Saints Should Pursue DE/DT Calais Campbell

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Dec 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (left) attempts to tackle Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell (93) as he returns a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (left) attempts to tackle Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell (93) as he returns a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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Calais Campbell could provide much-needed versatility, experience, and pass-rushing to the New Orleans Saints defense.

The New Orleans Saints are in the market for a pass-rusher along the EDGE. And at first glance, Calais Campbell isn’t the ideal fit. He’s not a traditional EDGE rusher. In 2016 he often lined up as a DT and is better suited for run support than for rushing the passer.

But when you break down the tape, you’ll find a player that is more than capable of playing along the edge, and who can get after the passer better than most men his size. If anyone was getting double teamed along that Cardinals defensive line, 90% of the time it was Campbell. Even when he lined up at DE. And still he got things done.

He’s built on strength rather than speed, which is what sets him apart from the traditional DE. But he’s athletic enough to generate pressure along the edge even without pure speed. And he did score a 53-yard fumble return against the Saints, so he’s got some legs on him still.

Campbell likely won’t be the sole answer to the Saints’ problems along the D-Line. But at age 30, Campbell won’t garner the sort of top-tier money that, say, Melvin Ingram or even Nick Fairley will. And his versatility to be able to line up at DE or at DT would allow the Saints to let Fairley walk, with money left to bring in some cheaper DL help. It could also allow the Saints to pursue top-tier free agents at more than one position among their list of needs at CB, LB, and OL.

Strength

Far and away what stands out from Campbell’s tape is the upper body strength. He’s an effective bull-rusher and is very stout in run support. He’s difficult to move off his spot, and fills his gaps with excellent discipline.

At 6’8″ he’s a bit tall, and that can cause him to lose leverage. But even so, he’s hard to move. He’s even possibly at his most dangerous when he gets stood up by linemen, as he’s able to reach an arm over their shoulders and throw them to the side. You’ll see it over and over again on the tape; rarely do you see a player with that sort of consistent upper body strength.

When he lines up at DT, he plays more in the mold of Cam Jordan than of Nick Fairley.

Where Fairley liked to dip and bend through guards and centers to get after the quarterback, Campbell prefers to stay upright and keep squared with the QB. That doesn’t mean he’s not looking to get after the passer: at 300 lbs. he’s surprisingly nimble and is as likely to beat his man with a side-step move as with a bullrush. But it means that he’s more sound in run support. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fairley. But his rushing technique can leave him exposed in the run game. Campbell has no such flaw.

And at DE he can be a real burden on a tackle. Like I said, he doesn’t have the speed to burst through and turn the corner against NFL OLs. And if the Saints pick him up, they might do well to find a DE who can find the edge. But Campbell has plenty of moves to get after the QB from DE. Excellent use of hands allows him to keep the OL guessing as to whether he’s going to bullrush straight through. When an OL starts to lean forward into their punch Campbell can make them pay.

He doesn’t explode out of stunts, but his size and strength make him very effective at freeing others. The Cardinals ran a great deal of stunts in 2016 and Campbell played a big role in their success.

Age, Experience

At 30 years old, Campbell is nearing the last legs of his career. But he showed no signs of slowing down in 2016. He even still featured on the Cardinals’ Special Teams unit.

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When it comes down to it, I actually see Campbell’s age as a selling point. First of all, it means that he won’t demand the same type of money that another player of his caliber might. Spotrac calculates his market value at around $7.5 million a year. That’s compared to the estimated $10 million that Fairley figures to draw. And Campbell can play along the edge, where Fairley was limited to a single position.

On top of the contract issue, Campbell’s age and experience could make him a valuable asset to the Saints’ young DL group. From Sheldon Rankins to Tyeler Davison to David Onyemata to Hau’oli Kikaha, the Saints are young all across the line. And the Saints are expected to add another young piece in the draft. Particularly to Onyemata, Campbell could serve as a mentor and help further the project player’s development.

My Conclusion

If the Saints resign Nick Fairley, then they’d have no reason to go after Campbell. They would then need to go after someone more suited to the edge. But if they have to let Fairley walk, I don’t think there would be many better signings for the defense than Campbell.

His versatility would fill two holes at once along the DL. His experience would be a vital part of this young group’s development. And he could come at a much cheaper price than other players of his talent level. He could serve as a DE in the base and then move inside on passing downs, with a more natural EDGE rusher sliding in at DE.

Assuming the Saints add an EDGE rusher in the draft, that would be, in my mind, an ideal scenario for this Saints defense.

Next: Will the Saints replicate the Pelicans' bold move?

As always, let me know what you think.

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