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Ranking Saints needs: No. 2 Outside linebacker

1/18/2015

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2015 offseason – ranked from 1-12 in order of the team’s need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

Junior Galette. Age 26, signed through 2019. 2015 salary and bonuses: $13.85 million. 2015 salary-cap number: $15.45 million (*can drop to $5.45 million if roster bonus is converted to signing bonus).

Parys Haralson. Age 30, unrestricted free agent.

Kasim Edebali. Age 25, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2017. 2015 salary and bonuses: $510,000. 2015 salary-cap number: $512,000.

Ronald Powell. Age 23, signed through 2017. 2015 salary and bonuses: $510,000. 2015 salary-cap number: $552,215.

Analysis:

I’d rank this in the same spot even if there wasn’t any danger of Galette facing a suspension because of his recent arrest. But that possibility only increases the need to upgrade this position.

The Saints could use another dynamic pass-rusher to complement Galette from the other edge on passing downs. What they need even more is an athletic young linebacker who can roam the open field from sideline to sideline and drop back in coverage against tight ends and pass-catching tailbacks. The dream scenario would be a player who can do both.

As I’ve mentioned many times over the past two years – including last week when I broke down the inside linebacker position – the Saints' defense would benefit greatly from a player in the mold of Lavonte David of the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Technically, the Saints could fill that role with an outside linebacker or inside linebacker since they rotate between 4-3 and 3-4 fronts so often.

For instance, Haralson is listed as an outside linebacker and David Hawthorne an inside linebacker. But they’re very similar players who are better against the run than the pass and who have a lot of miles on them. Both are decent assets, but the Saints need to replace at least one of them with an athlete who can cover more ground.

As for pure pass-rushers, Galette is emerging as one of the best in the league. Pro Football Focus gave him the fifth-best pass-rushing grade in the NFL this past season, crediting him with 45 hurries to go with his 10 sacks and two safeties. He needs to be more consistent in run defense and keeping containment against mobile QBs, though.

Lastly, athletic young backups Edebali (an undrafted rookie in 2014) and Powell (a fifth-round pick in 2014) seem to have decent potential. Edebali’s size and style are reminiscent of Galette and he should only improve as he matures. But it’s too early to project a full-time role for either guy since they’ve played so sparingly.

ESPN scouting insider Matt Williamson’s take:

“I thought Galette had a good year, probably better than any Saints defender. I thought he was a very good player that seems to be in his prime, is breaking out, is a quality edge pass rusher. Those guys don’t grow on trees. ... Haralson’s quality depth that’s been around the league, so he has some value.”

(On how much of a priority it should be to add to the position) “I guess it depends. It would be great to have another light speed rusher so [Cameron] Jordan can be more of a 3-4 end and then play him closer to the ball. And if Galette is going to get suspended or something, then it’s a huge need. So you kind of have to put an asterisk by that.”

Previous rankings:

No. 12: Specialists

No. 11: Quarterback

No. 10: Tight end

No. 9: Running back

No. 8: Safety

No. 7: Offensive tackle

No. 6: Wide receiver

No. 5: Defensive line

No. 4: Inside linebacker

No. 3: Guard/center