The Saints made a bold move for the athletic edge rusher during last year’s draft, trading the 27th overall pick, a 2018 fifth-rounder and their 2019 first-round pick in exchange for the 14th overall pick, which they used on Davenport.
The rookie flashed some enticing potential, with 4.5 sacks in a part-time role, though his progress was stalled by a midseason toe injury that required surgery after the season. But the Saints will be counting on him more in 2019 -- especially after New Orleans lost starting defensive end Alex Okafor to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
The Saints were always thinking long-term with the long and lanky 6-foot-6, 265-pounder -- a former high school wide receiver who was described as a raw, developmental prospect coming out of Texas-San Antonio.
And coach Sean Payton insisted last week that the Saints are happy with the results of the trade, especially considering their 2019 pick wound up being all the way back at No. 30.
“We like it,” Payton said. “When he played last year, we feel like we saw some real good traits, to where we feel like this guy is gonna be a dominant player for us.
“He played exceptionally well at Minnesota [two sacks in Week 8] and exceptionally well in two or three other games for us. His toe slowed him down,” said Payton, who then insisted that if you “do the math on the trade right now,” the Saints came out ahead.
“That's the challenge when you try to grade that trade [a year ago],” Payton said. “Hypothetically, if we finished with four wins this year, that's not a good trade because [of] the value. But 27 and 30, on any number chart I don't think you're gonna arrive at 14.”
Last season, Davenport played right around 50 percent of the Saints’ defensive snaps in the 15 games he played, including the playoffs (he was inactive for three games because of the toe injury).
Davenport was really surging before he got hurt in that game at Minnesota, with a total of four sacks in five weeks. He came back for the final two months of the season, but he later admitted that he was less than 100 percent and said the injury was considered "season ending."
Still, the Saints gave him credit for his toughness.
“Injury always affects development. So when a guy is dinged and injured, and he’s playing through it, he’s tough as heck, that slows development,” said Jeff Ireland, the Saints' assistant general manager and college scouting director. “But certainly we’ve got a plan for him. He’s gonna get healthy, that’s No. 1. Then there’s gonna be a little bit of starting back from scratch. But he’s a fast learner, and he’s a tremendous athlete, so his development should be pretty quick, I hope.”
The Saints will likely still add depth at the defensive end position. They visited with former Detroit Lions Pro Bowler Ezekiel Ansah, who is still a free agent while teams wait to see how he heals from a shoulder injury. And they kicked the tires on former Miami Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn before he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys.
But at this point, anyone the Saints add will likely be a rotational player, with Davenport projected to see more than 50 percent of the snaps.
As for New Orleans’ lack of premium draft picks this year (none in Rounds 1, 3 or 4 because of last year’s trades for Davenport, Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Apple), Ireland said he and the rest of the front office have been going about business as usual.
“Well, it's gonna be difficult. But we approach every draft pretty much the same. We're evaluating every player that we can possibly get our eyes on. We're gonna build the board just exactly the same way that we always have," Ireland said of the Saints, who have one pick in the second round, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and two in the seventh. "And, look, I always feel a strength of mine is those late-round guys."
Plus, Ireland said you can never rule out the idea of trading up if the right player or right deal becomes available -- pointing to the Saints’ history of frequent draft-day trades under GM Mickey Loomis and Payton.
“Anything’s possible with Sean and Mickey,” Ireland said.