After lacking a pass rush and finishing in the middle of the pack in rush defense in 2010, the New Orleans Saints set out to get better on the defensive side of the ball in 2011. Once it was determined that the Saints would not lose defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to a head coaching position, they went to work in the little offseason that they had to work with.
In the early offseason, NFL draftnicks pointed at the Saints defensive line as needing a major upgrade, both in the middle at defensive tackle, and on the outside on the end opposite Will Smith. While the league appeared headed for a lockout, the Saints struck before the closing bell, igniting the fuse of what would be an offseason of defensive upgrades.
Two days before the expiration of the labor agreement, the Saints inked a one-year deal with defensive tackle Shaun Rogers.
The 6'4",350-pound Rogers has spent the last few years in the 3-4 alignment in Cleveland, but started his career as a standout 4-3 defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions. Rogers was released by the Browns earlier in the offseason before they would have to shell out $5.5 million. While the extent of his stay in New Orleans is unknown, we do know he is an immediate upgrade at the position and his presence will allow the Saints to look elsewhere in the NFL Draft.
When the NFL locked out, the free-agency period held prior to the NFL draft was eliminated. this put teams in a unique position of filling needs in the draft before being able to address them with free agent veterans.
During the 2011 NFL Draft, the Saints still had that glaring need at defense looking them in the eye. The Saints still needed to address a pass rusher and help at linebacker. The future of the defensive tackle position is lingering as well.
With a history of going with the best player available instead of focusing on need, the lack of free agency period was not playing into their hand. However, when their pick arrived at the No. 24 position, the Saints were able to satisfy their needs for defensive end and selecting the best player available when Cameron Jordan fell to them.
Cameron Jordon was looked at by many as a 3-4 defensive end prospect as he had experience at the position at California. After meeting with Jordan during the process, the Saints determined that he would fit what they had in mind for him. Jordan is a versatile end who is solid against the run. He may not be a speed guy like some may have wanted for the outside, but he has a motor that won’t quit. Gregg Williams should have fun moving him around in various formations.
Once the shock of the move to obtain Mark Ingram wore off, Saints fans found themselves waiting until the early third round before getting another chance to pick. It was the 72nd pick that the Saints went back to the defensive side of the ball. Again, there was a value waiting for them.
Martez Wilson, an Illinois inside linebacker, had been projected by many NFL Draft experts to be a late first-round pick, or early second at one point or another during the NFL Draft season. Wilson is projected to play the strong side linebacker position for the Saints.
Again, the Saints added help against the run with Wilson. He is a great run stopper and has the speed to play on the outside. A herniated disk in his neck caused him to miss the 2009 season and could have contributed to his fall.
Later in the third round, the Saints again attacked the defensive prospects by adding Johnny Patrick, cornerback from Louisville. Patrick led the Cardinals with five interceptions in 2010 and carried a low second-round grade by Scouts Inc. Like with the running back position, the Saints need all the depth they can get in the secondary after being hit by injuries the last couple of seasons.
With the first of two picks in the seventh round, the Saints snagged more value with Greg Romeus, defensive end from Pittsburgh. Once looked at as a possible first rounder, Romeus found injury to set him back with a herniated disk and torn ACL. Another player with a strength against the run, Romeus can find a role with the Saints if he can remain healthy.
The last pick the Saints owned in the 2011 NFL Draft was spent on another linebacker, Nate Bussey of Illinois. In 2010, Bussey was second to Saints third-round pick Martez Wilson in tackles for the Illini. He also had an interception return for a touchdown.
While we know the Saints are not done addressing defensive needs, fans can be confident with the moves already made that the unit will be improved in 2011. Stay tuned if/when free agency arrives.