Saints should focus on front seven, tight end at combine

The Saints have had some success with Ohio State draft picks recently, and Sam Hubbard could be next in line. Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A closer look at the positions the New Orleans Saints could target at the NFL combine in Indianapolis:

Positions of need: The Saints wound up with a whopping five starters in last year’s draft class -- including the offensive and defensive rookies of the year, Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore. But it’s going to be awfully hard for them to come anywhere close to that level of instant impact this year.

The Saints don’t pick until 27th in Round 1. Then they don’t pick again until the end of Round 3 because they traded their second-round pick to get Kamara last year. That means New Orleans had better look to fill its most glaring needs in free agency.

In my book, those biggest needs are defensive end (since last year’s standout starter Alex Okafor is a free agent and is coming back from a torn Achilles), a pass-catching tight end and an athletic outside linebacker.

This week’s NFL scouting combine should help the Saints identify which position groups are the deepest in the draft -- and which position groups might present multiple options for them late in Round 1. That should help them identify which needs must be filled in free agency and which ones they might be able to wait on until the draft.

Three players the Saints should focus on at the combine:

Dallas Goedert (TE), South Dakota State: There don’t seem to be any surefire first-round tight ends at this point in the pre-draft process. But Goedert, South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and Penn State’s Mike Gesicki can all try to help their cases at the combine. Goedert probably has the most to gain since he played at a lower level of competition in college and was sidelined by a hamstring injury during the Senior Bowl practices. It’s unclear whether Goedert is back to full health yet, and the medical check might be as important as anything else for him. But his potential is enticing as a 6-foot-4 260-pounder with pass-catching and blocking ability.

Sam Hubbard (DE), Ohio State: Hubbard seems to be on the first-round bubble heading into the pre-draft workout process. But he seems like a perfect fit for New Orleans since the Saints like bigger defensive ends (he’s 6-5, 265 pounds) and since he went to Ohio State. The Saints have hit the jackpot with Ohio State prospects over the past two years (Lattimore, WR Michael Thomas and S Vonn Bell). Obviously they won’t reach for Hubbard based solely on his college, but they’ll certainly take a close look since he fills such a glaring need and had a strong college career with 17 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in three years.

Rashaan Evans (LB), Alabama and Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Boise State: Either of these guys could fill a longtime need for the Saints as an athletic linebacker with the ability to cover tight ends and running backs and the speed to chase down runners from sideline to sideline. The Saints got a glimpse of that ability from third-round draft pick Alex Anzalone last year before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury (an issue that also plagued him in college). But their need for a coverage linebacker will be even greater this year if they lose safety Kenny Vaccaro in free agency.