Granderson blossoms as Saints defensive end

Published 11:28 am Saturday, October 28, 2023

By John DeShazier

The New Orleans Saints

When he walked into the New Orleans Saints training facility in 2019, the undrafted rookie from Wyoming checked in at 248 pounds.

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“Two-fifty on a good day,” Carl Granderson said.

Thirty-two pounds and seven games into his fifth NFL season later, Granderson is tossing around linemen and smothering quarterbacks with equal effectiveness, having solidified a hold as New Orleans’ starter at right defensive end after having shown a leap of improvement in each of his seasons.

From a sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and 11 tackles in eight games as a rookie, to his current breakout season: A team-leading 4.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble, nine quarterback hits and 29 tackles in seven starts entering Sunday’s game against the Colts (3-4) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Last season, Granderson’s best as a pro, he had 5.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits – all career highs – in 16 games, with four starts.

Granderson said much is attributable to the weight and muscle he packed on.

“You’ve got to be big and physical to play this game,” he said. “Each year, I’ve gained probably about 10 pounds and it shows up on the field. I remember my first couple of years, I was getting tossed around a little bit but now, I’m strong on blocks.”

Strong on blocks, yet still a speedy problem for offensive linemen.

“He’s a big athlete, looks like a big running back out there,” defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. “I always talk to him: ‘How much do you weight?’ He’s 280 pounds but if you watch him run around, he runs around like a linebacker.”

“I think Carl kind of separates himself from a lot of people in the standpoint of he’s explosive off the ball, but he has very good leverage and power for a guy that has the length that he’s got,” defensive line coach Todd Grantham said. “I think where he separates himself is his ability to start and stop.

“He can kind of stutter his feet and burst, so when he gets a tackle to stop his feet, he can burst and accelerate. And then the thing that really helps him out is his preparation. He’s constantly watching tape, he’s watching film, he understands the opponent he’s going against and how he’s going to attack him. And he’s a guy that really has put in the work, really from last May until now.

“I think the thing that he’s had to adjust to over the last couple of weeks is, because of his early success, people are going to start noticing him and how do we take him away with chips and things like that. So he’s got to understand from a communication standpoint, how to deal with those things. He’s a young player, he’s a productive player and I fully expect him to continue to produce the way he has early in the year just because of his work ethic and his preparation during the week.”

Granderson’s patience has been rewarded (he signed a four-year extension in September), and has been a reward for New Orleans (3-4). The Saints tried first-round picks Marcus Davenport (who signed with Minnesota as a free agent last offseason) and Payton Turner (currently on injured reserve) at right defensive end, among others. But injuries and inconsistency left open the door that Granderson barged through.

“I just played my position, played my role in the Saints organization,” he said. “Just came to work every day, worked hard. I knew my opportunity was going to come, just didn’t know when. I just had to be ready for the right time and the right moment, and take care of my position and do my job. At the end of the day, I’ve got to be a professional and I’ve got to go handle business.

“I wouldn’t say it was frustrating, (because) I still was learning from the other guys ahead of me. It definitely was a process. You’ve got to be mentally ready and support your teammates. So I was just waiting my time and doing my part on special teams, and playing a big role in that. Whenever the time was going to come, I was going to be ready for it.”

“Ready” has looked like this: Granderson has sacks in four games, at least two quarterback hits in three games, at least two tackles for loss in two games and at least four tackles in five games.

The sacks, he barely takes credit for.

“Honestly, it’s been a team effort,” he said. “It hasn’t been individual. Most of my sacks have been as a group, so working together with the guys. Keep playing hard.

“I want everybody to eat up front, I want us to lead the NFL in sacks. We’ve got some work to do and we’re going to keep working as a team.”

It’s that approach that has made him treasured in the locker room.

“He’s a pleasure to be around because when he comes in the building, he’s always happy, he makes you feel good,” Woods said. “And when he gets on the field, he’s always playing like it’s game day.”