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Ranking Saints needs: No. 10 Interior d-line

1/28/2014

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason -- ranked from 1-12 in order of the team’s need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

Akiem Hicks. Age 24, signed through 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $582,500. 2014 salary-cap number: $718,225.

Brodrick Bunkley. Age 30, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $4.5 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $6.1 million.

John Jenkins. Age 24, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $515,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $656,890.

Tom Johnson. Age 29, restricted free agent.

Glenn Foster. Age 23, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $495,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $497,333.

Tyrunn Walker. Age 23, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $570,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $571,000.

Kenyon Coleman. Age 34, unrestricted free agent.

Analysis:

Since the Saints run a hybrid between a 3-4 and 4-3, I decided to label the guys up front as either interior linemen or edge rushers. And I think this particular group is in good shape going forward.

Bunkley’s future is uncertain since he’s due to make so much money and since he shares time at the nose tackle spot with promising 2013 rookie Jenkins. Based on my weekly film studies, I believe Bunkley was playing better down the stretch of this past season than any other point in his two years with the Saints. He’s a very strong and stout run defender. But I think it would take a pay cut to keep him in New Orleans.

Even if Bunkley leaves, I think this position is in good shape. Hicks is an outstanding young talent, with a great combination of power and athleticism. He could be playing at a Pro Bowl level sooner than later. And you can pencil in Hicks and Jenkins as starters (in a 3-4 or 4-3).

Foster and Walker are solid young backups with a potential to be even better as they continue to develop. Johnson is also a reliable backup if the Saints decide to bring him back as a restricted free agent. And they could add a veteran backup at an affordable price if needed -- perhaps bringing back Coleman, who missed all of last season on injured reserve.

I’m not saying the Saints will cross this position off their draft list completely. If the highest-graded player on their board in Round 1 is a defensive tackle, they’ll probably take him and trust that innovative defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can find a good use for him. … It just won’t be a “must-fill” spot this offseason.