Saints: 3 free agent targets to replace Malcolm Jenkins who aren’t Tyrann Mathieu

Kareem Jackson #22 of the Denver Broncos. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kareem Jackson #22 of the Denver Broncos. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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New Orleans Saints
DeShon Elliott #32 of the Baltimore Ravens. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

1. DeShon Elliott

Of all the free agent options, Elliott offers the highest risk but also the highest reward as a potential top-tier safety.

Elliott will enter his fourth year in the league after spending the past three seasons on the Baltimore Ravens, a team Saints fans may have a bone to pick with after the Ravens nabbed Marcus Williams in free agency.

The 24-year-old could still return to Baltimore on a cheaper deal, but the Saints should consider him as a potential heir to Jenkins’ throne. Elliott came into the league as more of a strong safety, though he played mostly free safety with the Ravens due to their defensive scheme. In NOLA, Elliott would slide right back in his natural position and develop as a stalwart run defender in the box.

Last season, amid a slew of injuries to the Ravens’ secondary, Elliott filled in admirably as a starting-caliber safety who helped Baltimore achieve a string of victories early in the season.

Here’s the kicker, though: Elliott’s career has been riddled with injuries ever since he was drafted in 2018. Elliott missed his entire rookie year due to a fractured forearm, suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2019, and suffered two more injuries in Week 9 of this past season. He ended up playing just six games in 2021, recording 23 combined tackles, three quarterback hits, one sack, and one interception.

His injury-plagued career aside, Elliott could inject New Orleans’ defense with unrivaled vigor and has the highest upside of any other remaining free agent safety. If the Saints can get past his problematic injury history, they could sign him to a shorter deal and see how well he performs in 2022.

At best, Elliott would evolve into an even more productive playmaker than Jenkins and become the steadying crux of the Saints’ pass defense.

At worst, Elliott would spend most of his time on the bench, and NOLA would need to double-dip in free agency or the draft to solidify the safety position.

Next. Ranking the Saints’ biggest needs after first wave of free agency. dark

Are the NOLA Saints willing to take the risk, considering the gaping hole Malcolm Jenkins left behind? Probably not, but Elliott remains an under-the-radar safety to keep an eye on this offseason.