The New Orleans Saints took a risk in the 2018 draft, trading up to select defensive end Marcus Davenport in the first round. With DE Alex Okafor signing with Kansas City in free agency, can Davenport fill the void?
Nobody expected Marcus Davenport, from the University of Texas at San Antonio, to be drafted 14th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, that’s precisely what the New Orleans Saints did when the team traded up from the 27th pick with the Green Bay Packers. The Saints also sent the Packers a 2018 fifth-round pick and a 2019 first-round pick. A hefty price for a player with a fair amount of uncertainty surrounding him, but the Saints took the gamble. Heading into the 2019 season, the Saints need this gamble to be a jackpot winner.
Davenport played 13 games this past season, missing weeks 9-11 due to a toe injury. Throughout the season, Davenport compiled 28 quarterback pressures, including five sacks and eight QB hits. He was also able to make it into the backfield for 12 tackles for loss and forced a fumble.
According to Pro Football Focus, Davenport was the top graded rookie edge defender last season with a rating of 71.8. Davenport excelled in his rush defense where he ranked third on the team behind All-Pro DE Cameron Jordan and defensive tackle David Onyemata.
The Saints defense as a whole had a fantastic season, especially the defensive line. New Orleans did not allow any opponents to have a 100-yard rusher this season. Jordan made second-team All-Pro for defense as well as appearing in his fourth pro bowl. Racking up 12 sacks throughout the season, Jordan has become the heart of the Saints defense. Alex Okafor performed well last season as well, contributing five sack as part of his 28 QB pressures.
The defense in New Orleans was arguably just as dominant as the offense last season. The Saints defense prevented teams from scoring 20 points in nine games last season, over 50%. However, with the offseason upon us has the core stayed intact?
The offseason is a time of ups and downs. Teams sign new free agents who they hope will make an impact while also losing key contributors. The Saints are no different. New Orleans was able to land DT Malcom Brown from the New England Patriots to help fill the hole left by Sheldon Rankins, who is recovering from a torn Achilles’. The team was able to bring back cornerback P.J. Williams on a one year deal and linebacker Craig Robertson for two years, sign DE Mario Edwards from the New York Giants and fill some holes on the offense as well.
Lost in all the shuffle was the fact that Okafor signed a three-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Saints have just three defensive ends that took snaps last season: Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and Trey Hendrickson. New Orleans does have three more DE’s on the roster for the 2019 season. However, they will be looking at those three to provide some consistency while others become accustomed to the playbook.
Looking closely at the snap counts from last season there is a chance for Davenport to have a breakout season in 2019. With Okafor gone it should allow Davenport to receive more snaps, if not be the starting defensive end lined up opposite of Jordan.
In 2018 Okafor took 658 snaps throughout 16 games, in comparison, Davenport took 416 snaps in 13 games. However, even with Okafor out-snapping him consistently throughout the season, Davenport matched his sack total of five and had one more QB hit on 11 fewer QB pressures.
Scouts expected Davenport to be taken early in the draft as he was an extremely talented defensive lineman. His natural strength, tremendous results as a run defender and a powerful bull rush made the Saints draft him earlier than they expected.
However, his product on the field overall was raw needing quite a bit of development at the next level. Luckily he was able to take a smaller role in his first season while getting adjusted to the playing style of the NFL. Before last season he explained, “It’s just like my freshman year of college. I’ve got to learn again, and I’m trying to pick it up fast.”
With his first season in the books, Davenport had the opportunity to become a first-string option for the Saints defensive line this season. Marcus Davenport can make the Saints look like geniuses if he develops into a fearsome presence in the pass rush.