New Orleans Saints

Saints could have deepest defensive line they've had in years if everything pans out

New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92), defensive end Trey Hendrickson (91), and defensive tackle Jay Bromley (99) take part in Organized Team Activities or OTAs at the Sports Performance Center in Metairie, La. Thursday, May 24, 2018.
New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92), defensive end Trey Hendrickson (91), and defensive tackle Jay Bromley (99) take part in Organized Team Activities or OTAs at the Sports Performance Center in Metairie, La. Thursday, May 24, 2018. Advocate staff

One or two brilliant edge players are not enough to form an elite pass rush by themselves.

They have to have help. 

Four defensive linemen racked up eight sacks or more for the Jacksonville Jaguars, now dubbed "Sacksonville" last season. Four primary pass rushers posted 5.5 sacks or more for Pittsburgh and Carolina, the other two teams with more than 50 sacks last season.

When the New Orleans Saints made a bold move up the board to grab UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport in the first round of April's draft, the move was instantly and rightly tabbed as an effort to find a long-term bookend for All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan. 

But the move also means the Saints have assembled more talent on the defensive line than they've had in years.

If Alex Okafor returns from his torn Achilles to the level he was playing last season, 2017 third-round pick Trey Hendrickson continues to develop and a group that includes Hau'oli Kikaha, Jayrone Elliott, George Johnson and Al-Quadin Muhammad produces another pass-rush specialist, the Saints could have an embarrassment of riches on the outside.

"We're deeper at end than we have been, and obviously, we have an early draft pick at that position," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "It's a tough position to find."

All of those options off the edge — and on the interior, where Jordan, Okafor, Hendrickson and Johnson have all had some success — likely mean that every player will have to do more in less snaps, with the possible exception of Jordan, an iron man who never seems to tire. 

Four Saints linemen had to play more than 50 percent of the snaps in 2017. Jordan played 93.8 percent of the snaps, one of the heaviest workloads of any defensive lineman in the NFL. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins had to play 76.8 percent of the snaps, and fellow interior players David Onyemata and Tyeler Davison checked in at 57.3 and 54.9 percent, respectively.

Okafor would have made it five if he hadn't torn his Achilles tendon against Washington. Up until the injury, the veteran defensive end was playing 77 percent of the snaps. 

A deeper stable of defensive linemen would mean the Saints don't have to run any of their horses on short rest. 

"Going into the games knowing you're going to give it your all and have the next guy come in and keep having fresh guys go, you can never go wrong with that," Onyemata said. 

From an organizational perspective, all of those options at defensive end can only be a good thing. 

On an individual level, every one of the Saints defensive linemen — again, with the likely exception of Jordan — know they have to produce to earn playing time. 

"I love competition," Hendrickson said. "If it was playing with Cam, who's well-renowned, or Marcus now, I like to go to work. Competitiveness is one of my big drives." 

Whether or not the New Orleans defensive line lives up to its potential hinges on a long list of variables. Okafor must bounce back healthy, Hendrickson must take a step forward, another player must emerge from the group that appears to fighting for roster spots. 

And then there's Davenport, the rookie who will face great expectations after the Saints traded the No. 27 pick and next year's first-rounder, along with a fifth-round pick, to move up to No. 14 and take him. 

Davenport's new teammates can see the possibility. 

"It's a huge improvement, having a guy with high energy," Onyemata said. "I've seen a couple clips from him in college and seen the attitude he plays with."

Read more about the Saints defense at TheAdvocate.com

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