The Saints were expected to address their pass rush needs via the draft in the early rounds. With 4 picks in the top 100, it was a seemingly a lock that New Orleans would secure a top edge rusher like Derek Barnett, Taco Charlton, or Takkarist McKinley. It was a bit disconcerting that we made it to the 39th pick in the 3rd round before a DE (listed as OLB on NFL.com) was selected by the black and gold. Trey Hendrickson from Florida Atlantic was the pick we’d all been waiting for. Maybe not by name, but certainly by skill and position. Hendrickson, relatively unknown by the average NFL fan, earned first team All-Conference honors in 2015 and 2016 and was tied for the second most sacks in the FBS in 2015 (13.5). The question is, can he translate his play from Conference-USA to the NFL?
Looking at his measurables, there’s a lot of evidence that he might just be able to. 6’4″ 266 lbs. with a great combine turnout. He tied Hasaan Reddick (another named often tied to the Saints’ prospect list) for the 2nd fastest DL 10-yard split while also ran the 5th fastest 60-yard shuttle since 2006. With those numbers, you’ve got to wonder if the Saints ended up with a steal in the late third round. We here at ASC think we did indeed.
Trey Hendrickson is involved in the ever-important camp battle for the DE position opposite star Cam Jordan. He’ll be battling for that spot with Alex Okafor, Hau’oli Kikaha, and fellow rookie Al-Quadin Muhammad. The best-case for Hendrickson is that he wins that spot and plays out of his mind. In 2012 the Miami Dolphins selected Olivier Vernon 72nd overall in the 3rd round. Though Vernon was situational most of his rookie year, he still picked up 3.5 sacks. He made his playing time count and during his second year, he got a lot of it. Vernon compiled 11.5 sacks and 57 tackles when he got his shot. If Hendrickson could come through with that kind of production on the field, we’d see him as more than just a steal. He’d be highway robbery. The other element of Hendrickson’s game that will be valuable to him in New Orleans is his special teams play. He had three blocked field goals and a blocked punt last year, which lead the FBS. With the amount of games the Saints dropped last year by only a few points, that becomes an important potential to have on our side. PFF rated Hendrickson as the most productive pass rusher in his 2017 draft class. They also believe that he has the ability to contribute and produce as a rookie. The funny thing is that we really don’t even need him to come in and pile on double-digit sack numbers. If he puts 5 or more on the board, he’s going to be loved. Much akin to his PFF pro comparison, Brooks Reed. But of course, overachieving is always an excellent option.
Stat Line: 55 tackles (12 for a loss), 10 sacks, 1 blocked FG, 2 FFs
When Hendrickson was at Florida Atlantic, he faced less developed offensive linemen than other top edge rushers. This has consistently been a knock against him, and understandably so. That fact alone means that he’ll take some coaching before he develops into the full-fledged terror he was in college. That kind of lack of experience is something that the Saints have worked with before. David Onyemata was drafted by the Saints last year with the 120th overall pick in the 4th round. The Saints love their small-school prospects and Onyemata is one of the prime examples. He was a product of the University of Manitoba in Canada and had only played football for four years before being drafted. Now, while both have raw talent, Hendrickson has the advantage in terms of experience. Not to mention that following Onyemata’s track might be “worst-case,” but is definitely not a terrible outcome. We’re seeing Onyemata develop swiftly through this year’s training camp. He spent last year playing a situational role behind Nick Fairley, Tyeler Davision, and Sheldon Rankins (when he returned from injury) where he picked up 18 tackles. If Hendrickson can’t break in to the right end spot as a starter, he’ll almost certainly get reps there as the Saints might choose to address that position by utilizing depth. With Hendrickson’s abilities, I’d see him totaling up some productive numbers while continuing to improve as we’re seeing with Onyemata.
Stat Line: 20 tackles (3 for a loss), 1 sack, 0 blocked FGs, 0 FFs
Truth is, after the first few days in training camp, we’ve seen Hendrickson flash. But we’ve yet to see anything that sets him apart from his competition just yet. It may not take long for him to propel to the next level of his game and I am prepared to be surprised. However, I just don’t see it as today’s truth. I think that Hendrickson will be a very effective rotational player and will gather a fair amount of snaps and opportunities- more than he’d get in a strict situational role. I also believe that he’ll step up quickly and soon he’ll be a starter on the defensive line. Much like the Seahawks’ Cliff Avril who was drafted out of Purdue in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft by the Detroit Lions. When Avril entered the league his rookie season, he collected 5 sacks and 23 tackles and 4 forced fumbles. Thing is, Avril played in 15 games that season, only starting 5. He was third string RE on the Week 1 depth chat on an abysmal team and still found a way to contribute. This is the type of productivity I expect to see from Hendrickson and that I alluded to earlier. He doesn’t need to end the season with 13.5 sacks. If Cam Jordan brings in double-digits (which I’m confident he will do), Okafor and Kikaha combine for 7 or so and Hendrickson adds around 5, we’ve accounted for at least two-thirds of last year’s sack total between four players at two positions. Not bad.
Stat Line: 25 tackles (8 for a loss), 5 sacks, 1 blocked FG (PAT), 1 FF
Hendrickson is an exciting prospect. While I expect him to begin as a part of the rotation the truth is that the door is wide open for him. Our defensive line is in flux until we find the right formula and if he’s the missing ingredient, there’s no way the Saints brass holds him back. The former Owl has a lot of traits and qualities that we like to see in our front seven. He’s known for going after the ball on tackles and trying to rip it out, he’s got an array of moves at the line of scrimmage, and he’s a strong guy with a high motor. NFL.com notes that he’s “more of a second-effort sack man.” So we know he’ll keep fighting until the whistle blows. When he’s able to add some quick winners to his repertoire of moves, he’ll be that same sack machine he was at Florida Atlantic.
Next time: Sixth-round pick (196) Al-Quadin Muhammad