METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints coach Dennis Allen highlighted Bryan Bresee’s perspective, personality and physical attributes when explaining why the former Clemson defensive tackle could help solidify a run defense that slid down the NFL rankings last season.

The Saints selected Bresee — who has overcome a major knee injury and lists the memory of his late younger sister as his primary source of inspiration — with the No. 29 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.

“It says a lot about the kid to overcome a lot of the adversity he’s gone through over the last 18 months,” Allen said of Bresee, whose sister, Ella, died of brain cancer last fall. “He’s shown a lot of fortitude.”

Bresee, 21, spent draft night wearing a pink T-shirt reading, “Ella Strong,” across the front.

“She’d be glowing,” Bresee said while imagining how his sister, who was 15, might have reacted to his first-round selection. “She loved watching me play. She loved being around just the atmosphere of football and everyone embraced her so much at Clemson and everywhere that she was.

“My little sister has been my motivation,” Bresee added. “Watching her battle every single day and always keep a smile on her face and just stay so positive through all that, it was honestly just amazing to see and makes me think whatever I’m going through was not even close to as hard as what she was battling every day.”

The selection of the 6-foot-5, 298-pound Bresee added depth to a position group that could use it following the departures of several defensive linemen in free agency.

“He’s big. He’s physical. He’s athletic. He fills a position of need,” Allen said. ”He’s really good on the move. He brings some pass-rush ability inside. And he’s a smart kid.”

Bresee was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 2020, when he made 33 tackles, including four sacks and 6 1/2 tackles for loss to go with a forced fumble, a safety and 11 QB hurries.

He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee four games into the 2021 season and also had shoulder surgery before returning in 2022 when his sister’s death and a kidney infection limited him to 10 games. He finished last season with 16 tackles, including 5 1/2 tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks.

He also was at the heart of a defensive front that ranked 12th nationally against the run last season, allowing 102.7 yards per game.

“I’d be very careful just looking at statistics in terms of this year,” Allen added. “I just put my eyes on the player and see what he can do, and I see the size, see the strength, see the length, see the athleticism and my brain allows me to have a vision for what I want to be able to do with that player.”

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

“It wasn’t up to our standards,” Allen said of last season’s run defense. “That’s an area we’ve got to improve on and adding a presence on the inside is a step in the right direction.”

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.

Bresee said he has been playing football since he was a child in Maryland, and while he played several positions — including quarterback — in his youth, he always also played defensive line.

“I’ve just found a love for the interior D-line and pass-rushing and everything that goes with it,” Bresee said. “I’ve just always enjoyed it a ton. So, it’s always been where I feel I fit the best.”

The Saints entered this offseason without a first-round choice but received one from Denver in exchange for letting former coach Sean Payton come out of retirement with the Broncos.

Allen, who succeeded Payton in 2021, is a former Saints defensive coordinator who continues to oversee a defense that has ranked seventh or better the past three seasons.