Last year the Saints pulled off one of the more unprecedented achievements in the NFL by drafting both the Offensive and Defensives Rookies of the Year. Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore became the first pair of teammates to secure those honors since Mel Farr and Lem Barney in 1967; the first year of the AP rookie awards. While it’s likely that they won’t have the same success in this year’s draft and last year’s, there’s still a ton of buzz around the Saints draft this year. They made one of the biggest moves to leap 13 spots and draft UTSA edge rusher Marcus Davenport at pick #14. Davenport is being seen as the Saints defense’s final building block to revival. With that addition New Orleans could potentially follow up with another impressive NFL Honors feat if they manage to produce a second-straight Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Ross, you’re getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?” Yes. Yes I am. After all, we’ve only just completed Rookie Minicamps and haven’t even started OTAs yet. I’m perfectly willing to say that I’m way ahead of myself. However, it’s obvious that New Orleans believes strongly in Marcus Davenport, otherwise they wouldn’t have made the move they made to get him. Unless his progress unexpectedly stalls and he fails to impress during training camp and exhibition season, Davenport is likely going to win the starting job over the recently re-signed Alex Okafor. Meaning that Davenport has more than just a snowball’s chance in hell at winning this honor. I imagine Okafor will be on a rotational role, replacing Kikaha, which may be better for his longevity anyway.
Now here’s the thing, for a while DROTY was a Linebacker award.Of the 52 recipients of the award, 25 were Linebackers including Al Richardson and Buddy Curry, co-winners of the 1980 award. Despite that, since 2010, four of the eight winners were defensive linemen, two, Sheldon Richardson (2013) and Joey Bosa (2016) were ends. Before Richardson, Julius Peppers won the honor as an end in 2002. The offensive and defensive awards went back-to-back fairly recently to the then San Diego Chargers in 2015/2016 with Melvin Gordon and Bosa. However, the last time the position award itself went back to back was the Offensive award in 1967/1968. Again to the Detroit Lions with RB Mel Farr and WR Earl McCullouch. The Defensive award has never been won in consecutive seasons.
Davenport comes into the Big Easy with a chance of changing that. Previous Defensive Ends to win the award have put in some major production. Meaning Davenport would have be seriously impressive in his debut season in order to warrant consideration in a class featuring Denver’s Bradley Chubb, Buffalo’s Tremaine Edmunds, Tennessee’s Rashaan Evans, and Los Angeles Charger Derwin James.
2016 Winner Joey Bosa
41 Tackles – 29 Solo – 10.5 Sacks (12 Games)
Competition: LB Dion Jones, CB Jalen Ramsey, LB Leonard Floyd
2013 Winner Sheldon Richardson
77 Tackles – 42 Solo – 3.5 Sacks – 1 PD – 1 FF (16 Games)
Competition: DT Star Lotuleilei, SS Kenny Vaccaro, FS Tyrann Mathieu
2002 Winner Julius Peppers *4-game suspension due to violating the NFL’s Steroid Policy
35 Tackles – 28 Solo – 12.0 Sacks – 6 PD – 5 FF – 1 INT (12 Games)
Competition: FS Roy Williams, DE Dwight Freeney, SS Ed Reed
The good news for Davenport and the Saints is that one of the competitors is a safety in Derwin James, a position that rarely captures the honor. The most recent being Chicago Bear Mark Carrier in 1990. Chubb, Edmunds, and Evans are likely to be Davenport’s biggest competition, Chubb tops the order on purpose. Coming into this draft, Chubb was rightfully considered the top EDGE talent available, Davenport being the second. That means that the 6’7″ Roadrunner will have an immediate challenge within his own position. But, outperforming a top EDGE talent isn’t a reach for the Saints. Remember that last year’s DROTY front-runner going into the season was the Browns’ Myles Garrett, who Marshon Lattimore outperformed to win the award.
So what will it take for Marcus Davenport to become the 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year? In my eyes, at least 30 tackles, double-digit sacks, disruption in the run game, (Per PFF, Richardson had 51 stops in 2013 when he won) forced turnovers, and he’ll need to use his size to bat down some passes. How possible is all of this? It’s actually not too far from reality with the exception of the >10 sacks bit. Is ten or more possible? Of course it is. Is it likely? Probably not. I’m looking at Davenport collecting quite a few, don’t get me wrong. But I’m thinking more like seven or eight. Which means he’d have to be extremely active as a tackler and run stopper, sniffing out screens and trick plays, blowing up short passes, and hurrying the QB out of the pocket to offset (mama!) the sack total. All of which are entirely within the realms of his ability. It helps to have Cam Jordan on the opposite end, teams will have to pick who to double-team and when they don’t pick Davenport, he’ll have to serve up something nice and make his hits count.
The last element will be completely out of his control. That’s the production of the other rookies. There’s a chance that Davenport goes out there and blows up the stat sheet but falls a touch behind another rookie. Essentially playing the Tre’Davious White role to Marshon Lattimore this year. But, if Davenport is indeed able to outplay his defensive rookie peers, it’ll be history in the making for the second season in a row for New Orleans.