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New Orleans Saints 2020 offseason preview: Defensive End

The DE position has a lot of top-end talent for the Saints, but there’s room to add more.

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In the NFL, premium positions are constantly rotating. Offensively it was quarterback, followed by left tackle, followed by wide receiver. Defensively, it’s become the position that can shatter all of those talents if he’s good enough: Defensive end. The Saints have serious talent at the top-end of their edge-setters. But there’s room to add depth.

Luckily for New Orleans, there’s no pressing need to add a premier pass rusher. They have that in Cam Jordan, who is under contract until the 2024 offseason. Jordan is coming off of his third straight double-digit sack season with a career-high 15.5. He’s also continuing to log relatively high tackle numbers for the Saints.

After Jordan, there’s the controversial Marcus Davenport. There’s nothing controversial about whether or not Davenport is talented. The question, of course, is whether or not Davenport was worth the multiple first-round picks it took to acquire him in the draft. The Saints traded with the Packers in 2018 to get Davenport, and Packers flipped Davenport into a bevy of defensive talent. Davenport, however, has shown flashes of why so many resources were given up for him. He’s an aggressive DE who appears to be learning every game, and he logged six sacks for the Saints in 13 starts this season.

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Davenport’s explosiveness and potential are his main draw, and he looks like he’ll be a defensive mainstay for the Saints. After Davenport, it gets a bit murkier. Trey Hendrickson and Carl Granderson log out the Saints’ pass rushers, and while they’ve shown some big-play potential, they aren’t necessarily the third-down pass rushing specialist sack machines so many teams like to employ to keep some of their guys fresh.

This, of course, raises the philosophical question: Do your top two defensive ends need to be every-down players when they’ve required the resources needed to get Jordan and Davenport. It depends on how people want their teams built, but if the Saints want to find someone to complement them, they do have choices.

Option 1: Free Agency

Free agency is always the resource fans turn to when they talk about adding talent. It’s pursuing a known quantity, rather than the crapshoot that is the draft. There are some big names in free agency this year. The prize will be Jadeveon Clowney, but there’s no way the Saints can match the price tag he’ll require. Here are a few other players potentially hitting the market.

  • Everson Griffen (Club option)
  • Derek Wolfe
  • Gerald McCoy
  • Robert Quinn
  • Vic Beasley
  • Arik Armstead

The latter two players are the most intriguing, as they’re relatively young. Griffen, Wolfe, McCoy and Quinn are all north of 30, whereas Beasley and Armstead haven’t had big paydays yet. Armstead in particular is an interesting case, in that Nick Bosa has emerged as a bona fide star for the 49ers, so he may be seeking out a new home.

However, anyone the Saints sign would be operating under the understanding that they’re playing in a rotation, which lends itself to signing lower-level free agents.

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Option 2: The Draft

This year is different from past years in that the draft market for defensive end is basically one guy followed by everyone else. Chase Young will be a top-3 pick, and from there there’s a lot of talent, but also a lot of question marks. The Saints have more pressing needs to address in the first round — they desperately need a wide receiver — so even if a first-round talent such as Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa made it to them at No. 24, it’s hard to imagine them pulling the trigger.

That leaves a few Day 2 or Day 3 talents for them to even consider, if they really want to bolster that position so desperately.

  • Kenny Willekes (Michigan State)
  • Curtis Weaver (Boise State)
  • Bradley Anae (Utah)
  • Khalid Kareem (Notre Dame)

All of these players would be potential projects, but the Saints are no stranger to those. They drafted FAU product Hendrickson in the third round in 2017, and they’ve gotten decent production out of him.

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Option 3: Stand Pat

All things considered, this is likely the option we’ll see the Saints go with. Hendrickson and Granderson came up big for them in some spots last season, and Hendrickson in particular seems to be settling in as he gets healthier. The biggest issue with this option is that it relies on the current talent staying healthy. Davenport was able to put an injury-ridden rookie year behind him last year and played well. The next step for him is producing more consistently. Jordan only appears to be getting better, and his contract hasn’t produced any regrets.

As a team the Saints were third in the league in sacks last year with 51. That’s not a formula that should necessarily be messed with moving forward. Some tweaks here and there may be welcomed, but defensive end is threat level low for the Saints heading into the offseason.