Saints Strong at Defensive Tackle in Offseason Preview
Over the last three seasons, the New Orleans Saints have been most successful when they’ve bullied opponents. On offense, that philosophy would allow the Saints to have a balanced attack and impose their will on the opposition. On defense, New Orleans could dominate offenses from the interior and often dismantle an opponent’s game plan.
Their inside prowess helped the defense to a top-5 ranking against the run in each of the last two years, along with bringing interior pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Saints have a talented depth at the defensive tackle position, and today we look at how well-stocked they are at this spot heading into the offseason.
Free Agents: David Onyemata
Under Contract: Malcom Brown, Mario Edwards Jr. (T/E), Sheldon Rankins, Taylor Stallworth, Shy Tuttle
The Saints defensive tackles combined for 12 of the team’s 51 quarterback sacks in 2019 but could often pressure the passer up the middle to force a rushed throw. Fourth year tackle David Onyemata led the position with 3 sacks and 15 pressures. A raw prospect as a 4th round draft pick in 2016, Onyemata has improved his overall game in each season and has blossomed into a solid run defender. An unrestricted free agent, Onyemata may command a top salary on the open market that may address other needs. Three newcomers to the defensive line in 2019 helped not only bolster depth, but allow New Orleans the luxury of not having to pay Onyemata a high salary to maintain a quality defensive line.
The Saints added Malcom Brown in free agency last spring and he not only supplied expected quality run defense but surprised some with his pass rushing ability. A stout wall of a defender at 6’2 320-Lbs, the 26-Yr old Brown was a force inside for the Saints 4th ranked run defense. He was disruptive as a pass rusher as well, collecting 2 sacks but collapsing the opposing pass pocket in several games. Undrafted rookie Shy Tuttle was one of the Saints biggest surprises of 2019.
The 6’3 300-Lb University of Tennessee product saw action in all 16 games and became a vital part of the defensive tackle rotation. Tuttle was a space-eater against the run and tallied 2 sacks, 6 pressures, and an interception while looking like a potential long-term fixture at the position. Five-year veteran Mario Edwards, Jr. came over as a free agent and brought versatility to both the end and tackle spots while contributing 3 sacks and good run defense.
Tuttle’s development early on knocked last year’s roster surprise Taylor Stallworth out of the lineup entering the season. Stallworth was re-signed late in the year and provided quality play down the stretch of the season. The 24-Yr old tackle is a solid defender against both the run and pass and will be in the mix for a 2020 roster spot.
Stallworth was re-signed because of a late season injury to Sheldon Rankins. The 25-Yr old Rankins missed the first month of action while recovering from an Achilles injury last January, then was placed on injured reserve late in the year with an ankle injury. In ten games of action, the four-year veteran accumulated 2 sacks and 8 pressures along with 10 tackles.
When healthy, Rankins is one of the more disruptive inside defenders in the league. The Saints look to a return to form from the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft. If they get it, defensive tackle is a position of strength for the team, even with the possible loss of Onyemata. Given their depth, we shouldn’t expect New Orleans to put a high priority on this position in either free agency or the draft.
Rankins, Edwards, and Stallworth all have contracts that expire after the upcoming season though, and Rankins’ injury history could be concerning. The Saints have had luck with veteran defensive tackles in free agency however (Brown, Edwards, Nick Fairley) and both late in the draft or undrafted college talent. The San Francisco 49ers were the NFC representative in this year's Super Bowl largely because of the talent and depth along their defensive line. New Orleans has a defensive line with similar qualities, a distinct advantage as they look to bolster other positions this offseason.
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