Sedrick Ellis (first round pick, CB, Southern California)
New Orleans had an anemic pass rush last year, registering just 33 sacks. That lack of pressure had a palpable effect on both the Saints run and pass defense. But it had a larger impact on the pass defense, where the Saints were ranked near the bottom of the NFL in both total passing and passes of 40 or more yards allowed.
Ellis — who the Saints dealt two other selections, plus their No. 10 overall pick, to move up to No. 7 to draft — had 8 ½ sacks with USC last fall. The Saints believe he'll make an immediate impact.
"He's played probably more nose when you watch the college film, but he's a guy who can play in a three technique," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "He gives us flexibility in regards to the pass rush."
The Saints entered the offseason with some age on their defensive line. Hollis Thomas (34) is in his 13th season and Brian Young (30) is in his eighth. Brandon Villarreal and Antwan Lake are relatively young, but Ellis is an upgrade over both players.
Ellis was considered one of the most complete tackles in the draft, able to play both the run and the pass effectively at either the nose or the three technique. It's likely the saints will cross-train Ellis at both positions to take advantage of his athleticism.
Because the Saints made no moves in free agency to bolster their defensive interior, Payton said it was a priority on draft day. The Saints wanted LSU DT Glenn Dorsey and reportedly offered Kansas City a pretty sweet deal to move up to No. 5, a deal that included next year's first-round pick. But the Chiefs said no and the Saints found a trading partner in New England at No. 7.
"You understand that being patient, being smart and not necessarily having one specific player, but having a plan in place is the way to go," Payton said. "We were prepared to pick at ten if needed be. Fortunately we were able to move up and get Ellis."
Payton didn't anoint Ellis the starter at either tackle position, but it's clear that he'll be in the mix early and could acquire a starting job during his rookie season. Given the age at the position, he's certainly the future of the position.
And he has an ally in making a quick transition to the Saints' scheme. Saints DL coach Ed Orgeron coached Ellis at USC and certainly had a hand in bringing Ellis to New Orleans.
"I have an attachment to Sedrick because I recruited him," Orgeron said. "He comes from a great family and I think it is a great day for the Saints."
Orgeron's attachment may have yielded a cornerstone player for the Saints in 2008 and beyond.
Two reasons. First, the Saints were ranked near the bottom of the NFL pass defense. Second, only the Ravens gave up as many pass plays of 40 yards or more than the Saints last year.
"You scout this player from when he arrived at Indiana, all the way through his senior year, he's done a lot of the things that we would look for in our corners," Payton said. "We were excited."
All Saints fans are looking for is better pass defense in 2008. Porter isn't a particularly tall corner (5-foot-10) but he has excellent pure speed and quickness, a key to keeping up with receivers on downfield routes, especially the ones the Saints were beat on repeatedly last year. He also possesses good man cover skills.
Scouts are worried, though, that Porter isn't much of a hitter and only turned it on at Indiana for his senior season.
But what Porter gives the Saints is another option. Along with their new acquisitions, the Saints have Mike McKenzie — who is nursing an injury — and Jason David, last year's free agent catch who had a miserable season last year for New Orleans.
Porter envisions a competitive situation where he comes in and immediately challenges for a third or fourth cornerback role, which is possible given the team's general dissatisfaction with David's performance a year ago.
"I will play any and every area they want me to in New Orleans right now, whether it be corner, nickel or whatever," Porter said. "I am going to come in there and help get the entire defense better, the secondary as well as the front seven guys."
One thing is clear — the Saints felt their task of improving their anemic defense of a year ago wasn't done entering Saturday. Chances are, they improved it.
Matthew Postins is the publisher of saintsinsider.com. He is an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association.