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Trendsetters? Saints could be first of many teams to draft DT in Round 1

Ranking the New Orleans Saints’ top draft needs. At No. 2 is defensive tackle:

Current depth chart:

John Jenkins, age 26

Nick Fairley, age 28

Tyeler Davison, age 23

Kaleb Eulls, age 24

Ashaad Mabry, age 23

Outlook: The smartest bet for the Saints in this year’s draft is that they’ll wind up with a new defensive tackle by the end of Day 2 -- not just because it’s a big need, but because there is a staggering amount of talent available in the first three rounds.

There's a good chance the Saints will be the team that starts a long, impressive run of DTs on Thursday night. Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins has been the most popular mock draft choice for the Saints with the 12th overall pick -- including my own. But he’s hardly the only possibility there. Six or more defensive tackles could go in Round 1.

Ten or more could be gone by the time the Saints pick again at No. 47 in Round 2 (candidates include Rankins, Alabama’s Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson, Baylor’s Andrew Billings, Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler, Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche, Mississippi State’s Chris Jones, UCLA’s Kenny Clark, Penn State’s Austin Johnson and Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day).

The Saints aren’t necessarily desperate to add a DT. They have a decent mix of talent and potential in this group, especially after adding Fairley in free agency. But they still need to get much more disruptive up front. And Jenkins and Fairley are both scheduled to be free agents next year.

A rookie could rotate into the mix right away, then replace one of them as a full-time starter by 2017, if not sooner. Rankins makes a lot of sense because he could potentially play both DT spots in New Orleans’ 4-3 scheme, and he can be an asset as both a run-defender and pass-rusher. Rankins had 14 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss over his final two seasons at Louisville.

Previous rankings:

No. 13-11 (RB, TE, specialists)

No. 10 Quarterback

No. 9-7 (MLB, OT, S)

No. 6 Wide receiver

No. 5 Cornerback

No. 4 Guard/center

No. 3 Outside linebacker