For all the talk about Von Miller and the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos’ edge rushers, if you go back and watch the playoffs again, you’ll see that their interior pass rush was just as instrumental in making Tom Brady and Cam Newton feel frazzled and uncomfortable.
The Saints do not have that element on defense. Even their ability to stop runs up the middle is suspect, at best. For things to change, the defense has to get better up the middle. It’s imperative.
Internally, there are some solid players at this position. John Jenkins got better last season, and Tyeler Davison, who will be entering his second year, showed promise as a rookie. But New Orleans still struggled to stop the run and never generated enough interior pass rush.
This is one of the deeper positions in the draft, so New Orleans could look to address it there, but there’s a case to be made for signing two veteran players at this position.
2015 team: Seahawks
Vitals: 6-1, 311
Stat to remember: 15.5 sacks over three seasons
2015 Team: Broncos
Vitals: 6-5, 293
Stat to remember: Five sacks last season
Adding to the pass rush was considered a major need last offseason, and that was before things went sour with Junior Galette and he was sent packing.
The only real consistent pass rusher on the roster is Cameron Jordan. It’s possible that Hau’oli Kikaha, last year’s second-round pick, could slide down to end next season from strong-side linebacker, but there’s still a need for another body at this position.
Jordan played more than 90 percent of the snaps last season, which is much higher than what is typical around the league. An ideal number would be something like 75 percent, which would help Jordan stay fresh and have more productive snaps late in games.
But before something like that can even be worried about, New Orleans needs to find a solid running mate to work opposite of him. The options on the open market likely will be expensive, so this could be a draft need, but the Saints need to keep an eye on the market.
2015 team: Giants
Vitals: 6-5, 278
Stat to remember: 12.5 sacks in 2014
2015 team: Bills Age: 31 Vitals: 6-6, 292 Stat to remember: 14.5 sacks in 2014
This position went from a need to a must after the release of Jahri Evans.
New Orleans has potential internal options in Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete, either of whom could claim one or both of the jobs at guard. But it was telling last season when the Saints tried to work in Andrus Peat at guard with varying degrees of success.
It seems unlikely, though it remains possible, that Peat again competes on the interior if Zach Strief is brought back and continues to lay claim to right tackle. But that probably isn’t the outcome the team is seeking.
So this is another position where it isn’t out of the question for the Saints to add two bodies.
A proven veteran seems like a must. Adding a young player via the draft who can compete for a job and develop into a long-term option also seems like a good idea.
2015 team: Ravens Age: 26
Vitals: 6-5, 330
Stat to remember: Hasn’t played 16 games since 2012
2015 team: 49ers
Vitals: 6-8, 300
Stat to remember: Suffered a torn MCL last season
The Saints need players at this position — perhaps at multiple subsets of it.
The need for a weakside linebacker became obvious last year after injuries to Dannell Ellerbe left New Orleans exposed on multiple occasions. And there could be needs at strongside and middle linebacker, depending on whether the defense evolves in some form or fashion.
If the Saints decide to change their personnel and use Kikaha at end and move Stephone Anthony to strongside linebacker, then New Orleans could be in the market for another man to play in the middle.
Additional depth on the weak side appears paramount, considering Ellerbe has missed significant time with injury each of the past two seasons.
Or, even if the status quo remains, bringing in additional bodies could provide options for this group — something the Saints did not have last season. Improvements are needed against the run and in coverage.
2015 team: Chiefs
Age: 33 Vitals: 6-3, 242
Stat to remember: 116 tackles and four sacks in 2015
2015 team: Broncos Age: 25
Vitals: 6-1, 240
Stat to remember: 110 tackles and two interceptions in 2015