The New Orleans Saints are heading to training camp already thin at interior defensive line. This lack of depth has taken another hit with today’s announced suspension of David Onyemata for six games. Onyemata’s suspension is due to a failed drug test for some banned substance. The exacts of this suspension are not yet known but the punishment has been handed down. The Saints were already dealing with the losses of Malcolm Brown and Sheldon Rankins this off-season. This newest hit at a thin position leaves the Saints with more questions than answers. The suspension of David Onyemata means the Saints have to find players to fill the gaps in the interior defensive line.
Saints Must Find Way to Replace David Onyemata
The New Orleans Saints did not do anything this off-season to fix their defensive tackle position. Perennial contributor Malcolm Brown was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a late draft pick. Sheldon Rankins never lived up to his first-round draft pick status and was not extended. After these two moves, the Saints were left with only three defensive tackles with experience on the roster. David Onyemata started 15 games last season and looked to be a definite starter for this interior defensive unit. Malcolm Roach and Shy Tuttle were the only other two with experience and were favorites to win the other position next to Onyemata. The recent suspension of Onyemata has added more turmoil to this already-thin position for the Saints.
Defensive Linemen Already on the Roster
Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach were both in the Saints defensive line rotation last season but were stuck behind Brown and Rankins. This should not discount the ability of Tuttle or Roach though. Each played in many games throughout the season. On the year, Tuttle played in over 30% of the defensive snaps for the Saints. Roach was not far behind with 22% of defensive snaps. The Saints signed both players as undrafted free agents. Tuttle is headed into the last year of his contract with the Saints this year. Roach has one more year left after the 2021 season. Tuttle could very well be playing for his future in the NFL and could contribute to the defensive line immediately. Roach might still need another year to develop but he might not be afforded that luxury due to this recent suspension of Onyemata.
There are several unknown commodities on this defensive line going into training camp. The Saints did sign two defensive linemen after the 2021 NFL Draft. Josiah Bronson out of Washington is a 300 pounder who played the defensive tackle position exclusively. Even bigger is Lorenzo Neal Jr., son of former Saints player Lorenzo Neal. Neal Jr. weighs in at 325 pounds and stands at 6’2. If either of these undrafted free agent signees can put their size to good use, the opportunity will be available. The Saints also have two other players who have limited NFL experience. Both have been on and off multiple teams and practice squads in their career. Albert Huggins and Ryan Glasgow will have the opportunity to prove they belong on a full-time NFL roster.
Available Players and Summary
Luckily for the Saints, several NFL veterans are still without teams. According to Chris Dunnells, Geno Atkins, Kawann Short, and Damon Harrison are a couple of the better and available defensive linemen right now. It is possible that the Saints go into training camps with what they have on the roster now though. There will be several rounds of player-cuts during training camps and the Saints could wait on some other veteran to become available. The David Onyemata suspension has surely caused unneeded turmoil for the Saints going into this year’s training camp. The Saints have never been a team to sit idle. Do not be surprised if this position is addressed with any of these aforementioned players or others before the start of the regular season.
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