Saints trade up to bolster edge pass rush with Davenport
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints moved decisively to ramp up their pass rush in the NFL draft with a trade that indicates how close they believe they are to contending for a Super Bowl now.
The Saints selected Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport 14th overall on Thursday night after a trade that sent Green Bay this year’s 27th and 147th overall picks, along with next year’s first rounder.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Davenport fills what coach Sean Payton termed an offseason “must.”
“One of the offseason targets was a pressure player. We have to feel like he can affect the quarterback,” Payton said. “In our league, there’s a premium on a few different position and one of them is that.”
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 was credited with eight quarterback hurries, forced three fumbles, had a fumble recovery and batted four passes.
“Batted passes would tell me he’s someone instinctive,” Payton said. “I know length is important in that, but (also his ability to) rush with vision and anticipate a ball being thrown.
“You see disruption when you see him play — a lot.”
Payton said Davenport not only had the physical attributes the Saints sought in a defensive end, but also struck them as someone who was bright, mature and had a good work ethic. The coach also described Davenport as someone whose personality was “unremarkable — in a good way.”
“There’s a passion you feel like, when you’re around him, about the game and we’re searching for people that are in the passion business,” Payton said.
Davenport, who is from San Antonio and attended the draft in Dallas, spoke with New Orleans media on a conference call. He described his approach to football as “prideful,” and his personality and “calm” and “methodical.”
Still, Davenport said he was struggling to believe he’d been drafted as high as he was. He said he was pleased to be moving to New Orleans, where his father grew up and which remains home to many relatives. His college coach, Frank Wilson, also hails from New Orleans.
“It was just a surreal moment,” Davenport said, adding that he “didn’t know at all” that New Orleans had him in mind when he first saw the Saints had traded up to 14th.
He said his father shouted and began to cry when New Orleans called his name.
“It’s a great feeling, but it just means now I’ve got to get to work.”
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. In order to get more 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 in 2017, 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.
The Saints ranked 17th in the NFL in defense last season, giving up 336.5 yards per game. Their offense, by contrast, ranked second.
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 set on Super Bowl contention after falling just seconds short of advancing to last season’s NFL championship game.
“I want to shoot big. I want a Super Bowl,” Davenport said. “I just want to be able to be an impact player.”
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