Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
John Sigler

Predicting the Saints’ 2023 starting defense after first wave of free agency

The New Orleans Saints built their team on the strength of their defense, so seeing it be steadily eroded in free agency has been kind of alarming. They’ve lost multiple starters along the defensive line — David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle at defensive tackle, plus Marcus Davenport at the right end spot — and several key backups in linebacker Kaden Elliss and defensive back Justin Evans.

But the Saints have been active in searching for help on this side of the ball, too. Let’s take a quick look at their projected starting defense and top backups for each position group in the wake of the first wave of free agency signings:

LE Cameron Jordan

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Backup: Tanoh Kpassagnon

Jordan is leading the Saints defensive line yet again in 2023, but he could use more help. He’s continued to be their best pass-rush threat in the later stages of his career even as his game begun to decline with age. Kpassagnon is a solid role player but they don’t have a clear succession plan in place behind Jordan.

DT Nathan Shepherd

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Backup: Prince Emili

Saunders is a disruptive, veteran presence who the Saints were able to sign in free agency. He brings a lot of energy and athleticism to the position and should be well-positioned to lead the interior rotation in snaps played each week. But depth is a major concern for the Saints at defensive tackle.

NT Khalen Saunders

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Backup: Malcolm Roach

Saunders is an ascending player who brings surprising athletic ability for someone his size, but he and Shepherd can’t do it alone up front. The Saints re-signed Malcolm Roach and should look into Kentavius Street, too, and likely pick a prospect early in the 2023 draft.

RE Carl Granderson

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Backup: Payton Turner

Granderson has steadily developed throughout his Saints career while bulking up to handle a heavier workload, but he’s probably at his best rushing the quarterback in obvious passing situations. It’s disappointing that Turner was a healthy scratch to close out the 2022 season. He’s entering a make-or-break year and it can’t be understated how badly the Saints more out of him.

MLB Demario Davis

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Backup: LB D’Marco Jackson

Davis showed his age at times last year, but he still played well enough to earn his first career Pro Bowl nomination. And he’s returning to captain the Saints defense again this season. Hopefully he can continue to play at a high level, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring in a possible successor if he’s thinking to retire in a year or two. Jackson has a tall task rebounding from a year-ending knee injury from training camp last summer.

WLB Pete Werner

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Backup: Nephi Sewell

Werner has arguably been the Saints’ best defender, when healthy. He flows to the ball easily and is athletic enough to run with anyone in this league. But can New Orleans trust him to play a 17-game season after he missed most of training camp and stretches of time in-season while on the mend?

SLB Zack Baun

AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman

Backup: Ryan Connelly

Will the Saints finally let Baun rush the passer, which he did really well in college? They gave Kaden Elliss those snaps last season and he certainly made the most of them. Baun deserves the same opportunity. He’s a good player on special teams but that isn’t why they traded up to pick him in 2020.

SS Tyrann Mathieu

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Backup: Smoke Monday

Mathieu was an every-down defender for the Saints last year, though early-season injuries limited how he could best be utilized and it took some time for him to get in sync with the established starters. But he finished the season strong and should be someone the team leans on in 2023. Monday has a lot of fans, but it could be hard for him to stand out from the crowd this summer.

FS Marcus Maye

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Backup: J.T. Gray

Maye is the only player with much range from single-high looks at safety, so the Saints will be counting on him a lot this season (which makes it frustrating that he’s likely to miss some time with a suspension from a 2021 DUI arrest). Gray has steadily earned more defensive snaps after earning a role on special teams, but the Saints also brought in Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Ugo Amadi as veteran free agents to strengthen the depth chart.

NB Bradley Roby

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Backup: Ugo Amadi

It took a while for the secondary to get healthy enough to try it, but Roby finished the year as the Saints’ best option in the slot. Amadi has experience starting from that alignment too, but he was victimized at times in that role with the Seattle Seahawks in 2020 and 2021. Roby’s age (he’ll be 31 when the season starts) is also a factor to consider. A smart move could be drafting a younger player who can start in the slot and replace Maye or Mathieu at safety in the next year or two.

RCB Marshon Lattimore

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Backup: Vincent Gray

You have to hope Lattimore returns to form after a bizarre internal organ injury sidelined him for much of the 2022 season. The Saints defense held up surprisingly well in his absence, but they’re a better unit when he’s on the field. Few corners can erase opponents’ No. 1 receivers as well as he can.

LCB Alontae Taylor

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Backup: Paulson Adebo

The sooner Taylor is starting for the Saints, the better. He isn’t a perfect player — he missed too many tackles in 2022, which limited his opportunities — but he doesn’t draw many penalty flags and he gets his hands on a lot of passes thrown into his coverage. Adebo struggled with an injury throughout the season, but he panics too often when the ball is in flight. He gave up too many big plays and was fouled too frequently to hold down this starting job, but he could develop with new coaching.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.