Ranking Saints needs: Defensive line upgrades a must, especially after losing Marcus Davenport

The Saints already took care of the No. 1 need on their offseason “must” list by signing quarterback Derek Carr last week. Now the defensive line should take center stage for the remainder of free agency and the draft, since it was already a top priority even before Monday’s deals — with free agent DT David Onyemata agreeing to sign with the Falcons. fellow DT Shy Tuttle agreeing to a pact with the Panthers and Marcus Davenport reportedly signing with the Vikings. 

The legal tampering window to begin talking with other teams’ free agents kicked off today (Monday March 13) at 11 a.m. central time, with the official signing period opening Wednesday at 3 p.m. CT.

Coach Dennis Allen suggested Saturday that the Saints have already made their big free-agent move and will now focus on re-signing their own priority free agents.

“I don’t see us going out in the first day or two of free agency and having some big splash acquisition,” Allen said.

However, they are always aggressive when it comes to value signings in free agency — despite their salary-cap limitations. And they have some decent draft capital with picks 29, 40 and 71 in the first three rounds.

No. 2 Defensive line

Current depth chart:

DE Cameron Jordan. Age 33. Signed through 2023.
DE Carl Granderson. Age 26. Signed through 2023.
DE Tanoh Kpassagnon. Age 28. Signed through 2025.
DE Payton Turner. Age 25. Signed through 2024, eligible for fifth-year option in 2025.
DE Jabari Zuniga. Age 25. Signed through 2023.
DT Malcolm Roach. Age 24. Restricted free agent.
DL Kentavius Street. Age 26. Unrestricted free agent.
DT Albert Huggins. Age 25. Restricted free agent.
DT Prince Emili. Age 24. Signed through 2024.

Analysis: We combined the entire defensive line into one category for this series of position rankings, since they often mix and match pieces in pass-rush packages. However, if we split defensive tackle and defensive end into two separate groups, they both would have ranked in the top five individually.

DT is the more urgent need since the Saints technically have just one under contract right now (Emili on a reserve/future deal), especially after losing Onyemata and Tuttle. And that’s where the Saints really felt like their pass rush was lacking most last season. So we would expect them to play a big chip in free agency or the draft on a disruptive player with some pass-rush ability from the 3-technique spot.

However, DE is also a glaring long-term need considering Jordan’s age, Davenport’s departure and the fact that Turner has yet to live up to his first-round draft potential. Nose tackle is another must, though the Saints believe in their ability to fill that void with more affordable investments.

As much as they have always loved Davenport’s potential and the flashes he’s shown when healthy, their cap situation lowered their risk tolerance for someone who has battled that level of injury and inconsistent production.

For all of those reasons, the defensive line should be an enormous priority in the draft. It feels like a must that the Saints add at least one lineman with either pick No. 29 or 40 — and it wouldn’t be outlandish to see them double down.

Clemson DT Bryan Bresee might be the player being paired with New Orleans most often in early mock drafts, which is logical since he profiles as a disruptive 3-technique. Meanwhile, Clemson DE Myles Murphy is another logical match since he has the size and length the Saints covet.

Iowa DE Lukas Van Ness also has those traits, though he is currently being projected by most to go higher than New Orleans’ range. Georgia Tech DE Keion White, Pittsburgh DT Calijah Kancey and USC DT Tuli Tuipulotu are other potential matches based on size and versatility.

However, the Saints will need to add some depth in free agency first, especially after losing Davenport, Onyemata, Tuttle and potentially some other free agents from the 2022 roster. They can’t allow themselves to get pigeonholed at one position in the draft.

It would be great if they could add a younger, rising, versatile lineman like Denver’s Dre’Mont Jones, Arizona’s Zach Allen or Jacksonville’s Arden Key — but price will be an issue. Maybe old friend Sheldon Rankins (now with the Jets), Seattle’s Poona Ford or Pittsburgh’s Larry Ogunjobi would be among cheaper DT/DE possibilities.

Full rankings:

No. 9 Cornerback

No. 8 Specialists

No. 7 Linebacker

No. 6 Safety

Ranking Saints needs: Safety, linebacker, specialists, cornerback among lower priorities

No. 5 Offensive line

Ranking Saints needs: Offensive line a spot where Saints could look to save money – or invest more

No. 4 Wide receiver/Tight end

Ranking Saints needs: Contested catches a top priority at WR or TE as they look to replace Michael Thomas

No. 3 Running back

Ranking Saints needs: Tulane’s Tyjae Spears feels like perfect fit, but young RB is a must no matter where they’re from

No. 2 Defensive line

No. 1 Quarterback (filled by Carr signing)

Inside the Saints’ pursuit of Derek Carr: How New Orleans recruited and landed its starting QB

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