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Why the New Orleans Saints could win it all, Part VI: Defensive Line

The Saints defensive line was surprisingly effective in 2018.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Bringing back a series of pieces from the past three years, we’re going to check each position group on the New Orleans Saints and discuss how they improve the Saints’ chances of making a run in 2019. On to the first position group on defense: the defensive line!

To view previous parts, see below:

Part I: Offensive Line

Part II: Running Backs

Part III: Tight Ends

Part IV: Wide Receivers

Part V: Quarterbacks

The New Orleans Saints defensive line made massive strides in 2018 from years past. In fact, come the end of the 2018 season, the SB Nation mother ship ranked the Saints defensive line among the NFL’s best, saying this:

New Orleans finds itself on here after a few solid draft choices. Cameron Jordan is an elite defensive end. Sheldon Rankins has developed into one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league in his third season. Other players, like David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport, have been solid for the Saints as well.

The Saints lost Alex Okafor in free agency to the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sheldon Rankins went down in 2018 to the same injury which sidelined Okafor in 2017, a torn Achilles. On top of that, David Onyemata is likely going to miss the first few games of the 2018 due to a to-be-determined suspension for possession of marijuana.

So here’s why they’re better in 2019:

Washington Redskins v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

To compensate for the loss of Okafor and the injury to Rankins, the Saints brought in a host of bodies to fill out the defensive line. The Saints signed former first round pick and two-time Super Bowl champ Malcom Brown from the New England Patriots to play defensive tackle in place of Rankins. The Saints also signed former second round pick Mario Edwards Jr to play in rotation at defensive end.

Mario Edwards isn’t likely to take the majority of the snaps left behind from Alex Okafor, though. No, those snaps will likely be given to 2018 first round pick Marcus Davenport, as big things are expected from the big fella in 2019.

After the Saints traded up for Davenport in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Saints had to be patient with him last year as injuries hindered his growth. Davenport missed three games last season due to an injured toe, but when he was on the field, he was more than impressive.

Davenport saw his snap counts grow week to week as the season progressed (when he was healthy). For instance, in Week 1, Davenport was on the field for only 34% of the team’s defensive snaps (compare that to someone like Cam Jordan, who typically averages over 90% of the team’s defensive snaps per game). By the time Week 17 came, Davenport was on the field for over 72% of the team’s defensive snaps, a significant increase from the start of the season. This increase in snaps is part of the reason why the Saints are not as worried about the loss of production from Alex Okafor signing with the Chiefs.

Between Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan, the Saints have a pair of complete defensive ends the likes of which the Saints haven’t seen since the Jordan/Galette or the Cam Jordan/Will Smith days. As Davenport (and Onyemata and a healthy Rankins) continue to grow, the Saints defensive line will continue to be among the NFL’s elite.