The question here is whether you look at the New Orleans Saints as a 3-4 defense or one that plays the majority of its snaps out of a four-man front.
By virtue of playing more nickel than base, New Orleans already spends the majority of its snaps in a four-man front, and some of the base packages headed that direction last season. So that might change the type of player the Saints covet at defensive tackle.
The Saints already have John Jenkins and Brodrick Bunkley at nose tackle. And while he’s listed as a defensive end, Akiem Hicks basically was a defensive tackle last season.
So will the Saints look to draft a hulking nose tackle to challenge Jenkins or Bunkley? Or would they be more open to looking for a defensive tackle who might not be suited for that role but could excel in a four-man front?
Here’s a look at some guys who fit both bills and who might be of interest to New Orleans during the first five rounds of the draft:
Targets at No. 13
Danny Shelton, Washington: There are two big questions surrounding Shelton. The first is whether he can play defensive tackle in a four-man front. The second is whether his pass-rush ability transitions to the NFL.
Shelton will eat up tackles playing nose tackle in a 3-4 front and managed to get after the passer in college. If he can capably slide over to defensive tackle, it might not matter whether his ability to get after the passer transitions if he proves capable of eating up blockers and opening lanes for others.
Malcom Brown, Texas: Brown’s stock is all over the place. He’s projected to go within the first 15 picks in some places — but in the second round in others.
Brown has displayed the ability to move around the defensive line; that could make him an attractive option for the Saints, who run a hybrid defense with various fronts.
Arik Armstead, Oregon: At 6-foot-7 and 289 pounds, Armstead is long, lean and athletic. He has the frame to add bulk, if needed. He knows how to use his length to cause problems on the defensive line and has the versatility to play end in a three-man front and tackle in a four-man front.
His height can be a disadvantage; he sometimes stays too high and is easily blocked out. He could become a better pass rusher with improved technique.
Target at No. 31
Eddie Goldman, Florida State: Goldman has experience playing across the defensive line and has proved to be stout against the run.
He isn’t going to get after the quarterback much, but he could show some improvement there with refined technique.
Targets at No. 44
Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma: Started just 17 games in his college career and had back surgery in 2013 that limited him to three games.
Phillips is not an accomplished pass rusher, but he has the ability to eat up blockers and open rushing lanes for other players. He’s still raw and could show improvement with NFL coaching.
Carl Davis, Iowa: One line that is in many scouting reports about Davis is that he lacks a consistent motor and disappears for stretches.
But he is very athletic for his size and turned heads at the Senior Bowl following an up-and-down senior season. Davis has the potential to be a solid NFL player if he puts it all together.
Targets at No. 75 and 78
Xavier Cooper, Washington State: Cooper is a versatile defensive lineman who brings a quick first step and is able to get into the backfield. He performs well against the run but can create vulnerabilities in the defense by being overly aggressive.
Grady Jarrett, Clemson: At 6-foot and 304 pounds, Jarrett is smaller than a prototypical defensive tackle and could scare some teams off with his lack of size. But he gets into the backfield quickly and can be a disruptive presence. The question is whether he can do that against longer, more powerful NFL offensive linemen.
Michael Bennett, Ohio State: One of the better interior pass rushers in this class, Bennett knows how to get after the quarterback and should continue to do so at the next level. He also is capable against the run, but he lacks some power in his game and is easily blocked out at times.
Targets at No. 148 and 154
Tyeler Davison, Fresno State: Not the best at getting after the quarterback, but he knows how to shed blockers and stuff the run.
Ray Drew, Georgia: Can play both inside and outside. Knows how to get after the quarterback but remains raw.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Mississippi State: Nunez-Roches can get into the backfield and stop the run. He could be a good value in the fifth round.