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Saints 2017 Year in Review: Trey Hendrickson

A forgotten rookie in perhaps the best draft in Saints history will look to play a bigger role in 2018.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints entered the 2017 draft looking to fill a number of needs. Top among them was a defensive end to play opposite of their best defensive player, Cam Jordan, something that the team had lacked for years. The Saints had already added Alex Okafor in free agency to go along with 2015 2nd round pick Hau'oli Kikaha, a promising player plagued by injury. Many believed that New Orleans would still address this need early in the draft, and most projections had them doing it with one of their two 1st round selections.

Florida Atlantic v Florida Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The Saints surprised many by waiting to select a defensive end or edge rusher until their third pick in the 3rd round, their sixth draft selection. New Orleans used the 103rd overall pick, acquired from the New England Patriots as part of the trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, to draft Trey Hendrickson out of Florida Atlantic University. Hendrickson had 41 career tackles for loss and 29.5 career sacks for the Owls, including 23 sacks in his final two seasons. He then moved further up the NFL draft boards with his standout performances in postseason workouts and the NFL draft combine. Hendrickson was limited in preseason due to injury, and missed the team's week 1 loss to Minnesota, but quickly became a part of the Saints defensive line rotation once healthy. He notched his first career sack during a week 3 victory at Carolina. The 6'4 270-lb. rookie played with a non-stop motor, good strength at the point of attack, and solid athletic ability. Hendrickson suffered an ankle injury in the Saints week 13 loss at Atlanta, forcing him to miss the final three weeks of the regular season. That further thinned the New Orleans defensive line depth, already having lost Okafor and Kikaha with season-ending injuries weeks earlier. He did return in time for the postseason, and played well in the Saints two playoff games.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Hendrickson had 13 tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and batted down 2 passes in 2017. He needs to improve as a pass rusher, but played well against the run. He was a bit overlooked in a historic New Orleans draft that landed Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, and Alvin Kamara on the NFL All-Rookie team. Kamara and Lattimore also earned Pro Bowl honors while winning the league Offensive and Defensive Rookie of Year. Okafor enters free agency, and is recovering from an Achilles injury, and Kikaha has not been able to stay healthy. Regardless of how high the team decides to prioritize this position this offseason, the progression of Trey Hendrickson will likely be a key to the success of the Saints defensive line in 2018.