It’s no secret the New Orleans Saints need a pass rusher.
Too often, New Orleans failed to create pressure on quarterbacks last season. And with the secondary improved through free agency, that remains one of the biggest target areas for improvement entering this week’s draft.
With two picks in the first round, it’s widely expected that New Orleans will address this need during the first day of the draft. If not, it’s almost certain they’ll dive in during the second round.
With this in mind, here’s a look at some of the edge rushers the Saints might take a look at during the first five rounds:
TARGETS AT NO. 13
Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley is undoubtedly one of the best pass rushers in this class, proving so by recording 25 sacks over the past two seasons. The only issue is that either he or Junior Galette likely would become a situation player, because Beasley is unlikely to be a stout run defender in the NFL.
Bud Dupree, Kentucky: Dupree has tremendous upside and has proved to be solid at a number of things. He might not possesses an elite trait, but he does everything well and has flashed an ability to drop back into coverage.
Shane Ray, Missouri: He is fighting a toe injury that might or might not require surgery, depending on whom you ask. If enough teams view the injury as being serious, it could cause his stock to plummet. He’s going to get sacks at the next level. The question is whether he can defend against the run.
Randy Gregory, Nebraska: Gregory might have been the first edge rusher off the board a few months ago, but a failed drug test at the combine has left his stock in limbo. If Gregory slides down into this range, or even farther, he could prove to be the steal of the draft. He also could continue to struggle off the field and end up being a bust.
TARGETS AT NOS. 31 AND 44
Eli Harold, Virginia: With 15.5 sacks in the past two seasons, Harold has proven ability to get after the passer and could be coveted by the Saints if they miss out on an edge rusher with their first pick. Like many of the other players on this list, Harold struggles at times against the run and needs to improve in this regard.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA: While he’s not the pass rusher some others on this list are, Odighizuwa might be one of the more complete players on this list. He finished with six stacks last season but proved to be effective against the run. He also has the ability to play down in a four-man front or stand up in a 3-4.
TARGETS AT NOS. 75 AND 78
Nate Orchard, Utah: Not many people were talking about Orchard before he recorded 18.5 sacks last season. He had a combined 6.5 sacks over the previous two seasons. Orchard knows how to get after the quarterback but could struggle as an outside linebacker. He is also vulnerable against the run.
Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington: Kikaha’s production is proven. He had 13 sacks as a junior and came back with 19 as a senior after missing the 2012 season with an ACL tear. Trained in judo, Kikaha knows how to use his hands to beat offensive linemen. He, too, might struggle against the run.
Markus Golden, Missouri: Golden is good at everything but lacks an elite skill. He recorded 10 sacks last year, but some of his production might have been the result of Shane Ray playing opposite of him.
Frank Clark, Michigan: Clark is another talent who comes with character concerns. While his issues are now behind him after a plea deal, it might be enough to scare some teams away. Clark posted great numbers at the combine and could prove to be a steal if he keeps his head on straight in the NFL.
Danielle Hunter, LSU: Hunter could go higher than this, or he could drop a little farther. He didn’t have the production at LSU, finishing last season with 1.5 sacks, but he’s been impressing teams in workouts and could make a team fall in love with his potential. He’s strong against the run and has upside as a pass rusher.
TARGETS AT NOS. 148 AND 154
Zach Hodges, Harvard: Finished last season with 8.5 sacks. He’s raw but could be a good developmental project if he slides a little farther in the draft.
Davis Tull, Tennessee-Chattanooga: Tull is extremely athletic but is a bit undersized at 6-foot-2 and 246 pounds. He has proven production, finishing last year with 12.5 sacks.
Trey Flowers, Arkansas: Flowers is better against the run than the pass, though he finished last year with six sacks. He caused problems for LSU tackle La’el Collins during a game against the Tigers last year.