Saints didn’t waste time before improving ahead of 2023

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Derek Carr Saints signing press conference
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

With the first week of NFL free agency wrapped up, the New Orleans Saints have made well-calculated additions to their roster. They may have lost some players to open up the negotiating period, but they bounced back quickly with cost-effective and impactful additions. The additions made show a clear understanding of where the team wanted to improve from their 2022 campaign.

New Orleans lost their two starting interior defensive linemen , David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle to the division-rival Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers respectively. But then they turned around and quickly added former Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Khalen Saunders and former New York Jets interior pass rusher Nathan Shepherd.

Both Saunders and Shepherd bring improved pass rush win rates over their predecessors. But they also both rank tied or near the team’s previous rankings in run stop percentage per Pro Football Focus (PFF).

This shows that the Saints, who saw just 11.5 of their 48 sacks come from their interior linemen, are focused on further developing the attacking nature of their defensive line. And that they particularly want to where they can most

Immediately impact opposing quarterbacks: On the inside.

Saunders brings a 30-place improvement in pass rush win rate over Tuttle from 2022 while Shepherd provides top-10 production in the metric. That’s a big step forward for both potential starting roles. A good start for the team when it comes to rebuilding that area of the defense. Though it’s clear the Saints have always been a team heavy on rotation in the interior, adding more talent, or retaining defensive tackles like Malcolm Roach or Kentavius Street, is a must.

New Orleans went on to add running back Jamaal Williams. The former Detroit Lions led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2022 with 17. Many have pointed out that a large portion of those scores were in short-yardage situations with 14 of those rushing scores came from within 4 yards of the goal line. All true but to pretend that that’s not of value would be short-sighted.

The Saints were one of the worst drive-finishing teams in the NFL last year. They also ranked No. 15 in conversion percentage on third and 3 of fewer yards despite being in the top-5 in facing those situations.

Williams is more than just a power, short-yardage back as well. With the Green Bay Packers, he averaged nearly 40 catches per season. Including a year in which 39 receptions with 5 touchdown catches. Just because Detroit used him overwhelmingly one way, it doesn’t mean that that is all he has left in his game. It would not be surprising to see him playing a little lighter this year either, currently listed at 224 pounds during his last sting with the Lions.

The six-year veteran running back could also be helpful in extending drives. If New Orleans finds themselves in a third-and-1 situation at a big point in the game, having Williams, star running back Alvin Kamara, offensive weapon Taysom Hill and a healthy wideout in Michael Thomas, they have a plethora of options as to how they would like to attack that much-needed third down conversion. Not to mention rookie wide receiver Chris Olave was prolific in third down situations in 2022 as well converting 22 first downs on 28 third down receptions.

New Orleans also must have identified a need for more depth on the offensive line considering the amount of injuries that have riddled the position group for years. They added another possible depth piece this offseason in signing former Las Angeles Chargers right tackle Storm Norton. The Toledo graduate started 15 games on the right side for Los Angeles in 2021. During which time he was credited with 59 pressures (9 sacks) allowed that season, per PFF. He then had no starts in 2022, but played 62 pass-blocking snaps, allowing 10 pressures. He’s not going to be starter quality without some improvement, but depth-wise and throughout camp, Norton will provide much-needed rotation.

The Saints have done a solid job this offseason identifying where they wanted to improve and wasting no time doing so. Now, they’ll need to continue to build out their defensive line, address depth at linebacker and safety and possibly look for more weapons on offense. But one or two talented additions to that side of the ball should wrap things up.

The best news for New Orleans is that the teams has the cap space available to get it all done, too. The Saints are currently listed at No. 9 per Over The Cap in effective cap space, which takes rookie class signings into consideration, with $13.2 million available.

New Orleans has done good work so far adding the acquisition of quarterback Derek Carr to the ledger but it doesn’t look like they’re done yet.

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Ross Jackson

Saints/Football Analyst

Ross Jackson has been the host of the daily Locked On Saints podcast, covering the New Orleans Saints since 2018. Since then, his host role has expanded to include co-hosting Locked On NFL on Tuesdays with a focus on in-depth analysis on the biggest stories across the NFL and fantasy football. Ross is also a contributor for Saints Wire, part…

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