The New Orleans Saints used the 24th pick of the 1st round in the 2011 draft to select defensive end Cameron Jordan from the University of California. Jordan quickly became the centerpiece of his team's defense, often being one of the only bright spots between 2014-16, when the unit often struggled. One of the reasons for the defense's shortcomings was due to a lack of a competent presence opposite of the talented Jordan. Over the last two seasons, the Saints have finally gotten some consistent production from that defensive end spot, and the result has an even more disruptive Jordan, along with more effective defensive results. Let's have a look at how this spot influenced the 2018 New Orleans Saints.
The Saints pulled off a trade with the Green Bay Packers to move up to the 14th spot in last spring's draft to select Marcus Davenport from U.T.S.A. Though raw, Davenport immediately showed the elite athletic ability and strength to potentially make him a force at the position. A foot injury suffered near midseason forced him to miss a number of games and short-circuited his progress a bit, but he did evolve into a much better all-around player by season's end. Davenport had 4.5 sacks during his rookie campaign, adding 12 quarterback hits and 6 tackles for loss among his 22 total tackles. He possesses a long reach to disrupt an opposing passer's vision, and can beat offensive tackles around the edge with quickness or with strong moves inside. Davenport looks to improve greatly as he learns the nuances of the pro game.
Alex Okafor recovered nicely from an Achilles injury that ended his 2017, playing a full 16 game season for the first time in his six year career. Okafor provided excellent run defense and a solid pass rush from the edge, finishing with 4 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, and 5 tackles for loss while recovering a fumble. A free agent signing prior to 2017 that helped fortify the defensive line, Okafor has opted out of the final year of his contract with New Orleans, making him an unrestricted free agent at the start of the league's new year in March.
Trey Hendrickson played in just five games in his second season, after a solid performance as a rookie 3rd round pick in 2017. He didn't record a sack, but did have 4 quarterback pressures. Hendrickson isn't anything special as a pass rusher, but is a good run defender with good length and a non-stop motor.
If Cam Jordan played in many other markets, he would be lauded as a surefire Hall of Famer. As it is, Jordan is one of the most versatile and underrated defensive players in the NFL. He led the team with 12 sacks, the third time in the last four seasons he finished with double digit takedowns and the fourth time in his eight year career. He is a constant disruptive force in the opponent's backfield, even while dealing with consistent holds against him that are borderline blatant muggings. Jordan plays the run as well as any edge defender in the league, and even has the athleticism to drop into occasional coverage. He is one of the team's emotional leaders that leads by example, and is the rock of consistency that the Saints defense builds itself around.
Okafor's pending free agency makes this a position that will once again need addressed this offseason. The Saints have a potentially lethal edge combination in Jordan and Davenport, but must have solid rotational players. Hendrickson is a good complimentary role player, and there remains a possibility that the team could re-sign Okafor. If they don't, then they'll likely bring in a veteran or two via free agency for depth purposes, and perhaps invest a late round draft pick or two. Davenport's development will be the key for this group in 2019. He's already shown frightening potential, and the tutelage of Jordan and Okafor helped him develop into a much more rounded player by season's end. Jordan, Okafor, and Davenport were responsible for 29 tackles for loss, and 20.5 of the team's 49 sacks in 2018. They held the edge against the run extremely well, while creating consistent disruption from the outside. The combination of Jordan and Davenport look formidable for at least the next few seasons, with only quality depth being a potential question for 2019.
DEFENSIVE END GRADE = B
What was your grade for the Saints defensive ends in 2018?
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