Saints doing their homework on 2021 defensive line prospects

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John Sigler
·2 min read
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There are going to be changes up front for the New Orleans Saints defense in 2021. That’s already clear by the departure of sacks leader Trey Hendrickson at defensive end, who earned a big free agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is also likely to join a new team, and the Saints recently traded nose tackle Malcom Brown to the Jacksonville Jaguars. With little resources to spend on free agents themselves, expect the Saints to make some moves in the draft to retool their defensive line.

That process has already begun in virtual interviews with this year’s draft prospects; The Spun’s Chris Rosvoglou reported that USC big man Jay Tufele has a meeting scheduled with the Saints, in addition to a previous interview with Iowa’s Chauncey Golston reported by the Draft Network’s Justin Melo. The Saints have also reportedly met with early-round prospects Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill.

Tufele weighs in at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, making him an ideal fit inside at defense tackle; the Saints have fielded just one lineman heavier than that in recent years, in Brown (320). Tufele is known for his high motor but can end up in the turf often if he’s not careful, and he hasn’t done well when asked to take on double team blocks. It’s easy to see him as a possible Sheldon Rankins replacement, but the Saints already have players like him in Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach.

Golston tips the scales at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, fitting the prototype the Saints have valued out on the edge, where he’s spent most of his career. But he’s also moved inside and shown some promise as an interior rusher in sub-packages. He’s a very strong run defender and plays technically-sound football, but lacks the athleticism to make an impact on passing downs (totaling just 35 pressures on 250 pass rush snaps in 2020, including a career-high 7 sacks).

Both players are considered mid-round prospects, so watch out for them when the Saints are on the board in the fourth round at No. 134 or so. They won’t get another selection — barring a trade — until the sixth round at No. 218, their compensatory pick for losing linebacker A.J. Klein last year.

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Tracking 2021 Saints draft prospects meetings