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New Orleans Saints make defense NFL draft priority

The Green Bay Packers had the NFL's top scoring offense in 2011, but were ranked last in total defense and were bounced from the playoffs in the divisional round. Packers general manager Ted Thompson then drafted defensive players with the team's first six picks of the NFL 2012 Draft.

The New Orleans Saints could be in a similar position. The Saints ranked No. 3 in scoring offense, No. 31 in scoring defense and No. 32 in total defense last season. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

"Certainly we're looking closely at our defense, and that would be a priority," Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday on WWL-AM in New Orleans, according to "I would say this: When you start getting into that selection and you see magnets both offensively and defensively that are close to each other on the grade line, it's easy then -- if you feel real close about the players -- to go with one side of the ball or the other."

The Saints are switching to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and need help at virtually every position. There's an emphasis on the front seven and selecting a pass-rushing linebacker is probably the Saints' top priority in the 2013 NFL Draft.

But there's danger in drafting for need only.

"The challenge is when you see the magnet that sits up there much higher than the defensive player," Payton said, "for instance, and then are you just strictly trying to draft a need player as opposed to maybe the best available player. And I think the key is just, what's the gap?

"And so when a player falls or you feel like you have a real high grade on a player, you have to pay attention to that."

The Saints have an offense built to win now. Those offensive prospects better rank much higher if the Saints pass on a quality defender. Ryan needs pieces now, not in 2014 or 2015. Quarterback Drew Brees, 34, isn't getting any younger, and the organization can't afford to waste a season while the defense rebuilds.

Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter @kareemcopeland.

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