NEW ORLEANS (WGNO/AP) — The New Orleans Saints selected Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee with the No. 29 overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday, addressing a position of need after several departures in free agency.

The 6-foot-5, 298-pound Bresee made 16 tackles and had 3 1/2 sacks for Clemson last season and was at the heart of a defensive front that ranked 12th nationally against the run last season, allowing 102.7 yards per game.

Bresee started every game with the Tigers as a freshman in 2020, earning him ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. The now 21-year-old was then hit by a series of injuries, including an ACL tear in September 2021 and shoulder surgery in early 2022. Last year, Bresee’s family was struck by tragedy when his sister, Ella, died from an aggressive form of brain cancer at the age of 15.

The Saints’ run defense ranked 24th in the NFL last season, a precipitous drop from their rankings of fourth or better the previous four seasons.

This offseason, defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen left the club and joined the Atlanta Falcons, as did former Saints starting defensive tackle David Onyemata. New Orleans also lost two other prominent defensive linemen in free agency, with tackle Shy Tuttle joining Carolina and defensive end Marcus Davenport heading to Minnesota.

New Orleans’ depth along the interior was further thinned by free-agent tackle Kentavius Street leaving for Philadelphia.

The first-round selection was acquired through a trade with the Denver Broncos after former Saints coach Sean Payton came out of retirement before his old contract with New Orleans expired. That deal required any team wanting to hire Payton to arrange a trade with the Saints for the contract rights, landing New Orleans the 29th overall pick.

Paton’s successor, Dennis Allen, is a former Saints defensive coordinator who continues to oversee a defense that has ranked seventh or better the past three seasons.

Next up for the Saints are the 40th and 71st picks, both scheduled for Friday. Other picks for New Orleans include:

  • Round 4, Pick 115
  • Round 5, Pick 146
  • Round 5, Pick 165 (acquired from Philadelphia)
  • Round 7, Pick 227
  • Round 7, Pick 257 (compensatory selection)

The Saints went 7-10 last season in its first year under new head coach Allen. It was the team’s first record below .500 since 2016.

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