The post-draft excitement of Saints fans was dampened a bit by this weekend's news that starting defensive tackle Nick Fairley's career may be threatened due to a heart condition. While the specifics and severity of Fairley's health are still being determined, all of our thoughts and prayers go out to Nick hoping that all goes well.
The health of Fairley is certainly the most important concern, but the football question remains: who will the Saints look to should Big Nick miss any time?
New Orleans does have a bit of salary cap space, should they decide to sign a veteran free agent to help fill the position. Progress is also expected from second year project David Onyemata, as highlighted just two weeks ago. Expectations are also huge for last year's 1st Round pick, Sheldon Rankins, who shows the potential to be an All-Pro caliber defensive tackle. Today, we will look at another player on the Saints roster that could fill in admirably, should Fairley miss any significant time: DT Tyeler Davison.
Tyeler Davison moved to Scottsdale, AZ to attend Desert Mountain High School following the tragic death of his mother due to a drug overdose. There, he overcame personal tragedy by becoming a prep star in both football and wrestling. Coaches on every level of Davison's career have pointed out that the things that stand out most to them are Davison's strength, and his tremendous intensity and desire.
Davison was a 5th Round pick by the Saints out of Fresno State in the 2015 NFL Draft. He had 13.5 sacks during his career with the Bulldogs, including 7 in his senior season. He was at times a dominant force from the middle, often completely disrupting the opponent's blocking schemes. Davison immediately worked himself into the defensive line rotation his rookie year, playing all 16 games and contributing 1.5 sacks. With Sheldon Rankins missing the first half of his rookie year in 2016, Davison started 15 games (alongside Nick Fairley) in the Saints defensive line last year.
Davison is not going to overwhelm anyone with athleticism. He struggles a bit in space, and doesn't have great change-of-direction ability. He pursues based off of hustle and tenacity. What he does bring to New Orleans is amazing strength, good leverage, and a “mean streak” that is hard to teach. He uses those tools to split double team blocking well to get into the opposing backfield. Davison doesn't have a wide array of pass rushing moves, but instead uses rip or swim moves to go along with use of leverage and upper body strength to beat his blockers. He legitimately enjoys the physical battles that take place within the line of scrimmage, and has the endurance to play a high volume of snaps. He isn't a big pass rushing threat, but his abilities as a run defender have helped the Saints defense improve in that aspect over the last two seasons.
Tyeler Davison should play a big role in the defensive plans of the New Orleans Saints in 2017. His ability to hold the point of attack, and tie up multiple blockers will be his key to success. That role will rarely put up a big stat line for the young tackle. What it will do, howeve,r is free up Rankins, Cam Jordan, Alex Okafor, Hau'oli Kikaha, and even Fairley into more single blocking situations, thereby giving them the chance to be playmakers.
If Nick Fairley misses playing time, there is most definitely a big hole to fill along the defensive line. This is not to suggest that Tyeler Davison can be the next Fairley - it's merely to point out that the football situation may not be as dire as initially appears even if Fairley misses time. The obvious hope is that Nick Fairley will be given a clean bill of health to continue his career with the New Orleans Saints, and his health is certainly the main priority.