The New Orleans Saints appear likely to bring back their top pass rusher, Junior Galette, after converting his roster bonus to a signing bonus on Monday – though it’s still unknown if he could face a possible NFL suspension after being arrested on a domestic-violence charge that was later dropped.
Even if Galette plays all 16 games in 2015, though, the Saints could use more pass-rush help. Who couldn’t?
The draft is one possible avenue -- even though many of the top options might not fall to the 13th pick. If the Saints decide to seek help in the free-agent market, they’ll likely dip into the second or third tier, where there are still several attractive options available. Here’s a look at some of the top young pass-rushers who are either still in their prime years or just entering them:
Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers. Age 26. 6-4, 275. Hardy was one of the NFL’s most dominant players in 2013 with 15 sacks, but he spent last season on the commissioner’s exempt list because of domestic-violence charges (which were later dropped). Hardy doesn’t seem like a good fit for New Orleans because he could also be facing a NFL suspension – and because he could still be too expensive.
Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins. Age 28. 6-4, 257. Orakpo is a three-time Pro Bowl selection with 40 career sacks, but injuries have plagued his career. He was limited to seven games last season with his third torn pectoral muscle. Maybe that will make him more affordable if the Saints believe he’s worth the risk.
Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans. Age 26. 6-3, 261. ESPN scouting analyst KC Joyner singled out Morgan as a second-tier player whom the Saints might want to target. A former first-round pick, Morgan hasn’t overwhelmed, likely because of a torn ACL suffered in his rookie year. But he has 23 sacks, 24 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in 66 career games. Joyner said he has posted double-digit disrupted dropback numbers in two of the past three seasons (13.5 last year).
Jabaal Sheard, Cleveland Browns. Age 25. 6-3, 264. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan identified Sheard as “very underrated” and “perfect for a hybrid scheme” like the Saints run under Rob Ryan. Sheard has played end in a 4-3 and outside linebacker in a 3-4 with 190 tackles, 23 sacks and seven forced fumbles in four years.
Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers. Age 27. 6-2, 262. A former second-round pick, Worilds hasn’t been a consistent producer, but he’s shown great potential. And he’s come on strong the past two seasons with 15.5 sacks since becoming a regular starter. He had 18 QB pressures in 2014. Caplan said teams are split on whether he's an every-down player or a rotational player. But he’s very productive regardless, and he's also a good special teams player and good character guy.
Anthony Spencer, Dallas Cowboys. Age 31, 6-3, 265. Spencer isn’t young anymore, and he was limited during the past two years by a knee injury that required microfracture surgery in 2013. But he’s a former Pro Bowl selection who had his best season under Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in 2012, with 11 sacks. So maybe a reunion could make sense, especially if he comes at a discounted price. Spencer only had one-half sack in 13 games played in 2014, but by most accounts came on strong as he got healthier late in the year.
Adrian Clayborn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Age 26. 6-3, 280. Another former first-round pick who has battled injuries and inconsistency. Clayborn has played in just 36 games in four years because of a torn biceps last year and a 2012 knee injury. But he had 7.5 sacks in 2011 and 5.5 sacks in 2013, so there’s still some potential there. The Saints liked him a lot in the 2011 draft.
Brooks Reed, Houston Texans. Age 28. 6-3, 254. A regular starter since his rookie season in 2011, Reed has 14.5 career sacks and holds his own against the run as well. Caplan said he’s been cross-trained to play inside linebacker. The Saints could use that kind of versatility.
O’Brien Schofield, Seattle Seahawks. Age 27. 6-3, 260. He played a rotational role in Seattle but could play a bigger one for a needier defense. Schofield has 13.5 sacks in five years with the Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. ESPN Insider Matt Williamson mentioned him as a possible fit for the Saints.