Let’s preface this by noting that the Saints did win the Super Bowl with more or less this same group of defensive tackles, but I viewed it as a problem spot then and I firmly believe it remains an area of weakness. Outside linebacker also concerns me, but not as much as the interior of New Orleans’ defensive front.
Much like Indianapolis over the years, the Saints are surely going to score a ton of points and they often force their opponent into a shootout situation -- which, of course, favors New Orleans. In this situation, the Saints in 2009 and the Colts in recent history have been able to get away with subpar defensive tackle play. But there is no way around it, New Orleans’ run defense was a clear weakness last season -- and the team did nothing to correct it. In fact, the Saints could be slightly weaker at linebacker. But to me, the real culprits here are the defensive tackles.
Young players at this position often take time to really get adjusted to the NFL. I think that is the case with Sedrick Ellis, whom I remain high on as a long-term prospect, but frankly, he has not been very good since entering the league as the seventh overall selection in 2008. He hasn’t shown the production on a play-to-play basis to confirm he is a foundation-type player. Again, he very well could turn into such a player -- and I am not writing him off -- but the film doesn’t lie. Injuries have been a problem for Ellis as well.
Remi Ayodele is penciled in at nose tackle. He is a big body who is built to stop the run, but he offers zero as a pass-rusher. To me, he isn’t a good enough run-stuffer to be happy with the total package when considering how little he brings against the pass. The Saints did use their fourth-round pick on Al Woods, a rookie I am excited about. But as I said, rookie defensive tackles often have a large learning curve. Still, it wouldn’t shock me at all if Woods began to really push Ayodele for playing time and eventually for a starting job.
Anthony Hargrove is the final prominent member of this group. He does little to excite, but has been a pretty consistent producer at either end or tackle. He does offer much more than Ayodele against the pass and should see plenty of snaps inside on throwing downs when the Saints do get into their shootouts. But he is rather underwhelming … as is this entire unit.