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Could the Saints replace Marcus Davenport by revamping the prototype at DE?

One of the few complaints we’ve had about the New Orleans Saints’ defense in recent years is their over-reliance on big defensive ends like Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and Tanoh Kappagannon — and the decision to ask guys like Peyton Turner and Karl Grandson to bulk up. 280s after turning professional. The Saints lack a speed element up front which causes their pass rush production to run hot and cold. When facing quarterbacks who stay in the pocket and take their time surveying the field, they can get home with power.

But when playing against the league’s young mobile quarterbacks and speedy processors, the New Orleans defensive ends didn’t make much of an impact. The team also drafted speed rushers out of college such as Trey Hendrickson and Zack Boone, but it took several years for either of them to get real opportunities in games. Bonn plays more snaps on special teams than defense in most weeks, and when he is out he is tasked with backpedaling at linebacker rather than running down the field.

Although this may change in 2023. Defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen often talked about his preference for heavy ends, but he held down the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator job. And Davenport, a divisive draft pick who has modeled complaints with this style of player, has also moved on to a $13 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings.

Enter Todd Grantham. The former Florida Gators defensive coordinator is replacing Nielsen as the group’s position coach. In the four years he ran the Gators defense, his defensive ends were listed at average weights of 254, 252, 260 and 257 pounds. The Saints’ defensive ends last season had an average listed weight of 274 pounds, although each of them said their playing weight was closer to 285. Either way, it’s an important distinction.

However, it is not as if Dennis Allen has a history of preferring these oversized edge rushers. He was the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos in 2011 when they drafted Von Miller at No. 2 overall—who weighed just 246 pounds—at the annual NFL Scouting Combine. A few years later, Allen was the head coach of the Raiders when they selected Khalil Mack at No. 5 overall when he weighed 251 pounds. Allen has shown us that he knows the value of these undersized speed rushers of age, and that he is comfortable investing significant resources in them.

So maybe he goes back to pursuing the big players without Nielsen. Or maybe not. It could be that his defensive philosophy has changed over the past decade and he wants to stick to this scheme. However, the hiring of Grantham suggests otherwise.

If so, the Saints could look to bring in one of Grantham’s former players in free agency. The Los Angeles Rams cut Leonard Floyd last week as a salary cap casualty, and he enjoyed a productive season with a team-leading 6.5 sacks (Grantham was his coordinator and position coach) on Grantham’s 2013 Georgia Bulldogs defense. Floyd is now listed at 240 pounds, but usually plays closer to 244, and he’s been very effective regardless of the numbers: He’s been consistent in run defense, posting 54, 73, and 55 quarterback pressures over the past three years with L.A. Well turned out. According to Pro Football Focus charting, Jordan led the Saints with only 37 pressures last season.

Bringing in Floyd would be a radical move for the Saints, but it makes sense if we’re on the right track here. He has a coach who knows him well, and Allen has a history of fielding players like him. Signing him also wouldn’t jeopardize a lucrative 2024 compensatory draft pick after his last team released him from his contract. You’d think Peyton Turner is ready to take the next step and start in his third season, but he’s completely clueless, and neither Granderson nor Kepasagnan should be asked to start 17 games. But rotating each of them in the lineup with Jordan and the 30-year-old Floyd could get the best out of everyone. If the Saints are changing their priorities on the defensive end, Floyd might make more sense than other free agent pass rushers on the market. It could also lead him to a surprise draft pick like Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith in April.


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