New Orleans Saints: Way too early roster projection on defense for 2021
New Orleans Saints Defensive Ends (5):
- Cameron Jordan
- Marcus Davenport
- Tanoh Kpassagnon
- Carl Granderson
- Payton Turner
Cameron Jordan, the six-time Pro Bowler who is closing in on the great Rickey Jackson as the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, remains a model of consistency on the edge despite his (soon to be) 32 years of age. A pro’s pro at the position, Jordan remains equally adept against run and pass.
Jordan’s counterpart on the right side of the defense will once again be Marcus Davenport. While Davenport is often associated with the two first-round picks the Saints gave up to draft him in 2018, even those among the Saints fanbase who have labeled him a bust would be happy to admit they were wrong if Davenport were to parlay his ample talents into a Trey Hendrickson-like year-four breakout.
While the hope is that Davenport can help in replacing some part of Hendrickson’s team-leading 13.5 sacks from the previous season, the question of who will replace Hendrickson as both the team’s third end and designated pass rush specialist could be a bit more complicated. Given Davenport’s injury history, the first area to examine pertains to who Saints coaches might choose to man his starting spot should he be forced to miss game time in 2021.
Enter Tanoh Kpassagnon, the 6’7″, 290-pounder who started at defensive end in consecutive Super Bowls for the Kansas City Chiefs. If perhaps not exceptional in any particular aspect of his game, the fifth-year veteran provides the Saints with a starter-quality player to whom they can turn if/when needed.
In terms of Hendrickson’s role as the team’s additional rusher on passing downs, Dennis Allen and Saints defensive line/assistant head coach Ryan Nielsen are likely of the hope that Carl Granderson can grow into the role with another year of development and an increase in playing time.
This leaves Payton Turner, the No. 28 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Under the direction of Jeff Ireland, the Saints have not been hesitant to add upon a position of strength in the early rounds of the draft.
While one could argue whether such a designation should be applied to the Saints’ defensive line/pass rush group, it does not make it any easier to find a clear role for Turner among the team’s projected regulars upfront.
That is not to say that Saints fans should not be excited about having Turner in New Orleans, as his upside as a prospect is truly off-the-charts. The 6’5″, 270-pound Turner combines elite length (84 1/8” wingspan) with a quick first step and the strong, well-placed hands needed to establish early-snap leverage and create push off of the snap.
Having aligned outside of guards as a three-technique and across from tackles as a nominal end within the three-man fronts that Houston utilized during his first two collegiate seasons, a switch to a 4-2-5 defense before his junior season would bring with it the opportunity for Turner to chart his path as an EDGE defender.
Turner comes to the Saints on the heels of a dominant senior campaign that saw him record five sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss in five games played. While Turner’s experience playing across the defensive front in college speaks to his versatility, the hope is that his continued ascension will be hastened by professional coaching and the opportunity to focus on a primary position.