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The Ceiling and the Floor: Defensive Ends

Saints hoping to mesh rookies and veterans to create a top-tier DE crew.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive end position has been a highlight of New Orleans Saints defenses since the addition of Cameron Jordan back in 2011.

As the veteran nears retirement and the position sees frequent turnover, plenty of questions surround the players that comprise the DE squad. The group will feature one notable newcomer in 2023: rookie Isaiah Foskey from Notre Dame.

With both the new and returning talent in this unit, many consider its ceiling to be notably high. But just how high can this unit go in 2023? Let’s explore some scenarios.

The Ceiling:

Isaiah Foskey explodes onto the scene during the preseason and makes a case to be the starting RDE over Granderson and Kpassagnon. He adds a much-needed element of pass rush to the front line and pairs well with Jordan on the opposite end. Saints' fans hope they’ve drafted Cam’s replacement, and 2023 will give some huge indications of Foskey’s long-term future with New Orleans.

Carl Granderson took a massive step forward in 2022 and this year will be even better for the 26-year-old. While Foskey develops, Granderson takes charge of the RDE slot and is a top-three sack producer for the Saints. It wasn’t easy for Granderson to beat out Davenport and Payton Turner, and this season, he proves his long-term value to the organization. He has a very high ceiling in 2023.

Cameron Jordan continues to be the hall-of-Famer we know him to be. We saw a slight dip in production from the 34-year-old last season, and although he may no longer be in his true prime, he still can cause havoc. He is still able to repeatedly pressure the quarterback and lock up the edge against the rush. We see no signs of decline from Cam in 2023.

Just as Payton Turner was finding his stride last season, his season concluded with yet another injury. 2023 will be the year that Turner finally stays healthy throughout and proves his value. He becomes the next-most reliable DE option behind Jordan and splits time with a myriad of other players. This is a huge year for the 2021 first-round pick, and he will step up to the occasion.

Tanoh Kpassagnon, fresh off of a two-year contract extension, seizes the opportunity to be a major off-the-bench contributor on this defensive line. He only played roughly 40% of snaps last season, and unfortunately, I don’t see him playing much more than that this season barring other injuries. He could be excellent in certain packages and offer relief to any of the other DEs listed, but I think seeing Kpassagnon for 50% or more of the defensive snaps is a little unrealistic.

The Floor:

Isaiah Foskey fell to the second round in the draft largely because of a shoulder injury last November. There’s a chance that he has not fully recovered, and by the time he’s ready to contribute, he’s not the guy we thought he was. He’s entering a DE room that has plenty of other talents, and he fails to surpass the competition and finishes the year only seeing a few snaps per game.

Carl Granderson shows us that 2022 was just a fluke due to other defensive injuries. He fails to solidify his value with the team and loses significant playing time to Foskey, Kpassagnon, and Turner. Carl Granderson is a talented DE, but he’s searching for a role in a room that’s crowded with fringe-starting guys. He just might not have what it takes to start this year.

Cameron Jordan turns his slight decline in 2022 into a major decline in 2023. One of the greatest Saints to ever do it will have trouble keeping up with the younger DE talent and play the least amount of snaps he has in a decade. Even if this happens, Cam will still have a massive role to play this season and will keep his starting position, barring any injuries.

Payton Turner has plenty of pressure on his third season, and he could very well fall flat. Injuries have plagued his first and second seasons, but even if healthy, he could fail to produce and fall deep into the depth chart behind Granderson, Foskey, Jordan, and Kpassagnon. I think a healthy Turner still has at worst, a good chance to be a contributing depth piece, but he could see the field very little this year as well.

Tanoh Kpassagnon has been toeing the line between deep roster piece and rotational DE for the past two seasons, and 2023 could be the nail in the coffin. If Granderson and Foskey contribute as hoped and stay healthy, there might be no room for Kpassagnon. This could very well be his last season on the Saints roster.

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