The defense of the New Orleans Saints ranked fifth against the pass, fourth against the run, fourth in total yardage, and fifth in points allowed in 2020. One reason for the stout defensive performance was a deep and talented defensive front.
New Orleans came at opponents with five-man rotation at defensive tackle. The interior depth kept their players fresh late in games, allowing the defensive front to make big plays in crucial moments.
That inside depth took a hit this offseason. Sheldon Rankins, the 12th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, signed with the New York Jets in free agency. Run stuffing DT Malcom Brown was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars to save salary cap room.
The Saints still have emerging star David Onyemata inside, along with a pair of up-and-coming players in Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach. Both Tuttle and Roach came to the Saints as undrafted players, with Tuttle the favorite to start alongside Onyemata in 2021.
Despite the losses of Rankins and Brown, New Orleans felt confident enough in this group to not address the position in either free agency or the draft.
The Saints did sign two undrafted defensive tackles after the draft. One, Purdue DT Lorenzo Neal Jr., is the son of former New Orleans fullback Lorenzo Neal. The other was a member of one of college football's better defensive lines and the subject of today's player spotlight.
JOSIAH BRONSON, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
University of Washington
Bronson attended Temple University out of high school, but took a redshirt in 2015 after breaking his ankle in preseason camp. He’d transfer to Washington after not playing in 2016, then sat out 2017 because of NCAA transfer regulations.
Finally getting on the field in 2018, Bronson appeared in seven of 14 games for the Huskies and recorded a sack and 11 tackles. He played in 11 of 13 games in 2019, recording 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss among 23 total stops.
The COVID-19 pandemic limited Washington to only four games in 2020. Bronson posted 8 tackles, half a sack, and forced a fumble. He was part of a talented defensive front for the Huskies that included 2021 first-round draft choice Joe Tryon and second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike.
Bronson has a compact frame and struggles in space. He has poor change of direction and needs to be faster to get his hands up to engage at the point of attack. Never a productive pass rusher in college, he’ll need to develop counter moves to stay on the field in passing situations.
Bronson shows good strength at the point of attack and is adept at shedding blocks to make plays in the gap against the run. He fights through the whistle as a pass rusher, allowing him to apply pressure on broken plays.
Improving his technique in each of his collegiate seasons, Bronson is a capable defender on every down. He’ll have to develop his pass rushing capability and stalemate double-team blocking better in short yardage situations, but could bolster depth immediately.
The Saints have had good luck with undrafted rookie defensive tackles in each of the last three years. Taylor Stallworth (2018), Tuttle (2019), and Roach (2020) were all first-year contributors after going overlooked in the draft.
Josiah Bronson has an opportunity to make it four straight years of undrafted successes for the Saints at the position. More importantly for the Saints, he could bolster the depth lost at defensive tackle this offseason for one of the league's best defenses.
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