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saintz08 04-19-2004 01:32 AM


Draft Day plans are often altered due to which players are available on the board when you select, but the needs of the New Orleans Saints are quite obvious.

On offense, the Saints need to acquire a budding young starter at wide receiver. With a group as deep as any in NFL draft history, the Saints should be able to pick up a talented receiver with one of their first four picks. With Joe Horn 32 years old and the team unable to get 2002 No. 1 pick Donté Stallworth on the field on a consistent basis, the Saints need to upgrade a position that was the most disappointing in 2003.

Fullback is also a need area, but more so in the later rounds of the draft. Veteran Sam Gash was brought in this spring, but due to his advancing age, the Saints need to acquire another blue-collar lead blocker. Keep an eye on Arizona State’s Mike Karney and Kansas State’s Travis Wilson in the sixth or seventh round.

Defense is where the Saints need the biggest makeover. The draft will not be the cure-it-all fix, but it could clearly help, if the right players are brought aboard.

The bottom line for the Saints’ defense is that it just has not been able to stop the run on a consistent basis over the past three seasons. Without help at middle linebacker and at defensive tackle, this trend will continue.

In mid-March, I published my draft book and predicted the Saints would select Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble. At that time, the Saints looked as though they would be locked in to selecting the best cornerback on the board, but now with the recent acquisition of Jason Craft from the Jacksonville Jaguars, the cornerback spot is not a "must" in the opening round.

There is one player, if he is available, that could put some real teeth in upgrading the Saints’ run defense, and that player is Miami (Fla.) middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Vilma is clearly the top inside linebacker in the draft, and he has been a dominant player in college football for the past three seasons.

Since taking over the middle linebacker position from former Hurricane All-American and current Carolina Panthers standout Dan Morgan in 2001, Vilma has led the ëCanes in tackles each of the past three seasons.

Intelligence, football instincts, athletic excellence and quick play recognition are the hallmark of Vilma’s work on the field. When you watched the Hurricanes’ defense play, there was no mistaking who the captain and the team leader was.

I have written this in the past, but to repeat myself, Vilma is the closest middle linebacker I have seen to compare to former New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers standout Sam Mills over the past 10 years.

If Vilma were 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, we would not even be discussing the possibility of him being around at the 18th spot in the first round. But at 6-0½ and 228 pounds, the possibility of him still being there exists, and it all deals with his lack of prototypical size.

With that said, if you look at the heights and weights of current NFL middle linebackers like Ray Lewis, Zach Thomas, Al Wilson, Dat Nguyen and London Fletcher when they came out of college, Vilma is just as big, or bigger.

The Saints need to add a football player who can bring not just athletic ability but production and football intelligence, and that is what Vilma would bring to the table.

If Vilma is still on the board at the 18th position, I expect the Saints will select him.

With two choices in the second round, the Saints should look at upgrading their talent and depth at both cornerback and defensive tackle.

With one of the richest years in recent memory at defensive tackle, finding a good inside defensive lineman should not be a tough chore.

Could the Saints use their top three choices on defensive players? Yes, they could well do so. And with the exception of adding another young receiver, they should.

The draft is always a bit of a crapshoot, but it is a high-priced one, and the winners normally find themselves playing deep in January.

Saints fans would love to finally have the roll of the dice come up right, for a change.

If you think picking 18th in the first round guarantees you a top-flight player, think again. Listed below are the last 14 players selected with the 18th overall pick.

2003 -- Calvin Pace, defensive end, Wake Forest, Arizona Cardinals

2002 -- T.J. Duckett, running back, Michigan State, Atlanta Falcons

2001 -- Jeff Backus, offensive tackle, Michigan, Detroit Lions

2000 -- Chad Pennington, quarterback, Marshall, New York Jets

1999 -- Matt Stinchcomb, offensive tackle, Georgia, Oakland Raiders

1998 -- Robert Edwards, running back, ,Georgia, New England Patriots

1997 -- Kenny Holmes, defensive end, Miami (Fla.), Houston Oilers

1996 -- Eddie Kennison, wide receiver, LSU, St. Louis Rams

1995 -- Napoleon Kaufman, halfback, Washington, Oakland Raiders

1994 -- DeWayne Washington, cornerback, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh Steelers

1993 -- Ernest Dye, offensive tackle, South Carolina, Arizona Cardinals

1992 -- Dana Hall, cornerback, Washington, San Francisco 49ers

1991 -- Alfred Williams, outside linebacker, Colorado, Cincinnati Bengals

1990 -- Tony Bennett, outside linebacker, Mississippi, Green Bay Packers

Chuck 04-19-2004 09:14 AM

We should move up, Saints really need him, why take the chance, yea he probally will be there but maybe not.

chRxis 04-19-2004 01:00 PM

Vilma is ALMOST a \"can\'t miss\" player and we would be an INSTANT contender with him at MLB next year... hard to believe that i\'m suggesting Vilma so much, considering i was totally in love with getting gamble, but with adding craft, CB seems a little more stable now... i still would not mind gamble..... yeah, he had a bad combine, but he had great career at OSU.

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