Falcons Saints Football

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) slides to the turf as he is pursued by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Gerald Herbert

Editor's note: The Saints could justify drafting a player at nearly every position. In the days leading up to the draft, The Advocate will evaluate each of those positions and make a case for and against taking a player at each spot early in the draft.

The case for drafting a defensive tackle

New Orleans had issues against the run last season.

The 4.4 yards per carry the defense allowed was an issue. It would have been a bigger talking point if the team had played in closer games or from behind last season, but the style of games it played flew under the radar a bit.

So, adding someone who could help against the run would make sense. It was likely one of the reasons the Saints were interested in acquiring Ndamukong Suh before he decided to sign with the Los Angeles Rams. It’s also one of the reasons the team signed linebacker Demario Davis. The benefits of getting better here are obvious, especially when considering the quality of running backs on the schedule next season.

But this is also an area where a pass-rushing defensive tackle could fit. While so much time has been spent talking about getting an edge rusher, the Saints went about building the pass rush a different way when it acquired Nick Fairley and subsequently signed him to a new deal before a heart condition ended his tenure.

Was that out of necessity or did the team build the rush from the inside out? It can work either way, and there are times when bringing the heat from the middle can be more impactful than coming off the edges. It’s hard to stand in the pocket and remain calm when you see the rush coming right at you. It’s a little easier when you see it coming from the edges.

The Saints have spent the past few years restocking the secondary, and it is now populated with opportunistic ball hawks. Forcing a quarterback into a few hurried throws could create some easy interceptions.

While the same things can be done from the edges, and sometimes better, it can also happen from the interior defensive line. At this point, any opportunity to improve the pass rush should not be ignored.

The case against drafting a defensive tackle

It's hard to argue against this one. New Orleans has a few solid players sitting atop the depth chart with Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison, which leaves the team set in the base defense.

But there aren’t a lot of candidates to step in alongside Rankins in the sub rush. So, the only case to make against the position is if there is a greater need elsewhere, but that would be splitting hairs.

And even in the base, while the player might not offer much in the pass rush, another nose tackle to compete with Davison wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Top five

Vita Vea, Washington

He’s likely to be the first interior defensive lineman off the board, which means the Saints probably don't have a shot at him. Vea has the greatest upside of any interior player in this draft and should be an anchor on someone’s defensive line in due time.

Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

Payne should be good against the run immediately, but he also flashes the potential to be an asset in the pass rush. If he can put both of those things together, he could end up having a very good career. If not, he’d still be a solid starter for someone.

Maurice Hurst, Michigan

Hurst has the potential to be a good pass rusher for some team. He projects as a three-technique tackle, which is something the Saints could use to help bolster the rush in passing situations.

Taven Bryan, Florida

Bryan is an explosive athlete who pops off the screen when you watch him. The problem is that he plays without discipline and sometimes appears to lack vision. If he can be coached up and given some more fundamentals, he could be a very good player.

Harrison Phillips, Stanford

Could be a solid nose tackle for someone. Plays well against the run. Would like to see more on passing downs, but could be serviceable there.

Verdict

If the right player is there, whether it be a nose tackle or a three-technique, the Saints would be well served to select one.

Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​