Last year, despite all the frothing and groveling among fans and media, acquiring another pass rusher to come off the edge was not a must for the Saints.
With Cam Jordan and Junior Galette on the roster, the top two spots were set. If the Saints had added a player like, say, former Clemson pass rusher Vic Beasley, who was selected by the Falcons before New Orleans ever came on the clock, his projected usage would have been limited to subpackages.
The story, of course, changed a few months later when the Saints parted ways with Galette. But when New Orleans came on the clock last year, the level of need was artificially inflated — sort of like what’s happening with wide receivers this offseason. It’d be nice to add a receiver, and there’d be little reason to complain if one were selected in the first couple rounds, but there are more pressing issues.
That isn’t true this year. There is a need for a defensive end. It’s obvious.
The problem is that it’s difficult to gauge exactly how great that need is. There could be a crippling hole at the position. The hole could also be somewhat covered. We won’t know for sure until the Saints get back on the field and start practicing again.
It sounds like the Saints are hoping that Hau’oli Kikaha can move down from linebacker and play the Jack position manned by Jordan last season and Galette before him. If he can hold that spot down, that would move Jordan back over to the strongside end position, leaving both defensive end positions covered.
While Kikaha might be a little light for the position, he wouldn’t need to add much mass to handle the rigors of the job. He did record 19 sacks as a senior at Washington playing end, and coach Sean Payton mentioned the Jack position as a possible fit for him following last year’s draft.
The possibility of Kikaha playing the position was raised again at the NFL’s annual meeting in Florida earlier this offseason, and Payton again said he’d like for Kikaha to play defensive end. However, he did not say whether that would be on every down or in subpackages.
So in evaluating the need, it comes down to how much faith the Saints have in Kikaha. If they are uncertain, then adding another pass rusher should be the top need. If they are certain, adding another body will still be a top need, but you could prioritize it under some other spots.
Either way, adding an impact player at this position could be a benefit to the Saints. Whether it be Kikaha or a rookie, bringing in another pass rusher would give New Orleans options.
The team already likes to kick Jordan inside to defensive tackle in some passing situations. But this look could be even more effective if an impact edge rusher comes aboard.
If a rookie is added, the Saints could have Kikaha and the rookie player coming off the edges with Jordan and Nick Fairley serving as the interior players. In theory, that should help improve the pass rush.
How ever things end up coming together, last year’s 31 sacks were not enough. That’s pedestrian, and some of the issues up front added to the complications the team had in the secondary. Likewise, some of the issues the team had in the secondary impacted the pass rush.
Everything needs to get better everywhere. Getting Kikaha in a position where he could best use his talents is a start. Adding another rookie would be a solid second step.
The question is if the team should do everything it can to address the position in the first couple rounds or if another position, like defensive tackle, is viewed as a greater need. Either way, adding someone who can rush the passer in the early rounds would have a similar impact on the defense.
Whether it comes from the inside or the outside, the pass rush has to get better.