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Can the Saints Continue Their Defensive Ascension?

One of the key takeaways and reasons to get excited from the 2017 Saints season was the rise of the defense. When you are prone to giving out points like business cards it is easy to be up in arms over being +7 in the turnover ratio and creating 42 sacks as a team. The question this offseason is: Can the Saints maintain that production or build off it to become even better. Defense is critical and is proven to be a part of the recipe to not only make it to the postseason, but also be competitive. Barring any significant injuries (knocks on wood) I think the defensive unit can mimic the results of last year and maybe even be better.

Looking at the defensive line, Cam Jordan will do Cam Jordan residing in the backfield. He accumulated 13 sacks which is easier for him than most. Sheldon Rankins doesn’t get the credit he deserves because most players at his position aren’t going to be as noticeable on the stat sheet, but his disruption of plays opens doors for teammates. He even had the flexibility to push over to defensive end when need to help pick up slack for some injuries. David Onyemata has a similar skillset to Rankins where he makes up for being undersized with agility & quickness for his size. He is still learning the nuances of the position, but a breakout is very much possible. Tyeler Davison is the more conventional type DT that pure strength and specializes in anchoring against stopping the run. Alex Okafor was the Robin to Cam Jordan’s Batman last year before injury forced him out of action. Through 10 games Okafor posted 4.5 sacks and 2 fumbles. If he can fabricate those type numbers again through a full season then he will be another headache (along with the addition of Marcus Davenport) that helps this team win in the trenches: and that is where most games are won.

Moonwalking back into the linebackers is where things can get interesting. There is so much depth right now that nobody is 100% sure who will be starting and at what position. I am assuming Demario Davis will be placed at the mike linebacker position. His number 6 ranking in total tackles for the year ahead of names like Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly gives hope for positive things to come. You can make whatever Manti Te’o you desire, but his consistent backfield tackles are another positive to build off for middle linebacker. Like I said I don’t know who will start, but the way injuries are contagious within this team, having starter caliber players on standby is a good problem to have. Alex Anzalone, Craig Robertson, and AJ Klein all proved to be tackling machines last year and are all versatile enough to play all 3 linebacker positions. Alex Anzalone may have the highest ceiling but injury and being youthful halted last season for him. Craig Robertson is an underrated player with athleticism to stalk ball carriers and thrive in coverage. AJ Klein is the instinct guy who can read offensive linemen blocks and rarely misses tackles. All guys I just mentioned are good, but not yet great with the ability to make plays without getting exclusively picked on by offenses.

The defensive backfield was a major surprise unit, and no I am not talking about the Marcus Williams play in the playoffs. He played good throughout his rookie season and was a reason the saints came back against the Vikings in that same playoff game. I think he is only motivated to get better and thrives on shutting people up. Vonn Bell is another solid draft pick from a few years ago that has good range to stay by the ball and is a very good tackler even though he isn’t a big hitter. The way a I see it, if you are getting any type of tackling stats then the offense did not score. Ken Crawley held his own throughout the year rating very well in zone coverage. Patrick Robinson a former Saint that lacked consistency, but seemed to have found it in Philadelphia for their Super Bowl run, if he can bring that consistency to NOLA, coaches may have to game plan for him. Concluding with Marshon Lattimore, defensive rookie of the year, pro bowl, limiting premier wide receivers, and frustrating quarterbacks. I don’t think I need to say more. He has only started 2 seasons if you count college and the NFL. I would bet money he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. The Saints defense is not dominate yet, but have plenty of pieces to build on to get there.