Saints need Khalen Saunders to have a bounce-back season in year two in New Orleans

Defensive tackle Khalen Saunders was a key free agency acquisition for the New Orleans Saints in 2023, but he didn’t deliver how the team hoped he would.
New Orleans Saints v Indianapolis Colts
New Orleans Saints v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

During the 2023 offseason, the New Orleans Saints signed defensive tackle Khalen Saunders to a three-year contract worth $14.5 million. Saunders was coming off a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs, the second of his career, and the best season of his four-year career. The Saints were excited to bring him in, hoping that he would make a difference on the defensive line.

Unfortunately, Saunders wasn’t as dominant in his first year in New Orleans as he was in his last year in Kanas City. In 2023 with the Chiefs, Saunders played in 16 games, recording 3.5 sacks, 48 total tackles, with three for a loss, and eight quarterback hits. In 2024, year one with the Saints, Saunders started all 17 games, recording 57 total tackles, with one for a loss, and two quarterback hits, but didn’t have any sacks.

Now, Saunders is preparing for his second year in New Orleans, and the Saints are hoping that he can have a bounce back year. If he can, the defense will benefit greatly.

Saints defense needs an improved interior defensive line

Ahead of the 2024 season, the interior defensive line has been called New Orleans’ biggest weakness. Defensively, the Saints have a top linebacker group with Demario Davis, Pete Werner, and Willie Gay, and an elite secondary with two many guys to list. However, the interior defensive line could be the units Achilles’ heel.

In 2023, New Orleans gave up 119.9 rushing yards a game, which ranked them 22nd in the league. The Saints also only had 34 sacks on the year, fourth-least in the NFL. Underwhelming in both of those departments has a lot to do with the defensive line, interior and edge defenders.

New Orleans added Chase Young, and Cam Jordan is now healthy, so the edge group is expected to be improved. The biggest addition for the interior defensive line was drafting Khristian Boyd in the sixth round. Aside from that move, the Saints are pretty much hoping that Saunders, Nathan Shepherd, and Bryan Bresee can all take things up a notch.