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Analyzing the Saints’ elite defense heading into free agency

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

Edge Rusher

With the Saints likely to lose Trey Hendrickson to free agency, one might think they will need to invest in an edge rusher. However, that couldn’t be farther from the case.

In Cameron Jordan, they have a pass rusher who generates double teams, is a well-rounded player, and had three-straight seasons with double-digit sacks prior to this season. Sacks may be a volatile statistic, but the 32-year-old certainly has built up the track record as a prestigious pass rusher.

Then, there’s Marcus Davenport. Ever since New Orleans traded a future first-round pick to trade up to select him in the 2018 draft, expectations were high on him to be the missing piece for a Super Bowl push. Thus, his three-year start to his career is seen as a disappointment.

However, the idea that a rookie at a lesser-valuable position was ever going to be the missing piece was ill-fated, particularly when Davenport played college at UTSA; his learning curve to the NFL was always going to be longer.

To be fair, Davenport has been relatively productive in the NFL.

The 24-year-old has posted 17 or more pressures in every season of his career, and that’s with him not being an every-down player. In terms of pressures/snap, in fact, his season was similar to Jordan, and although he had just 1.5 sacks, that just shows the volatility of the statistic.

As long as he continues to pressure the quarterback, he’ll get more sacks, and he also is well-regarded as a run defender, making him an every-down player.

Even with Hendrickson leaving, Carl Granderson would appear to be a logical fit to step in and try to fill his shoes. The former undrafted free agent out of Wyoming didn’t play much of a role as a rookie, but in around 300 snaps in 2020, he totaled 11 pressures and five quarterback knockdowns.

At 6-foot-5 and 261 pounds, he is a similar build to Hendrickson and should be able to play a similar role.

Yes, Hendrickson had a lot of sack production this year, but he also benefitted greatly from the attention Jordan and Onyemata dealt with, as he several of his pressure were more on the “cleanup” side of rushing the passer rather than pure disruption. To take advantage of this, the Saints need to let Granderson benefit from a similar opportunity.

Overall, this team is pretty set at edge rusher. They could add a cheap young player likeR Charles Harris, Ryan Anderson, or Jordan Willis, but if any addition is made, it likely comes in the middle rounds of the draft.

From a production standpoint, UCF’s Jordan Smith and Miami’s Quincy Roche stand out, while Coastal Carolina’s Tarron Jackson, Buffalo’s Malcolm Koonce, and Northern Iowa’s Elerson Smith are day-three options as well to add depth.

Smith offers strong value, but similar to interior defensive line, this position won’t be where their resources should be spent.