New Orleans Saints positional previews: Defensive Line

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Jun 2, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackles David Onyemata (93) and defensive end Bobby Richardson (98) works with defensive coordinator Dennis Allen during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 2, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackles David Onyemata (93) and defensive end Bobby Richardson (98) works with defensive coordinator Dennis Allen during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /
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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 /

Defensive Tackles

C.J. Wilson, 7th season

C.J. Wilson is the veteran in the mix looking to make something of himself. New Orleans is his fourth team in the past few years, as Wilson spent his first few seasons with the Green Bay Packers and one-year stints with the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions. The 29-year-old has been in the league since 2010, and was originally a seventh-round pick. He has 102 career tackles and 5.5 sacks, and a Super Bowl ring from his rookie season. Don’t instantly dismiss Wilson from the equation, as he has experience at multiple positions on the defensive line. It’ll be interesting to see how the Saints use him.

Nick Fairley, 6th season

The buzz is on for Nick Fairley, who is arguably the most interesting piece of the New Orleans Saints defense. Fairley grew up a Saints fan, and wanted to play for his team all along. At a trimmed down weight hovering around 281 pounds, Fairley looks to be a key staple in Dennis Allen’s attack. If Fairley can eat the space on the front line, then the Saints run defense can improve exponentially. That’s what we’re looking forward to out of the 3-technique Alabama native.

John Jenkins, 4th season

John Jenkins has a golden opportunity to shine for Dennis Allen’s defense, but will he be able to? Jenkins dropped some 40 pounds heading into 2015, and ended up appearing in 49.8 percent (538) of the team’s defensive snaps. He finished out as one of the few positively graded Saints defensive players from Pro Football Focus with a +4.1 overall. Currently, Jenkins is penciled in as the starter on the team’s interior, but outside competition could push him and cause more of a committee approach if the fourth-year defender can’t distance himself from his opposition.

Tyeler Davison, 2nd season

I had a good bit to say on Tyeler Davison and his second season with the New Orleans Saints in his recent sophomore spotlight. I believe Davison is the defensive tackle that you need to keep a close eye on, as I pegged him for a breakout season. I like his natural ability and push he gets even when he’s double teamed, which should change some with emphasis having to shift to teammates Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins. I see him splitting time with Jenkins to start the season, but eventually take over.

Sheldon Rankins, Rookie

As the 13th overall pick in the NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints ended up making the right choice by taking Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins. The biggest themes I see with Rankins is how humble and focused he is, and how excited he is about his new opportunity. He’s a player that is clearly hungry, and wants to make the most of his chance. Overall, Rankins is a hard worker all over the field that focuses on attacking the ball any chance he gets. He’s a true 3-technique defensive tackle that brings bull rushing and run-stuffing to a team that needs to improve against the run and get after the passer.

David Onyemata, Rookie

I had a good bit to say on David Onyemata in my earlier article as the No. 9 Saints player to watch at training camp. Again, the fourth-round pick from Canada is newer to football, but you couldn’t tell based on his film. One thing that stands out from some of his tape is the fact he keeps his head up in plays. He’s truly a project, but may surprise many. Yes, he’s been working as a defensive end, which is what he was doing in the Senior Bowl. However, he was drafted as a defensive tackle.

Ashaad Mabry, 1st season

Ashaad Mabry was one of the first players the New Orleans Saints signed to reserve/future deals in January after spending the 2015 season on the practice squad. One season later, Mabry looks to cash in on the experience gained from others to make something of himself. Mabry’s back story was just one of the many positive things to come out during last year’s offseason. He has his work cut out for him, but can obviously make an impact.

Lawrence Virgil, 2nd season

After veteran safety Jamarca Sanford was sent to season-ending injured reserve, the Saints brought back Valdosta State’s Lawrence Virgil in mid-June. Virgil, who didn’t have his exclusive rights free agent contract picked up in March, has only one game under his belt from 2014. In 2015, Virgil’s season was cut short after sustaining an injury in the team’s first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. At 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, he certainly has some strong qualities to offer, but likely gets lost among the other players.

Next: Defensive Ends

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