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New Orleans Saints 2018 season grades: Defensive Tackle

A position of strength faces a number of offseason questions.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The 2018 New Orleans Saints won the majority of their 14 games by simply winning the physical battles up front. Offensively, they possessed one of the most powerful offensive lines in football to go along with their Pro Bowl stars like Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara. Defensively, New Orleans has built one of the most underrated, but formidable, defensive lines in the league. All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan was joined by veteran Alex Okafor and promising rookie Marcus Davenport to give the team a presence from the edge. The Saints finished the regular season ranked 2nd against the run, having held the top ranking most of the year. Much of the reason for this was due to a powerful interior line, which often stalemated the opposition at the point of attack. Today, we'll have a look at a position group that was largely responsible for winning most of these important wars at the line of scrimmage.


NFL: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

A head scratching Pro Bowl snub did not take away from the fact that Sheldon Rankins played dominating football throughout the majority of the 2018 season. The Saints had hoped for a disruptive inside force when they selected Rankins with the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft, and that's exactly what they got from him last season. Rankins achieved career highs with 8 sacks and 12 tackles for loss, both second on the team, along with a career best 40 total tackles. He and Jordan combined to make a devastating duo on the left side of the Saints line, usually wrecking offensive lines. Listed at 6'2, 305-lbs., Rankins uses great power, leverage, and an explosive first step to overpower double teams and gets into the backfield quickly. He was one of the more effective defensive tackles in the league during 2018, and a key part of the Saints defensive success. Unfortunately, Rankins suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the team's divisional round victory over Philadelphia. His presence was greatly missed during the NFC Championship game, and he is likely going to miss at least the first portion of the 2019 season.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

David Onyemata was taken in the 4th round of the 2016 draft, joining the team the same year as Rankins. A freakish athlete, Onyemata is learning to translate his abilities to the field. He played the run much more consistently in his third season, and is rounding into an every down defensive lineman. A career high 23 of his 35 tackles were solo, including 4 for loss. Onyemata had a monstrous performance against the Dallas Cowboys, sacking the quarterback 3 times and notching 7 tackles. He had 4.5 sacks and six quarterback hits on the season, and was a consistent pass rushing threat over the final portion of the year. Onyemata may face a league suspension to start the '19 season though, after being arrested in the beginning of February for possession of marijuana.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A 5th round pick in the 2015 draft, Tyeler Davison remains one of the team's best run defenders. The 6'2, 309-lb Davison provides a powerful punch against the run, proving to be a handful against even multiple blockers while getting a good push into the backfield and stonewalling inside runs. He isn't a well-rounded pass rusher, although he did have a career high 2 sacks this year, but Davison is tenacious and comes straight ahead with tremendous strength. He is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the Saints hope to re-sign him as a key rotational player.

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Taylor Stallworth made the team last summer as an undrafted rookie, but quickly worked his way into the defensive tackle rotation. He played in 14 games, recording 1 sack and a fumble recovery. Stallworth has a squat but powerful frame, and has an explosive first step off the snap to put blockers on their heels. He is a feisty run defender, who improved his pass rushing skills as the season went along. Stallworth's emergence relegated veteran free agent Jay Bromley to little more than a depth player, and the team signed former Saint Tyrunn Walker down the stretch once Bromley was injured.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints had one of the deepest defensive tackle rotations in the league in 2018, led by the dominant Rankins. The position faces many questions this offseason however, and may need to be addressed in either free agency or the draft. Rankins looks unlikely to be available for the start of the season, Onyemata may be facing league discipline for his transgressions, while neither Davison or Bromley are sure bets to be re-signed. The Saints will attempt to remain strong inside, and Rankins' return at some point will certainly bolster that goal. He has blossomed into one of the NFL's better defensive linemen, and led a position that helped the New Orleans defense become a formidable unit that carried the team to a number of victories in 2018.



How would you grade the Saints defensive tackles in 2018?

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196 votes total Vote Now