Offense, defense or best player available?

In the weeks leading up to the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft on Thursday, the Saints hosted 29 of the 30 prospects they were allowed to at their headquarters ahead of the event, according to General Manager Mickey Loomis.

They worked out some 40 league hopefuls who are from or went to college in the New Orleans area at their facility. They conducted 60 interviews at February’s scouting combine in Indianapolis and more at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., a month earlier — and that’s not counting separate, independent meetings.

“We’ve had an opportunity to talk to, really, every draftable player that we have on our board,” Loomis said Wednesday, his last session with the media ahead of the three-day draft.

Though Loomis didn’t reveal anything about who that all-consuming process identified as targets, he did feed some nuggets to those who can hardly wait any longer to find out just what New Orleans will do.

Loomis said the Saints have invested the time to learn what it would cost them to move up — and what they could get to fall back — from the No. 27 pick they were allotted for the first round, for example.

And he dispelled the notion that his front office is bound by any tendencies its past choices on trading a selection away or which side of the ball to strengthen may hint at.

For Loomis and his staff, the work wasn’t limited to whittling down a list of 3,000 draft prospects to 120, and then trimming that to 20 or 30 players they covet above all others.

Among the myriad tasks that followed was consulting a history of trades made during the last 15 drafts, Loomis said. He continued, “We have a pretty good sense if we move 10 spots forward, what that will cost; if we move eight spots back, what we should receive.

“I’ll have discussions with some of my counterparts around the league — in front of us, behind us — just to set the table, whether or not (a trade is) a possibility.”

Decisions about whether to make a move in either direction don’t really happen “until you’re on the clock,” he said.

Turning his attention to the public’s annual tradition of trying to predict what the Saints will do with their first-round pick, Loomis admonished against leaping to conclusions based on recent drafts.

Since becoming the Saints’ GM, Loomis has moved up via trades in the opening round in 2003 (his debut draft), 2005, 2008 and 2011. The last two were after the Saints hired coach Sean Payton.

The last time the Saints used their highest draft pick on an offensive player was in 2007, when the defense was coming off a year in which it had permitted the 11th-fewest yards out of 32 teams.

Subsequently, the Saints have used all six of their highest draft picks — five of which were in the first round — on defensive players.

Note that Saints running back Mark Ingram — one of two first-round draft picks in 2011 — was selected shortly after New Orleans grabbed defensive end Cameron Jordan.

Loomis wrote that series of facts off as “a coincidence,” explaining that the Saints for the most part had porous defenses the seasons preceding those drafts.

New Orleans surrendered the 26th-, 23rd-, 25th- and 24th-fewest yards in the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 seasons, respectively. In 2010, the Saints ceded the fourth-fewest yards.

But in 2012, less than three years on from their victory in Super Bowl XLIV and embroiled in the bounty scandal, the Saints gave up the most yards in NFL history.

Coordinator Rob Ryan took charge of the defense in 2013, and it allowed the fourth-fewest yards. That was a significant difference from previous years for the Saints as they prepared for the draft.

“Obviously,” Loomis said, “when you go into the draft and you have one side of the ball that’s struggling over another, then you tend to look to that side of the ball.”

The second and third rounds of the draft are Friday. The final four rounds of the draft are Saturday.

The Saints are entering the draft with one selection each in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth rounds. They begin with two picks in the fifth round.

The team unloaded a selection in the seventh round and gained one in the fifth as a result of trades.

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