Post-Kikaha DE Options

The Saints were relying on a leap in production from second-year defensive end, once strong-side linebacker, Hau’oli Kikaha in 2016 to improve their much maligned defensive front. Before they had a chance to see what the former second round pick could do as a starting 4-3 end, those plans where dramatically changed when he tore his ACL for the third time during OTAs.

While Kikaha was no lock for an improved performance, or even a starting spot, this injury leaves the Saints thinner at what was probably their thinnest position, the ‘Jack’ end/linebacker. Let’s take a look at their next options:

Kasim Edebalihctrbpt

‘The dream Kasim’ has always stood out in pass rushing situations as having a very fast first step and initial move. His career so far, undrafted free-agent and situational pass-rusher, has a lot of parallels to 2013 break out player at the same position Junior Galette (except for Edebali not being a train-wreck off the field).

With two and five sacks in the 2014 and 2015 seasons respectively, the Hamburg, Germany native will be in a great position to continue his upward trend in production and solidify a position on the Saints line for the future.

Obum Gwachamgwacham-card-092315jpg-cc27c192e8ff15ea

The Saints claimed Gwacham, the converted wide receiver, before the 2015 season started. Seattle, who had taken him in the 6th round of the 2015 draft, cut Gwacham after training camp. He became the second  former Oregon State wide receiver on the Saints roster, along with Brandin Cooks.

Gwacham turned up to OTAs this year after adding another 15-20 pounds of weight (now at around 260lbs) to his 6-5 frame, ideal for the transition from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE. Gwacham may be the rawest and most athletic of the bunch, but showed in his little time on the field last year that he could produce at this level.

Davis Tulltemp_MH25124--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

After missing his whole rookie season last year, 2015 fifth rounder Tull has a point to prove. Consecutive labrum injuries leading to surgery and a season on IR has lead to question marks about his durability and a move to a more physically demanding position won’t do anything to help them go away.

The tape from Tull’s college career is still unbelievable, albeit against poor opposition. The three time SoCon DPOY (2012-14) was unrelenting in his time at Tennessee-Chatanooga, wracking up a conference record 37 sacks in his time there.

From all accounts during OTAs Tull is flashing that lightning first step that had tongues wagging at this stage last year. Even as a situational pass-rusher, it will be fun to see what he can produce in the 2016 campaign.

David Onyemataonyemata-david-23012016

This one is a little left-field, I know, but hear me out. Mickey Loomis said he expected Onyemata to come in and produce in his first year (I was amongst the majority who rolled their eyes when I heard this too) and he may well have to do that. Onyemata isn’t about to stand up at the Jack position and run around tackles, but he is more than capable of standing up as the strong-side (or closed-side) defensive end with Cam Jordan back in the Jack role he played last year.

This lineup may have been reserved for jumbo packages or running downs for this year, but if Bobby Richardson could do it last year, couldn’t Onyemata this year?

Free AgencyDwight-Freeney

There aren’t too many attractive free agent pass rushers available at this stage of the year. With every team having 93 on their roster, that’s no surprise. The Saints may take a look at the ancient, yet somehow still productive, Dwight Freeney, who managed eight sacks and three forced fumbles in only 11 appearances with the Cardinals last year.

I’d like to rule out any fans screaming for Greg Hardy at this point too. New Orleans weren’t having anything to do with Junior Galette, even with all his dead money, after a few misdemeanors and his poisonous attitude. There’s no way they go backwards two steps and bring in a bigger locker-room cancer after the overhaul the defense has gone through. No way.

The Saints will definitely be watching some of the final roster cuts around the league to try and grab some guys that were on the bubble at their respective teams, and that may be the best way for them to get a productive veteran presence at defensive end for 2016. But for now, look at the first three guys above to stamp their names on training camp and become the teams starter.


Saints Camp Bodies

With the news all quiet out of the New Orleans Saints rookie camp, we take a look at the camp attendees.

Drafted Players

Rd 1 (12) Sheldon Rankins (DT) Louisville


Michael Thomas

Rd 2 (47) Michael Thomas (WR) Ohio State

Rd 2 (61) Vonn Bell (S) Ohio State

Rd 4 (120) David Onyemata (DT) Manitoba, Canada

Rd 7 (237) Daniel Lasco (RB) California




UDFA Signings


Landon Turner

Landon Turner (OG) North Carolina
Jack Allen (C) Michigan State
De’Vante Harris (CB) Texas A&M
Trae Elston (S) Ole Miss
Avery Young (OT/OG) Auburn
Joseph Cheek (OG) Texas A&M
Mike Caputo (SS) Wisconsin
Jared Dangerfield (WR) Western Kentucky
D.J. Pettway (DE) Alabama
Marcus Henry (C) Boise State


Jared Dangerfield

Ken Crawley (CB) Colorado State
Ryker Mathews (OT) BYU
Jordan Williams (WR) Ball State
Sione Houma (FB) Michigan
Dominique Tovell (LB) UL – Lafayette
Tommylee Lewis (WR/KR) Northern Illinois
Jeff Schoettmer (LB) North Carolina
Dillon Lee (LB) Alabama
Mitchell Loewen (DE) Arkansas



Rookie Camp Invites

Luther Maddy (DT) Virginia Tech


Luther Maddy

Anthony Pistelli (K) Samford
Jaylen Walton (RB) Ole Miss
John Gibbs (QB) Alcorn State
Corey Marshall (DE) Virginia Tech
AJ Hughes (P) Virginia Tech
Chris Weatherd (OLB) Tennessee
Brett McMakin (LB) Northern Iowa
Cheatham Norrils (S) Toledo
Dillion Kidd (P) Iowa
Lance McDowdell (DT) UCF
Kyler Kerbyson (OT) Tennessee
Jon Desir (DT) Towson
Leonard Pegues (LB) Memphis


Anthony Pistelli

Garrett Griffin (TE) Air Force
Royce LaFrance (DE) Tulane
Jordan Canzeri (RB) Iowa
Geremy Aldridge (RD) West Texas A&M
Eric Wallace (TE) Former Ohio State basketballer and AFL footballer for North Melbourne in Australia



Still Playing Copy Cat?

New Orleans Saints with Sean Payton and Drew Brees have never struggled on offense, but for years they have been searching for their own defensive identity. There have been campaigns where the defense has been good enough (2009 and 2013 particularly), but never a period of consistent performances on that side of the ball.

In recent years the lack of talent on defense has been obvious, 2011 first round pick Cameron Jordan is now the longest serving defensive player and seen as a leader of the pack. There have been misses in the draft (I’ll talk about one later) and an enthusiasm for trading up that has left the team with less drafted players than would be ideal. A second round pick in 2012 and 2013 would also go a long way to fixing the depth issues. I won’t go into bounty-gate, all Saints fans feel the same way about that. I’m also not blaming Roger Goodell for the state of the defense, but boy the Saints could have used an Olivier Vernon or Jamie Collins (both taken shortly after the Saints forfeited second rounders in 2012 and 2013 respectively).

Then, of course, there is the turnover of staff. I’m sure the lack of a consistent Defensive Coordinator contributes to the lack of a consistent vision, even moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and back again within the last four years. Some consistency with Dennis Allen for the foreseeable future will be good for the team, and with Assistant GM Jeff Ireland taking control of the scouting (which looks to be providing good returns, at least so far) the team should be able to build. In what direction? That remains to be seen.


Stanley Jean-Baptiste in a rare appearance on the field for the Saints

After the recent success of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012-13 seasons, the Saints tried their hardest to build their own ‘legion of boom’ and play copy cat with Gus Bradley’s Seattle defense. They tried bigger, stronger, press man coverage corners like Stanley Jean-Baptiste and ex-Seahawk Brandon Browner over smaller, more talented and fluid players. Both were colossal failures, each lasted one season with the team. Jean-Baptiste the former second round draft pick cut after his second training camp and Browner cut after his only disastrous season despite a fairly high dead cap number. Both funnily enough will be with the Seahawks for the 2016 season. This project failed, through misses in new players and the system not fitting with the others on the roster.




The imposing Carolina Panthers defense

What direction do the Saints go now? Do they look around the league again to find another team to model their roster on? There are really two options if they’re trying to do so, Carolina and Denver. Denver have built an amazing defense through hitting on big name free agents like Aqib Talib, TJ Ward and DeMarcus Ware and favoring the defensive line in the draft. The Saints haven’t been so lucky with their free agents recently, so that may be another lost cause.

Carolina, on the other hand, have built a defense almost exclusively through the draft. The Panthers draft front seven players early and they draft them often. Not letting a current first and second rounder starting at their two DT positions stop them from drafting that position again in the first round of this years draft. This isn’t a short term fix, it’s a long term strategy, but it looks to be the best fit.

Does New Orleans continue to look around the league for inspiration? Or is there enough faith in the vision of Dennis Allen and Sean Payton and the abilities of Jeff Ireland and the scouting staff to build their own team from their own model? I, personally, would love to see the Sainst go with the Panthers process, it follows the old ‘build your side from the front-back’ adage. Looking at this years draft, I hope they already are.


Predicting The 53 Man Roster

There will be veteran additions and surprise cuts, surprises in training camp (see: 2015 Willie Snead) but I’ll be putting together my take on what the roster may look like come final cuts. Note: I wont be taking positions from the Saints website, but where I see the players for this season.

Saints Offence

Saints Defence

Saints Specialists





Finishing Off The Class

The New Orleans Saints’ undrafted free agent class is widely accepted as one of the top in the league, it’s not hard to see why:

UNC guard Landon Turner was considered a mid-round pick all throughout the lead up to the draft. The tape from his 2015 All-American season is littered with pancake blocks and man-handling his opposition. He joins fellow All-American offensive lineman Michigan State’s center Jack Allen on the Saints roster. Mickey Loomis did mention they would be aggressively pursuing the o-line in his post draft presser, and they came up big.

The Saints also brought in play makers on the other side of the ball. Defensive backs De’Vante Harris, Trae Elston and Mike Caputo all have a genuine chance of making the roster as depth signings with a chance to make an impact on special teams. Caputo is my favorite of the bunch, he isn’t a measurables guy, his speed isn’t off the charts. He is a guy who just pops up around the ball every play, he is a very smart, instinctive and very well coached strong safety who will be fighting with Erik Harris for a spot in the 53.

The one spot that is yet to really be addressed is defensive end. Sean Payton mentioned Hau’oli Kikaha as an option, this may suit his game more than the sam linebacker position he played last year and is closer to the role he played at Washington. Bobby Richardson filled in admirably last year, but 4-3 end really isn’t his go, I’d expect to see him in the middle of the line more this year. The other wildcard here is fourth round pick David Omenyata, who may be able to play the role with some coaching and a bit of a weight drop. Is Bill Johnson the man to be able to turn him into the player we need? That’s yet to be determined.

There is one big named UDFA who is yet to be signed. One player who had his draft process absolutely destroyed by the NCAA, who waited until it was too late for them to interview or workout for team to deny his medical-hardship waiver for an extra year in college.

Enter Drew Ott, the 6-4, 270lb defensive end out of Iowa. If the Saints were looking for a ready made NFL 4-3 DE, here’s the guy. He played through a badly dislocated elbow in 2015 to rack up five sacks in four games before an ACL tear ended his season. He doesn’t have an elite speed rush to bend around the edge, but has moves and strength to beat tackles one on one, much like Cam Jordan.


The Saints could use some pass rush like this from the other side now, couldn’t they?


2016 Saints Draft Re-Cap

Trade down!

Trade down!

Just like a host of Saints twitter followers, I was clamouring for Loomis and Payton to fleece another team for some more picks as the 2016 draft approached. The value in multiple early round selections is just so enticing.

The organisation did their own thing though, why not? They always have.

Round one selection Sheldon Rankins, DT out of Louisville was probably the most unpredictable pick at 12, mainly because in the lead up to the draft it was the most predicted pick. They never seem to grab who the draft pundits are giving them in their mock 27.0. The big guy does make a lot of sense, fitting the need at 3-tech and improving the pass rush, both mentioned by Sean Payton earlier in the off-season. The more I look at him the more I like him, the motor, the leg drive, the lateral movement are all stand out features in his play and will provide an immediate upgrade up front.

Next the two guys from hail from Ohio State, WR Michael Thomas (shhhh) and FS Von Bell. I love the Thomas pick, when I saw the run on receivers in the back end of round one I thought he would be snatched up before the end of the first day. He provides an outside target in the red zone with big mitts that snatch the ball out of the air and an upgrade in the ‘jumbo slot’ role that Colston has been heroically holding onto for the past few seasons.

The Von Bell pick may take me a little longer to get fully on board with. Of course, the guy is on my team and I’ll be behind him on the field no matter what but I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of some of his tape. The Saints defence needs to be good at the basics, they can’t afford anything else holding them back with the lack of talent they have had on the roster and well, Von Bell is not a good tackler.. he is made to look pedestrian at times when coming forward to make a play. I liked the value in the third round for safety before the trade up and I like some of the guys who were there after New England picked at 78 and even into the fourth round. In saying that, there are a bunch of things to like about his play at Ohio State, he is instinctive, he can blanket a receiver down the field and he seems to flow to where the play will be without effort. I’m sure Payton has a vision for him and I can’t wait to see how he is used this year.

Next up the big one, the trade that sent the Saints twitter-verse into meltdown, the trade up for David Onyemata, DT from Manitoba (Canada). Two fifth round picks is about the asking price for a fourth round pick, give or take, and when I saw the fleur-de-lis on my TV I got out of my chair in anticipation.. I thought we were going for the un-explainedly unpopular DT Andrew Billings out of Baylor. Then came the name I’d never heard before and I, like all Saints fans, stared blankly at the screen for a good five seconds in disbelief. What else did we expect though, right?

After another beer and a quick google search I came to the same conclusion most of you have – Onyemata is an animal. He throws around his Canadian opposition like pre-schoolers and has his way with anyone in front of him. Loomis says he expects him to contribute right away, he’s ever the optimist. I’d love to see him shave off 20-25 pounds and tear up NFL offensive lines opposite Cam Jordan as a base DE.

The last pick for the Saints in the seventh round really is a puzzler. Then, players that late in the process generally are a swing-and-hope type pick. Daniel Lasco, RB from Cal was the best player left on the board and after watching his 2014 tape it’s easy to see why. The way he carved though, around and over college defences was a thing of beauty and if not for his 2015 injury, he may have gone several rounds earlier. Special teams is where he see’s his best fit for immediate impact and the team needs a consistent gunner outside of Dixon, so that may be his way to the roster.. As the 5th? running back??

Guard was my number one need going into the draft and it wasn’t answered during the seven rounds. But we’ve all seen the bag of goodies the Saints came away with in the UDFA free-for-all. Steals like All-American offensive line-man Landon Turner and Jack Allen, the imposing Avery Young and the under-rated DB’s from the SEC Trae Elston and De’Vante Harris, and LSU fans will remember the talented downfield threat from WKU Jared Dangerfield.

When the process was finished I had a smile on my face. I went through some mixed emotions the like that only Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton can give, but came through the other side excited for the road ahead. Excited enough to start writing about it…