Defensive tackle was already a position in dire straits for the New Orleans Saints heading into the 2021 season, and last week it got even worse. Star DT David Onyemata was suspended for six games on Friday, making an already thin position even thinner.
New Orleans was already going to have to get creative to make the defensive line rotation work, so this just adds some urgency to the situation. There is talent on the roster that will have to step up if the Saints are going to have any answers against the run this year, particularly with Sheldon Rankins’ departure to the Jets in the offseason.
As with all training camp hype, take it with a grain of salt, but the Saints coaching staff wants you to believe Dalton is the best interior lineman you’ve never heard of. Originally picked up undrafted by the Bears, Dalton missed all of last season with a triceps injury he sustained in August.
Dalton could be the latest in a long line of over-performing defensive linemen for the Saints, with Malcolm Roach and Shy Tuttle just in front of him on the depth chart. Expect to see the Saints try to make him work for them in the rotation early.
Bronson deserves a special shoutout here because he’s spent his entire career overachieving. A rookie out of Washington, Bronson was initially a 2-star recruit who walked on at the University Washington after an injury sidelined him at Temple. UW Dawg Pound’s Max Vrooman cited that Bronson struggled when he wasn’t paired with elite talent, so that could hurt him in the long run.
Bronson may see himself getting opportunities early this year, but he could play himself out of the rotation just as quickly. The Saints may try to see what they have with him. Now is the time for experimentation after all. But if he struggles early, don’t expect him to see the field much.
Tuttle was already likely to be starting for the Saints, but he was a complementary tackle to Onyemata. Now, Tuttle may have to be the main man on the interior for the Saints. We may see him lined up over center or in the A gaps more with the position looking as it does, so he’ll have to take a leap forward early this year to compensate for the loss of Onyemata.
Tuttle has the size and agility to be a nuisance up front, but part of that was because he wasn’t being honed in on. That will no longer be the case, so look for x-factors in his gameplay such as attention commanded up front.
Another player who was going to have more asked of him after the Malcom Brown trade, now Malcolm Roach may have to step forward into a starting position. Roach has a lot of potential for the Saints, but it’s hard to expect too much of him. He’s still learning the ropes to a degree.
Other players on the roster, such as Ryan Glasgow, will also get look for the Saints. However, the Saints like to hone in on players they’ve developed in-house. There’s no denying that Ryan Nielsen likes his guys, and for good reason. He’s had several players — including Onyemata himself — far outplay their draft stock.
After the six games, Onyemata will be eligible to return to being a mainstay on the Saints’ defensive front. The absolute best-case scenario is that this leads to the Saints discovering some heretofore unknown talent on the roster.
The bright side is that the Saints will be going against the Packers, Panthers, Patriots, Giants, Washington Football Team, and Seahawks without Onyemata. Outside of Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey, it’s not exactly a murderer’s row of running backs. Although Aaron Rodgers in Week 1 might love that pocket a little too much.
If you’re looking for the bright spot, imagine Derrick Henry against an Onyemata-less defensive front. At least he’ll be back for that matchup. In the meantime, these players will have to step up. With Nielsen’s help, they undoubtedly have the potential to do so.