In case you may have missed it: earlier this morning at the annual NFL owner's meetings in Orlando, FL, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters that the EDGE pass-rushing position on the side opposite of All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan remains a "must" need for the team to address, despite the team having re-signed veteran Alex Okafor last week.
"We went into this process (and) it's a 'must.' And we haven't addressed it yet. So it'll be important. ... It has to happen", Payton said.
Payton said edge spot is a “must" and that the Saints haven’t addressed it yet, even with bringing back Alex Okafor. Said the Saints have to address it.
— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) March 27, 2018
As most Saints fans are already aware: Okafor ruptured his Achilles tendon during a win last season against the Washington Redskins in Week #12, and was lost for the remainder of the year.
And while his recovery from the surgical repair is said to be ahead of schedule, there are currently ZERO guarantees that Okafor will regain his previous form prior to the injury.
Prior to the injury, Okafor had become the PERFECT complement to Jordan on the other outside edge pass rush position, appearing in 10 games with 10 starts and totaled 43 tackles (27 solo) and 4 1/2 sacks.
With no help left available at the position to choose from in Free Agency, it becomes rather obvious that based on Payton's words, the Saints will target an EDGE rusher in next month's 2018 NFL Draft.
The 2018 Draft Class's #1 ranked EDGE rusher this year is North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, who as of now is projected to be a Top 5 pick.
Sadly, there's a huge drop-off from Chubb to the remainder of the other EDGE prospects; and he'll be "long gone" by the time that the Saints get on the clock to make their pick at #27 overall — unless of course they decide to trade up and grab Chubb unexpectedly.
However, there are still some very good players at the EDGE position who potentially can become future stars at the next level; and one of them is almost certain to "fall" down Draft Boards and into the Saints' laps at #27; especially with several teams picking ahead of New Orleans all poised to select a QB with their top pick.
One such player just happens to be the young man who's considered the 2nd or 3rd best EDGE rusher (depending on who you ask) in this year's class: Boston College EDGE rusher / defensive end Harold Landry.
Landry saw very limited action in his freshman season for Boston College in 2014. Appearing in 11 games, Landry had 10 tackles, 1.5 TFL's and a quarterback hurry. However, he flashed his immense upside as a sophomore as a sophomore during the 2015 season. In 12 games, Landry posted 60 tackles with 15.5 TFL's and 4.5 Sacks while also forcing three fumbles.
But it wasn't until his junior season in 2016, that the "light switch" was flipped on for Landry and he exploded onto the scene and became one of the most feared pass rushers in the ACC.
Landry played for defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, who in 45 years of coaching between college and the NFL has coached everyone from DeMarcus Ware to J.J. Watt. That’s tutelage Landry wouldn’t have received anywhere else; and Pasqualoni arrived right before Landry’s junior year.
Landry had entered 2016 with high expectations, and he exceeded them in every way thanks to his being mentored by Pasqualoni. As a direct result: the talented pass rusher "broke out" during the 2016 season, and led the nation in sacks with 16.5, forced seven fumbles, had 22 tackles for a loss, six QB hurries, four pass breakups, an interception, and 51 total tackles.
Twice during that 2016 season, Landry had 3-sack games, against Wagner and Wake Forest, and he also had a two sack performance against nationally ranked Florida State. After the season, Landry considered entering the 2017 NFL Draft, where he was being projected by most NFL scouts as a late 1st or early 2nd round pick, but ultimately decided to return for his senior year in 2017.
Unfortunately for Landry, his 2017 numbers were down considerably after playing in just eight games due to an ankle injury. He had five sacks in his first six games before suffering the injury and being shut down two weeks later after trying to play through it.
Nevertheless, Landry still managed to make the most of his time; and was named a 3rd team All-ACC performer and posting five sacks on the season, including another 3-sack performance, this time against Virginia Tech.
Now a few short months later with the 2018 NFL Draft just 4 weeks away, Landry finds himself in a spot somewhat similar to last year at this time, though some are projecting him to be taken a bit higher than the same ones from 2016 that had him as low as a 2nd Round pick.
The hard part with regard to Landry is WHEN he will be taken.
Some feel he's worthy of being taken somewhere in the teens, while others see him as more of a late 20's pick and he's even been Linked to the Saints in several recent Mock Drafts, such as this one by ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay (which you can click HERE to read).
But where ever Landry ends up, some lucky NFL team is going to get a player that "potentially" (there's that word again) could end up being one of the Class's best players when all is said and done.
Rotoworld & NBC Sports NFL Draft Writer & Fantasy Analyst Josh Norris says that Landry’s game is all about quickness, bend and change of direction. He’s not the biggest pass rusher, but he’s got an explosive first step.
Norris adds that the great thing about Landry is he fits both in a 3-4 defensive scheme as an outside linebacker; or the 4-3 as a pass-rushing end which is how the Saints would use him if they end up with him — where they could put Landry in a rotational role right away before developing him into the team's primary EDGE rusher.
He actually played more in the 4-3 with his hand in the dirt, while he was in college.
“I think that nobody in this class has a first step like mine, the bend like mine and the burst to the quarterback like me," Landry said to reporters last month at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. "I am not saying I am perfect, there are plenty of things I can improve on in my game, but in this draft, I do believe I am the best pass rusher.”
“And (Wednesday), I showed I could play 3-4 or 4-3. I’m more stronger, explosive, faster and flexible than I even was in the past two seasons here (at Boston College). I’m definitely looking forward to getting into camp and just going up against veteran guys and earning their respect and building on my craft every single day."
While Chubb, Virgina Tech's Tremaine Edwards and University of Texas-San Antonio's Marcus Davenport might all have something to say about that, there's simply no denying Landry's adept skills at getting to the QB.
Landry's biggest issue is his size. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he lacks strength at the point of attack and at times can allow larger edge blockers to block him far outside the reach of the QB, and basically take him OUT of the play completely.
It's expected that he'll have to bulk up a bit if chosen by a 4-3 team to play end, which wouldn't be an issue for Landry if he moved to NOLA and started to enjoy Louisiana-style home-cooking.
Landry is also prone to taking bad angles and has had a few missed sacks when he has a scrambling quarterback in his grasp, so he'll also benefit from cleaning up his fundamentals as well.
Nevertheless, as CBS Sports.com NFL Draft Analyst Dane Brugler says: while Landry's a little undersized, the goal is to get after the quarterback, and Harold Landry is cut from the same cloth as players like Von Miller, Vic Beasley, that type of pass rusher.
Brugler adds that Landry has a first-step burst that gives him the flexibility to dip around the corner as well as any pass rusher in the 2018 Class, and emphasizes that he's very good at that.
And he adds: over the last five years, only three college football players have recorded three sacks three different times: Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett and then Harold Landry.
Say what you will about the Saints' plans for the EDGE position from this point on, but given Payton's comments this morning, they obviously know that it could stand to be upgraded much further and consider it a top priority.