Projecting the Saints 53-man Roster: Defensive Tackles

Bob Rose

Roster spots on the 2020 New Orleans Saints squad will be hard to earn. The team has one of the deepest in the league, with talent well down the depth chart at every position. That is especially true at DT, where New Orleans has four players who could start for most NFL teams. The Saints coaches will have several tough decisions when forming their 53-man roster to start the season, but here is one of their easiest positions to project.

Saints DT Sheldon Rankins
Nov 17, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) rushes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

SAINTS DEFENSIVE TACKLE ROSTER

  1. Malcom Brown
  2. Jalen Dalton
  3. Mario Edwards Jr. (DT/DE)
  4. Margus Hunt (DT/DE)
  5. David Onyemata
  6. Sheldon Rankins
  7. Malcolm Roach
  8. Shy Tuttle

ROSTER LOCKS

Malcom Brown (6’2” 320-Lbs., 26-Yrs old)

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Sep 29, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Malcom Brown (90) runs off the field after their win against the Dallas Cowboys at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY 

Brown was a terrific free-agent pickup for the team last season. He is an excellent run defender, clogging up the middle and forcing opponents to double-team him but still could penetrate the backfield to make plays. Brown also exhibited underrated pass-rushing skills, adding 2 sacks and five QB pressures.

David Onyemata (6’4” 300-Lbs., 27-Yrs old)

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Oct 27, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) tackles Arizona Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds (29) for a turn over on downs during the third quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans re-signed the talented DT to a three-year contract this offseason after 3 sacks and a career-high 15 QB pressures in 2020. Still developing, Onyemata has rounded into an every-down player for the Saints defense whose strength and athleticism gives opposing linemen fits.

Sheldon Rankins (6’2” 305-Lbs., 26-Yrs old)

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Sep 29, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) is blocked by Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith (77) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Rankins had flashed All-Pro potential when healthy but appeared in ten games last year while recovering from an Achilles injury. He had 2 sacks and 8 QB pressures in those contests and looked to recapture the form that made him one of the league's most disruptive interior linemen in 2018 before the injury. Now fully recovered, the 12th overall pick of the 2016 draft is poised for a big season in his contract's last year.

Shy Tuttle (6’3” 300-Lbs., 24-Yrs old)

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Nov 28, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws an interception to New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (99) in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY 

One of the team's biggest surprises as an undrafted rookie from Tennessee last year, Tuttle appeared in all 16 games and had 2 sacks, 6 QB pressures, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception. An excellent run defender with underrated pass-rushing ability, Tuttle will be an even bigger part of the New Orleans defense in 2020.

ON THE BUBBLE:

Mario Edwards Jr. (6’3” 280-Lbs., 26-Yrs old)

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Dec 8, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive end Mario Edwards (97) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers won, 48-46. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY

Edwards contributed 3 sacks, 4 QB pressures, and a forced fumble in 14 games of action in his first year with New Orleans. The former 2nd round pick of the 2015 draft adds valuable versatility with his ability to play either DE or DT, giving him a slight edge to earn a spot on this deep defensive line.

Margus Hunt (6’8” 295-Lbs., 33-Yrs old)

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Indianapolis Colts defensive end Margus Hunt (92) during their preseason training camp practice at Grand Park in Westfield on Monday, August 5, 2019. Colts Preseason Training Camp © Matt Kryger/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, 

Hunt was 2nd round pick by the Bengals in the 2013 draft, Hunt had the best three years of his career were with the Colts before signing with the Saints this offseason. Like Edwards, Hunt's ability to play both inside and outside could allow him to earn a roster spot. 

PRACTICE SQUAD CANDIDATES

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Oct 26, 2019; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns defensive lineman Malcolm Roach (32) chases TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan (15) during the second quarter at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Dalton (6’6” 300-Lbs., 23-Yrs old)

Signed to a futures deal by Saints after last season, Dalton spent time on the Bears practice squad after being undrafted last year. He has nice strength at the point of attack but has never lived up to his physical potential.

Malcolm Roach (6’3” 290-Lbs., 22-Yrs old)

Often used out of position in college as a DE or even LB, the undrafted rookie from Texas will have a chance to carve out a role on the New Orleans defensive line. Roach has good strength and an explosive first step that should make him a developmental project.

Barring an expansion of rosters, I see New Orleans carrying five players who can play DT on their active 53-man roster. Four of those spots seem secure with Brown, Onyemata, Rankins, and Tuttle. The battle between Edwards and Hunt will be one to monitor and may provide one of the last spots on the Saints defensive line. Both players provide the versatility to play multiple positions. Edwards is younger, has experience in the New Orleans defense, and has been more productive while Hunt is more physically imposing and would be the less expensive option. Other than that battle, there is little roster drama at DT for the Saints, a position again poised to dominate NFL offensive lines this season. 

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