Super Bowl windows in the NFL are very real, and seizing them is critical. For the New Orleans Saints, the window is open right now.
After inking future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees to a 2-year, $50 million extension this offseason, New Orleans is primed to make deep postseason runs in 2018 and 2019. But with Brees turning 40 in January, it’s important to remember that Father Time is undefeated and the Brees Era in New Orleans is nearing the end.
Throughout the Brees Era, New Orleans has struggled to field a competitive defense to match the fireworks it produces offensively. With that said, the defense has illustrated steady growth under the direction of current defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who’s entering his fourth season with the team.
In 2017, the Saints boasted a top-ten scoring defense while finishing seventh in the NFL in both sacks and passer rating against. Firing on all cylinders, the Saints were a routine tackle away from reaching the NFC Championship game last season.
By and large, the Saints roster remains intact from 2017 with some notable pieces added: linebacker Demario Davis, safety Kurt Coleman and wide receiver Cameron Meredith.
But the big story of the Saints’ offseason was drafting UTSA EDGE Marcus Davenport in the first round.
Identifying the need to complement superstar defensive end Cameron Jordan with a threat on the opposite side, New Orleans moved to pick No. 14 to acquire his services. Parting with pick No. 27, No. 147 and a 2019 first round draft pick, however, made the cost steep.
Given the assets invested in Davenport, expectations are high and they should be. It begs the question: What do the Saints need from Davenport to justify his price tag?
Without Davenport in 2017, the Saints were NFC South Champions with an 11-5 record before falling to the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs on the final play of the game.
The expectations for the Saints with Davenport should be for New Orleans to make an even deeper playoff push in the current Super Bowl window.
While I rarely believe in moving up for any non-quarterback, at least Davenport plays a premium position with the upside to affect quarterbacks. The Saints have geared up to contend for a Super Bowl, with Davenport identified as a key piece in that becoming a reality.
While I can appreciate New Orleans doing what they believe is necessary to compete for a Super Bowl, I do question how much Davenport will be able to help and become a catalyst in that endeavor right away.
At 6-foot-6 and 264 pounds with 4.58 40-yard dash, Davenport has unteachable physical gifts which led to frequent splash plays in college. With that said, there is still considerable room for growth as Davenport evolves in regards to the finer details of rushing the passer. Expanding his variety of moves, how he sets them up and reducing his surface area all can improve.
Here’s a look at my full scouting report on Davenport before the 2018 NFL Draft:
It’s not that I don’t believe Davenport can become a productive player and reliable starter; I’m simply not confident it can happen right away. Given the premium assets invested in Davenport and the diminishing Super Bowl window, New Orleans doesn’t have time for Davenport to peak in year three. His learning curve must be reduced, which is a tall order given the technical improvements needed for him to make an impact.
Davenport recently commented on his progress and acclimation to the NFL.
“It’s just like my freshman year of college,” said Davenport. “I’ve got to learn again and I’m trying to pick it up fast. I’m trying to double down and get better in a hurry. I just try to go against the best. I like going against Terron (Armstead). Even though I lose and get thrown around, I’m working. I think that’s something that’s worth it to lose. I know when I can beat him consistently, then I will be ready.”
Although he appears eager to learn and improve, Davenport didn’t give himself a ringing endorsement on how things are going to this point.
Time will tell if New Orleans did the right thing in moving up for Davenport, but a deep postseason run in the current Super Bowl window with Davenport as a key contributor in doing so should be the expectation.