There are very few teams that can equal the talent and depth of the New Orleans Saints along the edge of their defensive line. Despite dealing with injuries all year, the position accounted for 29.5 sacks, 58 QB hits, and 33 tackles for loss in 2021.
Eleven-year veteran DE Cam Jordan had a monstrous stretch run and finished with 12.5 sacks, 34 pressures, and 13 tackles for loss. Marcus Davenport, a 2018 first-round pick, had the best year of his career with 9 sacks, 21 pressures, 9 tackles for loss, and 3 forced fumbles in just ten games.
Payton Turner, the team's first-round choice last season, played in only five contests but flashed wonderful potential. Free-agent pickup Tanoh Kpassagnon was one of the team’s best defensive players before going down with injury at mid-season. Carl Granderson again provided underrated depth and disruption.
Additional jobs will be hard to earn in this deep unit. Jordan, Davenport, and Turner are all former first-round draft choices. The Saints added another former first-round defensive end this offseason, a player who hopes to revitalize a somewhat disappointing career despite battling a deep rotation in New Orleans.
TACO CHARLTON, DE
Vidauntae (Taco) Charlton had an outstanding collegiate career at the University of Michigan. After a senior season that included ten sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, the Dallas Cowboys made him the Number 28 selection in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Taco was a rotational player as a rookie, playing all 16 contests but starting none. He appeared in 38% of the defensive snaps and contributed 3 sacks and 7 QB hits. Charlton was much more involved in 2018, playing in 56% of the snaps despite missing five games with a shoulder injury. In his 11 games (7 starts), he recorded a sack, 10 pressures, and five tackles for loss.
Amid reports of disagreements with Dallas defensive coaches, Charlton was inactive for the first two games of the 2019 season before surprisingly being released. The Miami Dolphins quickly picked him up on waivers. In ten games with Miami, Charlton recorded a career-high 5 sacks, 10 pressures, and 3 stops for loss. He’d be released after the season.
Kansas City brought Charlton in on a one-year contract in 2020. He’d play sporadically over the first half of the year, getting used mostly as a situational pass rusher. A broken ankle ended his season after just seven games with 2 sacks and 6 pressures.
The Pittsburgh Steelers would bring in Charlton last season. He saw limited action in 11 contests, but would appear in only 28% of the defensive snaps and contribute just a half sack and three pressures. New Orleans brought Charlton in on a one-year deal this offseason that will only count for a little over $1 million against the salary cap.
The Saints will be Charlton's fifth team in six years, definitely considered a disappointment for a former first-round choice. To revitalize his career, he’ll have to crack a New Orleans edge rotation that already has five top-tier players.
In order to shake the label of a draft bust, Charlton must improve exponentially as a run defender. It has been a major weakness throughout his career, but a must for edge defenders in an elite New Orleans run defense. He has the length and physical attributes that coaches covet. However, his toughness and play-to-play effort have been questioned since college.
As a pass rusher, the 27-year-old Charlton has incredible disruptive potential. He possesses an explosive burst off the snap and impressive lean around the edge. Once engaged with a tackle, he has effective counter moves to get him into the backfield.
Charlton doesn't have the physicality to move inside in some situations, like the other New Orleans ends. That lack of versatility means that he’ll have to stand out in other ways. Though his run defense must greatly improve, the most likely way to stick on the roster is as a situational pass rusher.
Taco Charlton has disappointed as a former first-round pick, but has the raw physical traits to turn his young career around. For a Saints defense that predicates heavy pressure, Charlton has the chance to be a surprise roster contributor in 2022.