Saints need bigger, better things from defensive tackles

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2016 offseason – counting down from No. 13 to No. 1 in order of need for upgrades or replacements. At No. 3 is defensive tackle.

Current depth chart:

John Jenkins. Age 26, signed through 2016. 2016 salary and bonuses: $1.7 million. 2016 salary-cap number: $1.84 million.

Kevin Williams. Age 35, unrestricted free agent.

Tyeler Davison. Age 23, signed through 2018. 2016 salary and bonuses: $525,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $579,306.

Kaleb Eulls. Age 24, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2018. 2016 salary and bonuses: $525,000. 2016 salary-cap number: $528,333.

Ashaad Mabry. Age 23, scheduled to become exclusive rights free agent in 2018. 2016 salary $450,000. 2016 salary-cap number estimated at $450,000.

Lawrence Virgil. Age 25, exclusive rights free agent.

Austin Brown. Age 24, exclusive rights free agent.


The Saints need a much more disruptive pass rush – and that doesn’t just have to come from the edges.

14837455A dynamic big man in the middle of their line could have a ripple effect through the entire defense. He could help flush quarterbacks into harm’s way around the edges, and he could help buy more time for the secondary. That was one of the keys to the Saints' defensive success in 2013, when they were able to get a lot of production out of their four-man pass rush without having to blitz too much.

The good news for New Orleans is that draft analysts seem to agree that this is one of the most talented classes for defensive linemen in years. Oregon’s DeForest Buckner probably won’t slip to the Saints with the No. 12 pick. But the Alabama duo of A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins are among some other intriguing options.

The Saints likely won’t be big spenders in free agency, which means that young Denver Broncos up-and-comer Malik Jackson may have priced himself out of their market with his strong playoff performance. Perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jaye Howard could tempt them?

The Saints do have some decent depth on their current roster -- they have just been more solid than spectacular.

That's how I would describe Jenkins, who has been a good nose tackle but still has not taken that next step after a promising rookie year in 2013 -- partly due to injury. There is still room for further growth from the big man heading into his fourth season. But if Jenkins does break out then he could suddenly become an expensive free agent to re-sign.

Davison showed a lot of promise as a rookie rotational backup at both spots last year, and fellow rookies Eulls and Mabry could earn playing time this year.

Williams did an admirable job last year at the three-technique position, playing more snaps than expected after signing late in the summer. But whether or not the Saints bring Williams back, they still need an injection of youth and disruption at that spot.

Previous rankings:

No. 13: Running back

No. 12: Quarterback

No. 11: Offensive tackle

No. 10: Specialists

No. 9: Inside linebacker

No. 8: Wide receiver

No. 7: Safety

No. 6: Tight end

No. 5: Cornerback

No. 4: Guard/center