Go back and watch the Super Bowl and see what stands out.
Denver Broncos pass-rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller will catch your eye. And so will their interior pass rushers, led by Malik Jackson.
Think about how Drew Brees likes to work a pocket. He often climbs and extends plays with his feet. Not in the sense that Ben Roethlisberger or Cam Newton can extend plays by getting outside of the pocket, but players like Brees are about to navigate the small portion of turf between the guards to buy an extra second or two.
Now imagine what things would look like if the guards were unable to protect that ground and there was middle pressure coming over and over. It would be hard for Brees to stand in the pocket and do his thing. If he sees the pressure coming right at him from a player like Jackson, he might be inclined to roll out where someone like Ware or Miller is waiting to bring him down.
Elite defensive ends are always going to be among the most valuable players on a defense. But when a team can get a defensive tackle who can consistently contribute to the pass rush, he can be a difference-maker in ways that no one else can. It’s hard for a quarterback to ignore pressure when it’s coming right at him.
The Saints haven’t had that kind of presence in a few years. There were hopes that Akiem Hicks was going to emerge as that player, but he struggled in 2014 and was moved to defensive end last season before being released. New Orleans brought in the veteran Kevin Williams to fill the void last season, but his season was somewhat silent.
The hope is that Nick Fairley, who was signed to what is essentially a one-year deal, will be able to step up and contribute. He’s shown flashes of being able to be that kind of player throughout his career. But considering the ups and downs, he’s experienced throughout his career, it’s hard to know what to expect from Fairley next season.
Even if Fairley breaks out and is the player the Saints are hoping he can be; he’s only here for one season. The Saints need to keep an eye open for a long-term option at the position who can develop into being an impact player. And even if Fairley plays well, there will be enough snaps to go around for everyone.
Figuring out how everyone is going to get on the field is a good problem to have.
The good news is that it’s the perfect year to be in the market for a defensive tackle. The position is incredibly deep, with quality players who might typically be considered among the top talent at the position in most years being projected to go in the second round.
If the Saints want to look early, Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins could be an option in the first round. Mississippi State’s Chris Jones is another potential option, even though many mock drafts have him going at the end of the first round.
In the second round, Florida’s Jonathan Bullard or Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler could be options. If the Saints aren’t into any of those guys, there will be plenty of others they can choose from who should be impact players in the NFL.
As mentioned in the analysis on the defensive ends, if Hau’oli Kikaha proves to be a viable defensive end, it doesn’t really matter if New Orleans focuses on improving the rush from the edges or from the interior. Ideally, both spots will be addressed. But what really matters is that this team figures out how to get better at rushing the passer.
If that comes from the middle, all the better. Maybe focusing on the interior will also help this team get better at defending the run.
Either way, any and all help is welcome.