Saints may target defensive tackle spot early in NFL Draft

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Saints: Malcolm Brown, Shy Tuttle, Cam Jordan
(Photo: Parker Waters).

The end to the 2019 season was ugly for the New Orleans Saints.

At home, the offense was on the field for only 54 plays in an overtime playoff loss to Minnesota.

This week during the NFL draft, we will find out how much stock the Saints put in that “upset” defeat.

The Vikings, more than a touchdown underdog, ran the ball 40 times. They weren’t great at it but they were good enough to play keep away. That is always a quality idea when playing against the Saints offense on the Superdome carpet.

Meanwhile, I keep hearing about how much depth New Orleans have at defensive tackle.

I don’t buy it.

Of the Saints 51 sacks last season, 25 came from defensive ends Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport and Trey Hendrickson. The leading sacker among Saints defensive tackles were David Onyemata and Mario Edwards with three.

In the NFL, pressure off of the edge is important but pushing the pocket consistently in the interior of the line is at least as crucial to success.

The Saints are counting on a return to health from defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the club’s first round pick in 2016. When Rankins is healthy, he has at times been very good.

Unfortunately, that is a considerable if.

Rankins has missed time with injuries to his ankle, leg and Achilles tendon.

When Rankins played 16 games in 2018, he was outstanding, providing eight quarterbacks sacks.

The Saints can count on Onyemata to play solidly.     He’s missed one game in his NFL career, and that was due to suspension.

Back to Rankins: what happens if he is hurt again?

The Saints will be a back to a mix of solid free agents and veterans but no true difference makers are the tackles spots.

If one of your best defensive lineman goes down in the middle of the season, there are just not enough good reinforcements available.

A defensive line of Jordan, Davenport, Jenkins and another first round pick would give the Saints perhaps their best defensive line since 2000.

That season, the Saints added free agent defensive tackle Norman Hand and second round pick Darren Howard to a line that already included stellar performers Joe Johnson and La’Roi Glover.

The Saints secondary was solid in 2000 but not spectacular. It didn’t have to be.

Glover, Johnson and Howard combined for 40 sacks, and Hand contributed three sacks and consistent inside pressure.

Trading up to get an impact player in the draft is something the Saints have done often.

Since 2017, that aggressive strategy has yielded running back Alvin Kamara, defensive end Marcus Davenport, and center Erik McCoy.

If the Saints traded up for Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, the price could be very steep.

If New Orleans traded up for South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, the price may be as high but still steep.

Those two SEC standouts are the first round talents at defensive tackle.

The reason why the Saints have won more regular season games (37) than any team in the NFL over the last three seasons is because they have identified the right players and aren’t bashful about getting them.

There is considerable talk about upgrading at linebacker, cornerback or perhaps even another playmaker on offense.

If the Saints somehow drafted a defensive tackle or even an end early, they are telling the world they learned a painful but valuable lesson in their most reason playoff loss.

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Ed Daniels

WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM

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Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…

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