Ranking Saints needs: Tulane’s Tyjae Spears feels like perfect fit, but young RB is a must no matter where they’re from

The Saints scooped us!

Of course we suspected this might happen, but the Saints have already filled the No. 1 spot on our ranking of their roster needs by closing the deal with free agent quarterback Derek Carr this week.

That means our final three is really a final two now as we head toward the start of free agency next week. The legal tampering window opens Monday, then teams are officially allowed to sign free agents on Wednesday March 15.

No. 3 Running back

Current depth chart:

• RB Alvin Kamara. Age 27. Signed through 2025.

• RB Mark Ingram II. Age 33. Unrestricted free agent.

• RB David Johnson. Age 31. Unrestricted free agent.

• RB Eno Benjamin. Age 23. Signed through 2023.

• RB Dwayne Washington. Age 28. Unrestricted free agent.

• RB Derrick Gore. Age 28. Signed through 2023.

• FB Adam Prentice. Age 26. Signed through 2023.

Analysis: By my unofficial count, 97% of all mock drafts I’ve seen from Saints fans or Saints-focused analysts include Tulane running back Tyjae Spears going to New Orleans with the No. 71 pick in Round 3.

The other 3% must think too highly of the local hero to allow themselves to project him slipping that far!

I’m only half joking, because let’s be honest, there couldn’t possibly be a better fit for any team at any spot in the draft. The Saints desperately need to add youth and talent to the RB position alongside Kamara – even if they decide to bring back Ingram in free agency. That would be true even if Kamara wasn’t facing a likely disciplinary suspension this offseason, but it’s even more true because of that looming concern.

Kamara is still just 27 years old. But when you consider the mileage he has accumulated over six NFL seasons and the contract that is scheduled to balloon in 2025, the Saints are going to need a new RB1 in the near future. And in the meantime, they need a 1A to pair alongside Kamara. Not only could a new back fill in while Kamara is suspended, but splitting time could keep both backs fresh – and allow the Saints to get more creative with Kamara’s usage as a runner and receiver instead of pinning him between the tackles so often.

That’s why the draft makes perfect sense. And frankly I wouldn’t even have a problem with the Saints trading up in Round 1 to draft an elite talent like Texas’ Bijan Robinson. But in general, I think the best value for RBs in any given year is Day 2 of the draft (if not Day 3), which makes that No. 71 slot such a tempting target to fill the void.

General manager Mickey Loomis agreed that good value can be found at the RB position in those rounds – and said the Saints were hoping to find that value in that range in the last year or two as well.

“It’s not because we didn’t want to,” Loomis said. “In particular, the last couple years we had some guys targeted and it was like, ‘Ahh, they went.’ … We actually went into last year and the year before the draft with the intent, ‘Hey, we need to get a running back in this draft. You know, middle rounds make the most sense.’ And then there either wasn’t a running back that was worth the pick, or there was a player in another position that was graded so much higher that we never expected to be able to get.”

All the better if circumstances finally line up for the Saints to take Spears as that Day 2 RB. Spears would be an instant fan favorite – fresh off his dominant senior season at Tulane; his 205 rushing yards and four touchdowns against USC in the Cotton Bowl; and the rave reviews he drew from analysts throughout Senior Bowl week.

“(Playing for the Saints) would be a dream come true. But wherever the opportunity presents itself,” the Ponchatoula native said during the NFL scouting combine.

When asked if he considers himself underrated, Spears said, “To be honest it really don’t matter, because I’m gonna get the opportunity sooner or later. So I’m just gonna show who Tyjae Spears really is. So I ain’t really tripping.”

It’s also possible the Saints could unearth some value in free agency since the RB group is so deep and diverse this year. Yes, the draft makes more sense considering the cheap cost. But if all NFL teams feel that way, it could drive down the prices on every tier of free agent, from Miles Sanders and David Montgomery to Kareem Hunt and Rashaad Penny to Damien Harris and Alexander Mattison.

One way or another, it’s a “must” for the Saints with all caps, an underline and an exclamation point.

Previous rankings:

No. 9 Cornerback

No. 8 Specialists

No. 7 Linebacker

No. 6 Safety

Ranking Saints needs: Safety, linebacker, specialists, cornerback among lower priorities

No. 5 Offensive line

Ranking Saints needs: Offensive line a spot where Saints could look to save money – or invest more


No. 4 Wide receiver/Tight end

Ranking Saints needs: Contested catches a top priority at WR or TE as they look to replace Michael Thomas

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