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Saints-Raiders preview: Who is expected to start for New Orleans on defense?

The less heralded, but potentially more important side of the ball for Sean Payton

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

On Thursday, I previewed the Saints offense. Guess what?

DL - Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Trey Hendrickson, Carl Granderson, Malcolm Roach, Margus Hunt, Malcom Brown

Marcus Davenport, the 14th overall pick in 2018, missed Week 1 and all of practice this week with an elbow injury, so he might not play. The Saints did use all eight of those defensive linemen in their first game of the season against the Bucs and none got fewer than 28-percent of the snaps.

Jordan rarely leaves the field and he’s coming off of his most productive pass rushing season with 15.5 sacks in 2019. Rankins appears to be New Orleans’ second-best defensive lineman but he only managed 30-percent of the snaps last season, first recovering from an Achilles injury and then going on IR with an ankle injury. We haven’t seen the productive Rankins since 2018.

Hendrickson and Granderson each had a sack in Week 1 but it’s early to say if either will prove to be quality NFL players. Hendrickson is in his fourth year but hasn’t broken out yet.

LB - Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, DJ Swearinger

Dennis Allen only used these two linebackers in Week 1 against Tampa Bay ... and maybe a bit of DJ Swearinger. Davis also had a sack and he’s emerging as a player who is either entering his prime in his ninth season or finally just getting recognition for always being an elite linebacker but failing to get accolades because of the teams that he played for.

Anzalone is in a remarkably similar position as Hendrickson. But at a different position. Swearinger got 34 snaps and the team has a lot of guys who can play safety.

CB - Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Patrick Robinson

Lattimore was drafted in between Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson and somehow that seems to be a perfect spot for him. He’s one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and that’s why GMs draft players like Henry Ruggs. Not necessarily a matchup Ruggs will consistently win as early as his second career game, but the long-term idea.

Jenkins can be good sometimes and he had another pick-six (he led the NFL in 2012 and 2017) in Week 1. New Orleans seems to do well with reclamation cornerbacks.

It appears the team likes Gardner-Johnson at nickel and he was challenged in Week 1, finishing with 10 tackles and one pass defensed.

S - Marcus Williams, Malcolm Jenkins

If the Saints win the Super Bowl this season, their defense and secondary will deserve more credit than they usually get in New Orleans. Williams is known for being in the wrong place against Stefon Diggs in the playoffs but also perhaps for being regarded as one of the Saints best players last season. I have no reason to think that Jenkins, who won a Super Bowl with Drew Brees in 2009 (and with Patrick Robinson in 2017), is worse off this season.

2019 team stats: 13th in points allowed, 11th in yards, 10th in net yards per pass attempt, 17th in yards per carry, 10th in turnovers forced, 20th in red zone defense (touchdowns allowed per red zone appearance), sixth in third down defense