New Orleans Saints All-Decade Team: Defense

New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints entered the 2010s decade as defending world champions after knocking off the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV to earn their first and only league title. New Orleans would make the playoffs the following two years, headlined by their historic offensive campaign in 2011. After clinching their second 13-3 outing in three seasons, the 2012 Saints significantly regressed due to the infamous “Bountygate” scandal. Temporarily recovering with an 11-5 showing in 2013, the team would miss the postseason each of the subsequent three years in large part due to its horrendous defenses and failed off-season decisions. The Saints did finish the decade very strong–compiling a 37-11 regular season mark from 2017 to 2019–but heartbreaking playoff defeats overshadowed their dominance. Despite the disappointing January defeats, the 2010s was far and away the greatest decade in team history. Below are the most noteworthy contributors during the franchise’s golden age.

New Orleans Saints All-Decade Team: Defense

Defensive End: Cameron Jordan

Taken four spots before Mark Ingram in the 2011 NFL Draft, Cameron Jordan has become one of the league’s premier edge rushers. Combining for nine sacks in his first two seasons, Jordan broke out with 12.5 takedowns in 2013 to collect his first Pro Bowl nod. Two years later, he obtained his second All-Star selection. In 2017, Jordan set a career-high in sacks (13) to be named First-Team All-Pro. Resetting his personal-best mark with 15.5 takedowns in 2019, the top-level sack master earned his third consecutive trip to Orlando. A highly-active player, Jordan has been adept at knocking down passes from opposing quarterbacks, batting down 47 attempts in his career. Entering his 10th season in the pros, Jordan is the greatest pass-rushing defensive lineman in team history. 

Defensive Tackle: Sheldon Rankins

Michael Thomas is the unquestioned star of the Saints 2016 draft, but Sheldon Rankins has been silently productive during his time in New Orleans. Playing in only nine games as a rookie, Rankins garnered four sacks and 20 tackles. Two seasons later, Rankins produced a career campaign with eight takedowns, 40 tackles and 12 tackles for loss. His dominance against the run was critical in the Saints placing as the league’s number-two rush defense in 2018. Only being 26 years of age, Rankins sits second in franchise history for sacks by a defensive tackle with 16. 

Defensive End: Will Smith

A stalwart for the Saints during the mid to late 2000s, Will Smith continued to yield production during the 2010s. After getting career-highs in sacks (13) and quarterback hits (26) for the 2009 season, Smith combined for 18 sacks from 2010-2012, which ranked top two for the team during that stretch. Tragically killed in 2016, he was inducted in the franchise’s Hall of Fame later that year.

Outside Linebacker: Demario Davis

Following unheralded runs with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, Demario Davis signed a three-year deal with the Saints. Tallying 110 tackles and five sacks in his debut New Orleans campaign, he was another key cog in the Saints elite rushing defense for the 2018 season. After setting a career-high 12 passes defensed a year ago, Davis achieved First-team All-Pro stature. A versatile defensive contributor who can tackle, pass rush and cover, the veteran backer has been an excellent addition to the team. 

Inside Linebacker: Jonathan Vilma

Signing with New Orleans as a free agent in 2008, Jonathan Vilma established himself as one of the premier off-season additions during the Drew BreesSean Payton era. Like the aforementioned Demario Davis, Vilma had a largely-underrated time with the New York Jets. Coming off his Pro Bowl season for the 2009 Super Bowl squad, Vilma got his second-straight All-Star selection in 2010, as his 105 tackles and career-high four sacks helped the Saints place top five in total defense. Injuries ultimately piled up on him–as he started a combined 21 games from 2011-2013–leading to the team’s demise defensively. Nevertheless, his profound impact on the franchise’s historic turnaround landed him in the Saints Hall of Fame in 2017.

Inside Linebacker: Curtis Lofton

Setting personal bests in tackles (147) passes defensed (seven) and interceptions (two) in his final season with the Atlanta Falcons, Curtis Lofton signed with New Orleans ahead of the 2012 campaign. During his time with the Saints, Lofton tallied at least 123 tackles from 2012-2014, leading the team each year. While the Saints defense was largely up and down during the mid-2010s, Lofton proved to be one of the team’s most consistent defenders.

Outside Linebacker: Junior Galette

Though he’s not in good standing with many Saints fans off the field, Junior Galette was extremely productive between the sidelines with his tenure in Louisiana. Posting a combined 9.5 sacks in his first three seasons, Galette broke out with a career-high 12 sacks in 2013, making up one-half of the team’s double-digit takedown duo with Cameron Jordan. His 31.5 sacks from 2010-2014 is the second-highest mark of the decade for a Saints defender.

Cornerback: Marshon Lattimore

Historically, cornerback is the weakest defensive position in franchise history, especially during the Brees-Payton run. After much inconsistency on the defensive perimeter, Marshon Lattimore has provided stability. Drafted 11th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, Lattimore produced immediately. Contributing with 52 tackles, 18 passes defensed and five interceptions, he made his first career Pro Bowl. He and Alvin Kamara became the first pair on the same team since 1967 to win the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. After setting career marks in tackles (59) and forced fumbles (four) in 2018, Lattimore made the league’s All-Star game for the second time. Becoming the franchise’s first Pro Bowl corner since 1995, the former Ohio State standout will remain one of the Saints foundational pieces moving forward. 

Cornerback: Jabari Greer

As just mentioned, the cornerback spot has been largely disappointing for the Saints in the 21st century. Well before Marshon Lattimore came into the league, one of the few dependable cornerbacks New Orleans Saints had since 2006 was Jabari Greer. Coming from the Buffalo Bills in 2009, Greer helped New Orleans claim its first-ever NFL championship. In 2011, he set career bests in tackles (71) and passes defenses (18). The following year, Greer caught a personal high three interceptions. Spending five seasons with the Saints, his presence was integral in helping the franchise reach its golden years. 

Free Safety: Malcolm Jenkins

Although he eventually became a perennial Pro Bowler with the Philadelphia Eagles, Malcolm Jenkins made plays all over the field during his Saints tenure. Playing his rookie season as a cornerback, Jenkins switched to the safety position and made a home there. In four seasons with New Orleans, he accumulated 359 tackles, six interceptions, six forced fumbles and 5.5 sacks. Spending the last six seasons with the Eagles, Jenkins has returned to the Big Easy. Turning 33 in December, he will aid the Saints in capturing another Super Bowl during their current championship window.  

Strong Safety: Roman Harper

A part of the franchise’s iconic 2006 draft, Roman Harper was another gem for the Saints during that off-season. In 2009, Harper made his first of two consecutive Pro Bowl nods (the only two selections for his career). He, along with fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins, consistently ranked atop of the tackles list among the franchise’s safeties. Released by the team after the 2014 season, he would later resign in 2016. Serving as a backup, he served as a valuable leader during his final season as a professional. Today, Harper sits fourth in franchise history in tackles behind the famed “Dome Patrol” linebackers Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson.

Be sure to check out the offensive players on the Saints All-Decade team.

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