The New Orleans Saints finally had their Capocalpyse this season, and one of the position groups that suffered casualties was the defensive line. They were unable to retain Trey Hendrickson, Malcom Brown was traded to the Jaguars, and Sheldon Rankins found a new home with the Jets.
The Saints defensive line has generally worked in a rotational way, with Shy Tuttle, Rankings and Brown getting about 33 percent of snaps last season. David Onyemata, a mainstay the past few seasons, was on the field about 50 percent of the time, while Cameron Jordan approached 80 percent of snaps.
Marcus Davenport is the odd man out on the Saints defensive line. He has shown flashes of his athletic greatness, but he can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s exploitable in the running game, and he bites down on play action. Hendrickson’s departure will lead to the biggest change on the Saints line: Less switching opposite Jordan and more consistency from Davenport.
Inside is where things get interesting for the Saints. Malcolm Roach looks like he’ll become a regular addition for the Saints up front, while Onyemata may find a home between the tackles rather than moving around. Carl Granderson also earned the opportunity to become a hand in the dirt player for the Saints.
Of course, there’s another major question: Where does Zack Baun fit in? The 2020 second-round pick saw just seven percent of defensive snaps, and you don’t draft a player in the second round to make him a special teams mainstay. Baun’s time to step up may well come this season, but he’s as likely to drop into coverage as rush the passer.
All things told, don’t expect a big shift in philosophy for the Saint up front. While Hendrickson, Rankins and Brown — three big players — are out of the picture, Davenport, Tuttle and Onyemata have the chance to step up and play similar roles. For Davenport, it’s his last chance. For Tuttle and Onyemata, it’s a major opportunity. And for fringe players like Baun, it’s any kind of opportunity, something he missed last season.
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