METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints made a trade with Green Bay to move up from 27th overall to 14th in the first round of the NFL draft and selected Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport.
The selection of the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Davenport on Thursday night fills what coach Sean Payton termed an offseason “must,” improving the pass rush. Davenport was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year for UTSA last season after making 8 ½ sacks and 17 ½ tackles for loss. He also was credited with eight quarterback hurries.
New Orleans pass rush improved in 2017, largely because defensive end Cameron Jordan turned in his first All-Pro season, highlighted by his 13 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 28 quarterback hits, 11 batted passes and an interception for a touchdown. But in order to get the most out of Jordan, New Orleans needs to make opposing offenses pay for throwing too many blockers at him.
Alex Okafor, who started at the defensive end spot opposite Jordan, was having a solid season until he tore his Achilles. He will be back, but the success of his rehabilitation from such a significant injury remains to be seen. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who’ll be in his second NFL season, showed promise as a rookie, but was limited by injuries much of the season and remains largely unproven.
New Orleans hoped to find an effective edge pass rusher in free agency, but was unable to sign one before the draft.
The Saints ranked 17th in the NFL in defense last season, giving up 336.5 yards per game. But thanks to a combination of tightening up in the red zone and producing turnovers, New Orleans also allowed the 10th fewest points in the league, at 20.4 per game.
Davenport, 21, played four seasons at UTSA and became a starter his sophomore season. But his draft stock improved considerably during his senior season, after which he became the first UTSA Roadrunner to be invited to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and the second to participate in the NFL scouting combine.
Now he’ll join a franchise that has its sights firmly set on Super Bowl contention after falling just seconds short of advancing to last season’s NFL championship game.
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