The last three seasons, excluding blitzes, our edge pressure on passing downs has been completely at the mercy of Will Smith's health. Going into the draft, I think defensive end has to be the position the Saints target to bolster their depth. If they don't go with defensive end very early in the draft (1st three rounds) that specializes in getting to the quarterback, I'll be disappointed. Currently on the roster are Will Smith, Alex Brown, Jeff Charleston and Junior Galette. While things are stable with those four, they're far from outstanding. Here's how I view each player:Will Smith - I'm not really sure what to think of him at this point. When healthy, he's a solid player both against the run and rushing the passer. He's the most complete end of the bunch, and by far the most expensive. Smith agreed to a 6 year, $70 million deal of which he'll be entering in his 4th year this upcoming season. In his first 3 years of the deal, Smith posted a career low 3 sacks in 2008, a career high 13 sacks in 2009, and a second lowest output of his career in 2010 with 5.5 sacks. In both 2008 and 2010, Smith was suffering from what's been a reoccurring hernia issue, and while he was able to play with that injury it clearly affected his performance. 2009 was really promising and made it seem like he was worth every penny of that extension, and then 2010 was eerily similar to 2008 in it's disappointment. What we'll see from Smith in 2011 is anyone's guess, but there's a very realistic chance he'll miss the first four games due to that StarCaps suspensions.
Alex Brown - He was fine in his first year with the Saints, but he didn't strike me as the long term solution at end. Despite 16 starts, he finished with a career low 2 sack output. His career high was 7 sacks, so it's not like he's ever been a premiere rusher by any stretch, but it was worth noting that he was particularly bad at generating pressure. While he was solid against the run and proved to a huge part of the Saints' run defense improvement, having him on the field on 3rd and long is a liability.
Jeff Charleston - He's one of those "high motor" guys that coaches always love, but he's not the type of guy that can be a long term starter. He's a solid role player, but that's probably it. He did finish with 3 sacks which was a nice contribution considering his limited playing time.
Junior Galette - In recent interviews Gregg Williams talked this kid up a good bit. He certainly showed superior pass rushing ability in preseason, but never really got a chance to showcase his skills in the regular season. Galette was a big reason why Bobby McCray was sent packing, so he has promise. Still, the fact that he didn't see the field at all last year leads me to believe he's still very much a work in progress.
The bottom line is this: we know we can't count on Alex Brown and Jeff Charleston to consistently put pressure on the passer. As mentioned in the first line of this post, Will Smith's health has a lot to do with how much edge pressure the Saints can muster. I think we'd all like to see Galette get a real chance this upcoming season, but beyond that, we need a guy that can generate pressure. Will Smith is likely going to be out the first four games of the season, so depth is as crucial as ever.
Are you on board? Shall we draft high a guy that can bring heat off the edge?