Now that Charles Grant is gone, how will the Saints' defensive ends fare in 2010?
Will Smith remains a fixture at right defensive end. There is no reason to expect anything but another tremendous season from Smith. He is one of the better 4-3 ends in the league and is in the prime of his career.
At one point, Grant was considered to be nearly in Smith’s class. That has not been the case lately, though, and Grant is now in Miami playing in their three-man front. This illustrates how his value has fallen off as an edge rusher.
The Saints were wise to acquire Alex Brown to fill Grant’s shoes. Why the Bears let Brown go is beyond me. He would be an excellent No. 2 defensive end opposite Julius Peppers, but Chicago’s loss is New Orleans’ gain. Now Brown will fill that role opposite Smith. Durable and reliable, Brown will also be playing in better weather and overall conditions conducive to rushing the quarterback. Expect his production to increase in the Big Easy, and he should approach double-digit sacks. Brown is a clear upgrade over the level of play that Grant displayed in 2009, both as a pass-rusher and against the run.
Bobby McCray, Jimmy Wilkerson and Jeff Charleston are the other ends who should factor into the equation. Defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove has the position versatility to play end, where he would enhance the run defense, but do little to help the pass rush.
You could do a lot worse than McCray as a third option who rotates in. He is a long, linear player who keeps pass-protectors away from his body. He did record double-digit sacks in 2006 while playing for Jacksonville. Wilkerson is a serviceable depth player, but is far from a dynamic difference-maker. To his credit, he did get to the quarterback six times last year for the Bucs. He is coming off a knee injury though. Charleston isn’t real fluid and is a well below average pass-rusher. He is just a bottom-of-the-roster player, in my opinion, and isn’t a guarantee to make the team.
With the Saints' excellent and deep secondary, Gregg Williams will of course dial up plenty of blitzes, which enhances the overall ability to get to opposing quarterbacks. There are not many areas where I think that New Orleans improved from a year ago, but defensive end is one area where it did.
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