NFL draft replacements for 5 of the Saints’ top free agents
Teams like the New Orleans Saints look to the NFL draft as an opportunity to add upgrades just as much as their best shot at replacing what they lost in free agency, and they have a list of players set to hit the market who could be tough to replace. Fortunately, the talent pool in the 2023 NFL draft doesn’t lack for options at positions like tight end, defensive tackle, and defensive end. Here are a couple of quick names to know going into next week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where each of these young players hopes to stand out:
TE Juwan Johnson
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Sam Laporta, Iowa
Laporta led the Hawkeyes in receptions in both 2022 and 2021, doing most of his damage past the sticks. He converted a first down on 70 of his 111 catches the last two years while forcing 30 missed tackles. He’s dangerous down the seam and could fill in for Johnson if another team signs him as a restricted free agent.
DT David Onyemata
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Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin
Benton isn’t the athlete that Onyemata is, but he plays with a high motor and strong hands. He holds the line of scrimmage well and can bully opponents with his heavy hands. He could continue to develop with NFL coaching.
LB Kaden Elliss
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Noah Sewell, Oregon
Sewell is at his best blitzing off the edge, where he uses his surprising upper-body strength to rock blockers off their mark. He’s generated 61 quarterback pressures in that role for the Ducks, also forcing three fumbles. If Elliss gets a full-time role elsewhere, Sewell makes sense as someone to plug into his spot and develop behind Demario Davis.
DE Marcus Davenport
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Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame
Like Davenport, Foskey is a tall and long player who uses his length to corral opponents off the edge. He isn’t as flexible or naturally strong in his lower body as Davenport, but he’s a terrific finisher with reliable pass-rush production (having set the storied school’s sacks record). He’ll be a better pro because of it.
RB Mark Ingram II
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Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
Charbonnet is a load to tackle at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, and his opponents often weren’t up to the task — he forced 141 missed tackles in two years with the Bruins as a runner and receiver. He brings exactly the kind of spark the Saints were missing in the backfield last year.