It’s pretty clear that the New Orleans Saints need another pass rusher. Cameron Jordan led the team in pressures last season during a down year for his usual standards, and they just let a former first-round pick walk to an NFC rival when Marcus Davenport signed a contract with the Minnesota Vikings.
They have some solid role players in Carl Granderson and Tanoh Kpassagnon, but 2021 first-round defensive end Payton Turner has not developed as hoped while missing a lot of time with injuries. The Saints are also poised to be big spenders with more than $14 million in effective salary cap space ahead of the 2023 NFL draft, and there are some veteran free agents available who could address this need.
Two suggestions came from NFL.com writer Nick Shook, who identified former Indianapolis Colt Yannick Ngakoue and ex-Los Angeles Ram Leonard Floyd as pass rushers fit for the Saints:
Ngakoue went from playing effectively for a team that reached the playoffs in 2021 (Las Vegas) to one that never had much of a chance to reach the postseason in 2022 (Colts). His next destination comes down to one primary question: Days from his 28th birthday, is Ngakoue interested in more money or chasing a title? With roughly $16 million available in cap space, the Saints might offer the best middle ground between the two. New Orleans has an experienced defense that has proven to be effective in recent years, a defensive-minded coach and an offense that might finally get closer to what it was in the Drew Brees era, now that Derek Carr is on hand. Oh, the Saints have a clear need at edge rusher, too.
Ngakoue was heavily criticized by the Colts beat last season, with SI.com’s Zach Hicks saying in mid-October of the splashy trade pickup: “Low pass rush win rate, horrible run defender. Very little impact.” Of the 31 qualifying edge defenders, Ngakoue had the worst run-defense grade at Pro Football Focus at 43.7 (next-worst was Jihad Ward at 49.8). Out of 40 qualifying players on passing plays, he ranked 37th in pass-rush win rate at PFF (11.0) and 21st in pass rush productivity (6.9). He makes a lot of plays when blocked by tight ends and running backs (or when not blocked at all) but he isn’t making a consistent impact on one down after the next. If you’re worried about the 2024 compensatory draft picks the Saints could get after losing so many free agents, signing Ngakoue would wipe out one of them.
This is contingent upon whether the Saints can convince Yannick Ngakoue to come to the Big Easy. Floyd is older than Ngakoue and they are somewhat similar, but with the Saints needing a replacement for Marcus Davenport up front, either makes sense. Finding a home for Floyd is a little more difficult, but as he proved in Los Angeles, he still has plenty of juice. Joining a Saints team that hopes to return to the postseason in 2023 makes a lot of sense for Floyd, especially after how things ended in Los Angeles.
Floyd is two years older than Ngakoue and he doesn’t have the raw sack numbers, but his overall scouting report paints a more appealing picture. The veteran posted a higher pass-rush win rate (14.4, ranked 23rd out of 40) and a similar pass-rush productivity score (6.8, 24th). He also graded out better against the run (58.3), ranking 27th out of 31; a league-average grade is 60.0, whereas Ngakoue is an outright liability in this area. There’s a role for players with Ngakoue’s skills rushing the quarterback off the edge and betting he can beat a blocker to their spot, but Floyd can do more in different situations and may better fit what the Saints are looking for. They don’t seem to value third-down specialists like Ngakoue, but maybe that changes. Also, because Floyd was released by the Rams, he will not count into the 2024 comp picks formula.