NFL insider, is no more than a solid fourth linebacker.

Linebacker is a key position in any defense, and trading for Vilma marked a turn for the Saints in terms of personnel. But I don't think they're done yet. With the injury risk to Morgan and Simoneau likely to see an erosion in his production soon, the Saints likely will need a candidate to combine with Vilma and Shanle for the future.

There is a solid bunch of talent at the position this year, though it's not considered one of the top three position groups. There is enough talent, however, for the Saints to acquire a solid pro in the second or third rounds. While some mock drafts have linked the Saints to USC's Keith Rivers, I think it is more likely they'll seek a cornerback at that position.

THE TOP FIVE

Here are the top five linebackers in this draft, according to Scout.com:

Keith Rivers (ILB, 6-foot-3, 237 pounds), USC — Some say he's a bit overrated. The fact is Rivers can play all three linebacker positions and has the speed to catch most ball carries. He's solid in coverage, too.

Dan Conner (OLB, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds), Penn State — His talent, ability to pursue and size make him a sure first- or second-round pick. Most experts say he had an above-average pro day.

Jerod Mayo (ILB, 6-foot-2, 235 pounds), Tennessee — The only other five-star play on Scout.com's board at inside linebacker. Scouts love his physical play and overall quickness.

Tavares Gooden (OLB, 6-foot-2, 235 pounds), Miami (Fla.) — One thing Miami knows how to produce is talented linebackers. Gooden has some of the best speed in the draft among outside linebackers.

Curtis Lofton (6-foot, 235 pounds), Oklahoma — His stock took a beating at the Combine, but he resurrected his draft hopes at his pro day. Scouts are going to question his overall size, but he appears to have the speed to compete.

GET TO KNOW THEM

Want to know more about these prospects, plus other LBs the Saints could be interested in? Check out the links below.

Rivers talks about the Scouting Combine:

Conner sizes up the draft in Indy:

Xavier Adibi talks about what he would like to accomplish in the draft:


Why did the New Orleans Saints make the decision to re-sign most of their key offensive skill players and not pursue free agents? Click here for the expert analysis from saintsinsider.com's Matthew Postins and Scout.com's Adam Caplan.


The Saints have a Top 10 pick in this draft and they've already scheduled two meeting with Top 10 picks. Find out which defensive end and cornerback they're planning to host by clicking on the hot links.


Saintsinsider.com was one of the first to break down the significance of several of the Saints' offseason moves, with the help of the expert analysis of the Scout.com network. Read more about these signings, and their impact on the Saints, right here:

Mark Brunell.

Bobby McCray.

Randall Gay.

Matthew Postins is the publisher for saintsinsder.com. He is an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association.


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