I took to Twitter this week to ask Saints fans what the biggest three needs are for the Saints this season. You came through and to no surprise the four most popular answers were Wide Receiver, Interior Offensive Line (preferably with some versatility), Linebacker, and Cornerback. With that, I thought it would be fun to put together a series of some players to watch at each of those position, plus the addition of an author’s choice: Interior Defensive Line.
In this series you will see three names to each position. A day one candidate and two day two/three candidates. The information, based on the fast-approaching NFL Combine this week, you will find will include; what we know about each prospect, what is left to learn, and my most anticipated combine moment for each player. We will start each entry into this five-part series with a quick run-down of the six major combine workouts and what the tell us. Then dive into each position’s three players to watch.
I will mention positional drills and workouts like the Gauntlet, W drill, and the new Figure-8 drill when appropriate although not listed below. Let’s get it.
Combine Workouts and What They Tell Us
|Lower body strength
|Center of gravity
|Lower body strength
|Upper body strength
|Change of direction
|Short area explosion
|Distribution of weight and power
Interior Defensive Line
This was not a fan-voted position of need but one that I added to round us out to five positions. The fact of the matter is that the Saints do indeed have some need on the defensive interior. An injured Sheldon Rankins has now missed time in three of his four seasons and David Onyemata is a free agent this offseason. Yes, you still have Mario Edwards Jr, Malcom Brown, and the outstanding UDFA Shy Tuttle (never forget). But two of the three are Nose Tackles and Rankins and Onyemata were your starters. So you could be missing two big pieces at any point of the season including its entirety if Onyemata signs elsewhere.
That is why I added interior defensive line to our list. It feels unlikely that the Saints would go after someone here in the first round, but some of the later round prospects pack some serious potential and promise. Get ready to watch these prospects tonight. This is a really athletic class of defensive linemen. On the edge and up the middle.
Combine On-field Workout Schedule: Saturday, February 29th. 3:00 PM – 10:00 PM. Will workout with Linebackers and Edge Rushers.
Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma
Combine Measurements: 6’2” 304 pounds
2019 Stats: 29 total tackles, 6.5 for a loss, 4 sacks, and 1 pass defended
What to watch: Agility Drills
What we know about Gallimore: Big and burly, but speedy and agile. He will be an impressive player if her sharpens all of his tools correctly. A couple of years ago when the Saints drafted Sheldon Rankins in the first round, he was considered the “safe” pick. Not as much with Gallimore, who has a ton of potential but lacks some technique. Although he is not as safe a pick as Rankins, he would be a conservative one in the first round to say the least considering the massive need at pass-catcher and linebacker.
However, with injuries to key defensive linemen in multiple seasons as this point, grabbing a talent like Gallimore’s might not be sexy but it might be worth the scrutiny in the long run. We all know that the Saints tend to do exactly what fans never expect them to do in the draft and this pick at this position, which is a larger need than is being discussed, would be criticized as another example of that. Gallimore’s mix athleticism and power could lend itself to a versatile role with the Saints defense, especially with the influence of D-Line coach Ryan Nielsen.
Gallimore’s Canadian roots will not hurt him either, as the Saints have dipped into those pools a few times. (WARNING: The following clip gets me hype.)
What’s left to learn: One Gallimore’s biggest issues is his pad level. For a guy playing in the interior he has insane get off the line, agility and power. But sometime he will get stood up because interior linemen are able to get up under him. Has he cleaned up that form and can he get low enough for his agility to not suffer?
Most anticipated combine moment: The 3-Cone or whichever agility drills Gallimore runs will give us an idea of his center of gravity and distribution of weight to help manage his balance. If he’s up high, his time will suffer and you will see the same traits you can find on tape. If he can get and stay low throughout the drills that shows a teachability and focus to improve that flaw.
Larrell Murchison, NC State
Combine Measurements: 6’2” 297 pounds
2019 Stats: 48 total tackles, 12 for a loss, 7 sacks, and 2 passes defended
What to watch: Broad Jump
What we know about Murchison: Much like Gallimore’s Canadian roots could gain him some mileage with the Saints, so too can Murchison’s alma mater. Murchison of the NC State Wolfpack hails from the former university where Defensive Line coach Ryan Nielson was hired away to join the New Orleans coaching staff. It is no wonder at all that this is enough of a selling point to bring the coach and player together as we have already seen with Murchison and the Saints meeting at the Senior Bowl in January.
Murchison is a great fit with the Saints defensive interior because of all of the ways he can be productive. He can rush the passer, he can get involved in the run game, you can even drop him into coverage - a trademark of Dennis Allen and Ryan Nielsen. Murchison’s name has accompanied the word “sleeper” so much in draft analysis that it is hard to even consider him one at this point. But his day 2/ day 3 projections hold firm. If that were to remain through the combine, it could be good news for New Orleans.
What’s left to learn: Murchison has some pretty impressive lateral quickness for his size. Despite that though he still runs into agility limitations when being forced to react quickly. It is almost as if he gets a step or two ahead of his feet without time to catch up, which can end up eliminating him from plays from time to time. His information processing and discipline will be worth watching throughout his positional drills.
Most anticipated combine moment: Can he show explosion from an otherwise habitually stiff lower half? The broad jump will measure his transfer of power, but his agility drills will be interesting to watch as well to see if he can loosen up and trust his technique a bit more.
NC State DT Larrell Murchison recorded this interception against FSU last season. Dude charges, changes directions and catches a football thrown with pace less than 10 yards away all in a matter of 3-4 seconds.— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) June 23, 2019
Not bad for a near-300 pound man. pic.twitter.com/rt9poyba1o
Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina
Combine Measurements: 6’4 275 pounds
2019 Stats: 44 total tackles, 6 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 pass defended, and 1 fumble forced
What to watch: Figure-8?
What we know about Strowbridge: Another North Carolina prospect, this one consistently in the day 2 conversation, Strowbridge makes his money with his versatility. Consider him a Mario Edwards Jr. type who can play on the interior as well as off the edge. He has very good hands and a few different pass rush moves that he uses to beat blockers both in getting after the passer but also in playing against the run. He also has the same kind of length we mentioned in reference to Malik Harrison in the linebacker group which allows him not to be engulfed by blockers. The guy will use his strength and length to simply move you out of the way if he needs to.
What’s left to be learned: Can Strowbridge land in one spot that serves him best and learn how to properly control his body in that role. Sometime he loses on the inside by playing too high like he would trying to win around the edge and others he loses outside trying to power up the offensive tackle. In either case, he tends to hit full extension early in his rep, which gives him no leverage to utilize. Which is a shame because he certainly has the length.
Most anticipated combine moment: I am not entirely sure that he will run the new figure-8 drill, but if he does it would be interesting to watch. That drill requires some good body control, bending around edges, and the flexibility to lean down and pick something up off the ground without dropping stride. If he runs this drill, it will answer a lot about his stiffen and lower body control in particular. If not look to the bag positional drill, 3-Cone, and Shuttle to help give some perspective.
UNC’s Jason Strowbridge showing elite strength pic.twitter.com/J1bau4495o— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 22, 2020
Check back soon for the rest of the position groups voted on by Saints fans and some names to watch at the combine.