Saints rankings: No. 12 DE Akiem Hicks

I’m ranking the top 20 New Orleans Saints players leading up to training camp. It’s based on their current value -- meaning both past accomplishments and potential are taken into account. Think, who would you want on the field most in Week 1 this season?

At No. 12, it’s defensive end Akiem Hicks.

Profile: Year 3, Age 24, 6-foot-5, 324 pounds

Analysis: I keep touting Hicks as the Saints’ “breakout” candidate for the 2014 season. But frankly, his breakout might have already happened.

The big man was a huge part of the Saints’ defensive revival last season. His total of 4.5 sacks might not jump off the page. But such is the nature of being an interior lineman. Hicks was still able to serve as a disruptive force as both a pass-rusher and an outstanding run-stuffer while starting all 16 games.

Hicks easily ranks among the strongest players on the defense (something teammates say he has demonstrated in the weight room as well as on the field), but he is also very athletic for his size.

I’m not sure that Hicks will become a Pro Bowler this season since that might require something like double-digit sacks. But I think he will continue to earn more attention and respect as a part of the Saints’ nucleus. And I think he will probably rank higher than this on next year’s list.

Previous rankings:

No. 20 (tie) RBs Mark Ingram/Khiry Robinson

No. 19 WR Kenny Stills

No. 18 S Rafael Bush

No. 17 LB David Hawthorne

No. 16 CB Champ Bailey

No. 15 P Thomas Morstead

No. 14 OT Zach Strief

No. 13 RB Pierre Thomas