Is the Saints Big-Time Investment in Marcus Davenport About to Finally Pay Off?

Photo Credit; New Orleans Saints on Twitter (Original via Jonathan Bachman)

Nearly 2 and a half years ago when the New Orleans Saints traded away both their #1 draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as well as their top pick in the following 2019 NFL Draft last year to move up several spots to select outstanding “small school” pass-rusher Marcus Davenport, it’s more than fair to say that a sizable portion of the team’s passionate ‘Who Dat Nation’ fan-base weren’t all too thrilled about the move.

But after two seasons of promising potential to become one of the NFL’s young best defensive ends were both cut short due to a series of nagging injuries, many fans were left wondering if the Saints front office had made a huge mistake. But with their upcoming 2020 NFL Season now only just two and a half weeks away, it appears their investment in the soon-to-be-24-year old might finally be paying off.

The Saints sent their own 1st-round pick along with a 5th-round pick in that 2018 Draft, as well as their 2019 1st-round pick in last year’s 2019 Draft, to the Green Bay Packers in order to move up a total of 13 spots from 27th overall to the 14th pick that year; to select the raw-but-very-talented young defensive end.

Now as the Black and Gold  continue their preparations for their season-opening contest at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against their NFC South Division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, word coming out of the team’s most recent practices in Training Camp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center in suburban Metairie suggest that the former University of Texas-San Antonio star has made significant strides in his development.

And not only just the type of strides to become a permanent part of the Saints D-Line and a complementary addition on the side opposite of All-Pro and fellow defensive end Cam Jordan, but it seems likely that if he can remain relatively healthy, Davenport is poised to become one of the League’s newest defensive stars as an edge pass-rusher and an elite-caliber run defender.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on (Original Photo by Kim Klement)

While a few fans still remain rather skeptical in their belief that Marcus “Two Firsts” — the not-so-nice nickname given to him on Social Media by some of those critics who feel the Saints organization gave up way too much in return to secure his services — can fulfill that destiny, there are more than just a few observers who are confident that he can; and do so in impressive fashion if simply given the opportunity.

Not just the reporters covering the team mind you, but the Saints coaching staff — including Davenport’s well-respected position coach, Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen — among them.

“You’re seeing a bigger, stronger, (but) still athletic player out there,” Nielsen said in a teleconference call with local NOLA media last week.“So he’s able to do some things — striking blocks and holding the point and the edge in the run game, create some knock-back and some more power in the pass rush. With that weight and keeping that athleticism, that’s where he’s really turned the corner of like, ‘I really can do the things that they’re asking me to do.’”

Clearly, Nielsen’s observation should serve as reassurance for those Who Dat fans that still have their lingering doubts, as to whether or not Davenport has finally turned the proverbial corner and now headed towards the amount of success that was projected for him initially coming out of college.

To that point, were it not for his 2019 campaign being cut short by a season-ending Lisfranc injury (a condition in which he is unable to put full weight on the middle of his foot that normally would allow him to push off and run / chase after opposing players), Davenport had been well on his way to what could have been a “break-out” year.

Last season, the San Antonio, Texas native ranked 2nd-best on the team in both sacks (6) and quarterback ‘hits’ (16), and also managed to lead the entire defense unit in forced fumbles with (4) and recovered 3 of them. He ended up playing in a total of (13) games (with 12 starts at right defensive end) before ending up on injured reserve for the team’s last few games and additionally missed the NFC Wild Card Playoff loss to Minnesota.

Photo Credit: Marcus Davenport on

That left many of Davenport’s biggest supporters to wonder just how much more impressive those numbers would have been, and how much of an even bigger impact that he could have had on the unit’s overall success; particularly in the Playoffs when they could have used his presence the most.

Nevertheless, the defensive staff led by coordinator Dennis Allen, are more enthusiastic than ever about the prospects for Davenport to have an even much bigger impact in the season ahead. It’s a sentiment that was echoed even further by Saints head coach Sean Payton in last week’s teleconference.

“I like how he’s put together right now, his weight’s up, and I think his strength is up,” Payton. “So, so far, so good. In this camp, I think he certainly understands the defense now. And putting practices together like he’s doing and working on his technique, it’s good to have him back out there.”

As noted by New Orleans.Football writer / analyst Nick Underhill, the youngster appears to be on the very  ‘cusp’ of reaching the full potential that the organization has always firmly believed that he possesses, and the narrative among some that he is a draft pick “bust” is completely false and certainly an inaccurate one.

Underhill adds that Davenport himself has a simple goal, which is to be the very best player that he possibly can be at his position, and that includes being better than his teammate and mentor in Cam Jordan. And that’s not a matter of him being “cocky” or overconfident, but just sharply-focused and honed in on improving himself and his capabilities on-the-field, in all aspects.

That includes “bulking up” and adding additional weight to increase the overall effectiveness of his performances, and in recent months the 6-foot-6 Davenport has been able to get his weight up to around 280 pounds, which makes him at least 15 to 20 pounds heavier than his originally-listed weight (260) back at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine right before he was drafted.

It’s just one of the many things about making an effort to become a better all-around player and increase the overall effectiveness of his own athletic ability and skill-set, that he has set as a personal goal to achieve this Summer and ultimately in the upcoming season ahead.

Photo Credit: KSAT-TV San Antonio

“I got to play my own game, I’m still learning and growing and trying to define myself,” Davenport told Underhill in their exclusive one-on-one interview. “In that sense of trying to grow, I’m figuring out that if I can just do me a little bit better, if I can get that 1 percent (better) each day, then I can be something. Shoot, going against Cam, seeing him on the other side, is always a driving force.”

“I expect that a lot of the work and a lot of the work that we’re still continuing to do in the learning process, all this is gonna pay off,” Davenport said. “I just expect to be overall better than I was.”

One thing that those Saints fans who remain skeptical until they actually SEE Davenport achieve those variety of different goals for himself, should be comforted by the fact that the wonderful folks over at Pro Football Focus made the observation recently that Davenport’s 84.1 overall grade through 14 weeks of the 2019 season last year, ranked him 15th overall out of 108 qualifying edge defenders.

Ironically enough was the fact that he also graded out as one of the very best run defenders at the position, and he was one of just 16 edge rushers with 50 or more quarterback pressures through Week #14.

In his first 2 NFL seasons, Davenport has appeared in 26 total games, and has amassed 10.5 sacks, 53 tackles (27 solo, 26 assisted), caused 4 forced fumbles, and has tallied 11 tackles-for-loss and 28 QB “hits”.

While those numbers might not seem all that great given all of the “hype” that Davenport entered the League with over two-and-a-half-years ago, they still are very encouraging.

While some of Davenport’s consistent critics will likely argue that some of the League’s very best pass rushers could put up those very same type of numbers in only just ONE single NFL season, Davenport still was solid whenever he was actually able to stay out on the football field.

And perhaps the best part of that fact was that he also appears to now be slowly evolving into one of the NFL’s premier run-stoppers against opposing RB’s, and just as good at doing that (‘stuffing’ the run) as he is at chasing and sacking QB’s.

It’s just one of the main reasons why analysts such as Underhill believe that Davenport has only “scratched the surface” of his actual true potential to become a future NFL defensive superstar.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on

Now it simply will all come down to Davenport trying to remain relatively healthy and attempting to avoid injuries as much as he possibly can, and his capability to be able to consistently display the incredible raw talent and athleticism; that many others feel that he definitely can provide for New Orleans week in and week out, as the team moves forward into the future.

A future that begins in earnest in two-and-a-half weeks from now at the Superdome against 6-time Super Bowl champion QB Tom Brady and Tampa Bay.

And a future in which the Saints organization’s big-time investment in “Marcus Two Firsts”, might finally begin to pay off….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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