Expect the New Orleans Saints defense to remain on the cutting edge of NFL personnel tendencies when they take the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers next Sunday. The Saints sent a four-man rush with the back seven defenders in nickel personnel (with five defensive backs) on 60% of their snaps last season, occasionally shifting dime (six defensive backs) on 28% of snaps played and blitzing on a healthy 27% of passing downs.
That trend should continue in 2021. The Saints are returning a number of incumbent starts in the secondary, at linebacker, and out at defensive end, though a lot of attention has been rightfully paid to the unsettled No. 2 cornerback spot. If he’s healthy and practices this week, Ken Crawley should get that nod; if not, it’ll be rookie Paulson Adebo. And their best defensive tackle is suspended six weeks, meaning none of their top-three at the position a year ago (David Onyemata, Sheldon Rankins, and Malcom Brown) are available. Some skepticism is warranted.
But some optimism is justified, too. The Saints brought back five of their top six defensive backs. Every linebacker except second-round rookie Pete Werner got on the field last season. They’re running five deep at defensive end and can bully opponents with that rotation. With that said, just 11 players can be out there at a time. Here’s my best guess at what the starting lineup looks like on defense (and be sure to check here for the offense):
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