Will Smith, the Saints’ leading pass rusher on the defensive line last season, has been suspended for the first 4 games of the season for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal. On paper, this seems like a huge blow to an already bad Saints’ pass rush. Smith wasn’t great last season, with 7 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and 34 quarterback pressures on 630 pass rush snaps, including playoffs, a respectable, but not great 9.2% pass rush rate, but this team was the league’s worst rated pass rushing team last season in terms of pass rush productivity (sacks + .75 hits + .75 pressures/total pass rush snaps). They may have had 33 sacks, not a terrible number, but they blitzed more than any team in the league to do even that.
However, the Saints may have a diamond in the rough waiting in the wings behind Smith. Junior Galette, a 2010 undrafted free agent, played very well as a situational pass rusher last season and will be the starter in Smith’s absence this season. On 339 pass rush snaps, he had 4 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 19 quarterback pressures, a 10.0% pass rush rate.
New Saints’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is known for getting the most out of pass rushers, so he should have a positive effect on not just the career of Galette, but Cameron Jordan, the opposite starter, a 2011 1st round pick who struggled as a pass rusher as a rookie last season. The Saints desperately need Galette to step up as a starting caliber defensive end, not just for this season, but for the future. Smith is owed a whopping 9 million in 2013, his age 32 season, and he’s very unlikely to see that money unless he can have a major bounce back season this year, unlikely since he’ll only play 12 games max. If Galette cannot emerge as a successor, they’ll probably have to use an early pick on a defensive end in the 2013 NFL Draft, for the 2nd time in 3 years.
If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2