Saints Roster Projection: Defensive Line

johnsigler
Jun 2, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Sheldon Rankins (99) during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Indoor Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 2, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Sheldon Rankins (99) during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Indoor Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /
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The New Orleans Saints roster will suffer some scheduled paring-downs this year, but knowing they’re coming won’t make it any less painful.  Little more than half of the players on the 90-man roster going into training camp will still be here come opening day against the Oakland Raiders in September.

The New Orleans Saints roster fielded an ineffective defensive line last year that struggled to pressure quarterbacks or stop runningbacks.  They needed some big upgrades this spring and came through with a pair of new interior linemen in Sheldon Rankins and Nick Fairley.  Along with Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, who can we expect to show up on Sundays this year?

Defensive Line (10)

  1. DT Nick Fairley #90
  2. DT Sheldon Rankins #99
  3. DT Tyeler Davison #95
  4. SDE Cameron Jordan #91
  5. SDE Bobby Richardson #78
  6. SDE David Onyemata #93
  7. WDE Kasim Edebali #91
  8. WDE Obum Gwacham #58
  9. WDE Davis Tull #55
  10. WDE D.J. Pettway #77

The New Orleans Saints roster suffered a blow in the loss of Hau’oli Kikaha, but it shouldn’t impact their team-building strategy in 2016 that heavily.  Kikaha was one of a couple of options to start at weakside defensive end, but hadn’t locked down a starting job yet.

It’s going to fall to other second-year players Obum Gwacham and Davis Tull to fill in behind third-year edge rusher Kasim Edebali, the presumptive starter.  Undrafted rookie D.J. Pettway (Alabama) showed off some impressive ability in limited action for the Crimson Tide and in minicamp practices.  There’s a place for him on this Saints roster.

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The strongside defensive end spot is in a bit of transition in 2016.  Cameron Jordan has played 90-percent or more of snaps the last few years but the promise of last year’s big undrafted rookie, Bobby Richardson, and this year’s surprise draft selection, David Onyemata, seem to suggest that Jordan will not have to shoulder such a heavy load moving forward.

It could be a surprise to see me projecting only three interior defensive linemen, but don’t brush that off at first glance.  All three of the Saints’ strongside ends (Jordan, Richardson, and Onyemata) have the size and experience to play at defensive tackle, which gives the Saints roster some versatility and disguised depth up front.

If I were to predict a veteran to be a surprise cut during training camp it would be nose tackle John Jenkins.  Now in his fourth year, Jenkins doesn’t look like a good fit for the Saints’ scheme.  He’s a traditional two-gapping nose tackle whose job is to be big and hold up opposing linemen.

The Saints have made it clear this summer that they want their linemen to penetrate upfield and disrupt plays.  Jenkins just isn’t cut out for that responsibility, so there may not be room for him on the team when roster cuts are due. We’ll see if he can add some new tricks to his toolbox come training camp.

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