Saints rankings: No. 10 LB Curtis Lofton

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. 10, it’s linebacker Curtis Lofton.

Profile: Year 7, Age 28, 6-foot, 241 pounds

Analysis: Lofton has been as important as anyone to the Saints’ defensive overhaul during the past two years. His game is not as flashy as some of the more dynamic athletes who rack up more sacks and interceptions, but he’s a solid, reliable player who is constantly around the ball in the run game. And he has brought veteran leadership in that critical “quarterback” role -- making the transition from former defensive QB Jonathan Vilma smoother than anyone could have predicted.

Lofton has played almost every snap during his two years in New Orleans, piling up 125 tackles in 2013 (ranked 15th in the NFL) and 123 tackles in 2012. He did the same thing for his first four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, where he became an instant starter at middle linebacker as a rookie. Lofton has never missed a game due to injury, and he is averaging 123 tackles per season.

Lofton was especially good down the stretch last season, with two of his three sacks coming in big games at Carolina in Week 16 and at Seattle in the playoffs. He is decent in pass coverage, but his physical run defense is his greatest strength. The scouting service Pro Football Focus knocked Lofton a lot last year for his missed tackles (they charted him with 17, which ranked 10th among all NFL linebackers), but I never saw that as a consistent problem for Lofton in my film studies. In fact, a lot of those “missed” tackles came because he was the guy who came across the field and came closest to a runner since he was around the action so often.

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

No. 12 DE Akiem Hicks

No. 11 S Kenny Vaccaro