The New Orleans Saints defense sacked opposing quarterbacks 42 times in 2017, third best in the NFC. The team's defensive ends accounted for 26 takedowns, with 13 coming from All-Pro Cameron Jordan. The Saints defense had struggled in recent years providing any kind of threat opposite Jordan, but they did get some production from the position last season. Alex Okafor, a 2017 free agent signee, 2017 3rd round pick Trey Hendrickson, 2015 2nd round pick Hau'oli Kikaha, and George Johnson, a late season signing, all had some very good moments during the Saints run to the playoffs. Still, Coach Sean Payton has outlined the team's plans to add pass rushing threats a number of times this offseason. After not addressing this issue during free agency, it's clear that New Orleans will look to add pressure players in next week's draft. Today's player profile takes a look at a player who might provide such a threat.
Lorenzo Carter, EDGE (Georgia)
Carter was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of Norcross High School in Georgia, and elected to keep his talents close to home with the hometown Bulldogs. In the eyes of some, he did not live up to immense expectations, but was still a 4-yr. contributor and one of Georgia's defensive stars on the 2017 national runner-up. He finished his collegiate career with 15 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, 6 fumbles forced and 6 more fumbles recovered, with a second team All-SEC selection last year. Carter was one of the stars of the NFL Scouting Combine, showcasing freakish athletic ability. His 130 inch broad jump was the best among all edge rushers, and 10th best among every participant at the combine, while his 4.5 40-time was second best among edge rushers and 36" vertical leap ranked 3rd.
Carter played effectively in college as both a defensive end and an off the ball linebacker. He has an excellent combination of speed and power with solid instincts for the game. Carter has outstanding initial quickness off the snap, and good lean around the edge as a rusher. He utilizes his speed and a strong punch to get around opposing tackles quickly. Once freeing himself from blockers, Carter has an explosive closing burst to the quarterback or ball carrier. Despite his height, he keeps adequate leverage against the run, and will not hesitate to mix it up in the trenches. A flexible athlete, he has good change of direction ability, effective in both pursuit and when dropping into coverage. Carter has a smooth backpedal into zones, and his athleticism allows him to have good range in coverage down the field. He is an asset on special teams as well, his explosive leaping ability and long reach make him a formidable presence on kick blocking units. Carter's long frame will allow him to add bulk and muscle without sacrificing speed, which could be necessary on the next level. He can get overwhelmed by power blockers, and sometimes pushed off the ball against the run. He can also get caught up in traffic while in pursuit, nullifying his athleticism. Carter can also be a bit slow to react to plays in the flat or outside of him, although his long stride makes up ground quickly. Carter is projected to be an early Day Two selection, that could move into the latter stages of round 1 based off his potential or team needs.
Nfl.com comparison: Na'il Diggs (Packers/Panthers - retired)
Okafor, Kikaha, Hendrickson, and Johnson combined for 13 sacks last season. Okafor's recovery from an Achilles injury last year will be a key storyline, and he was one of the Saints best run-pass defenders in 2017. Lorenzo Carter is a potential every down defender at the NFL level. He has shown the abilities of both a defensive end as well as linebacker in certain alignments. His low sack total comparative to expectations has been a drawback for some, but Carter has 28 quarterback pressures over the last two seasons. He projects to an edge rusher at the pro level, but Carter has the athleticism and versatility to be a valuable weapon for any NFL defense.