Ranking the New Orleans Saints' top draft needs. At No. 3 is outside linebacker:
Current depth chart:
Dannell Ellerbe, age 30
Stephone Anthony, age 23
Hau'oli Kikaha, age 23
Kasim Edebali, age 26
Nathan Stupar, age 28
Michael Mauti, age 26
Davis Tull, age 24
Outlook: Depth is not the problem here, as demonstrated by the above list. But the Saints could really use a special athlete who is capable of dropping back in pass coverage and who has the speed to roam the open field.
I’ve been saying for years that New Orleans needs its own version of fellow NFC South studs Lavonte David and Thomas Davis. And it really showed last season when the Saints struggled so mightily in pass coverage at the linebacker level.
Ellerbe is that type of player, but injuries have hampered him in recent years, and he is now 30. Even if he has a resurgent 2016, the Saints will eventually need to replace him.
UCLA’s Myles Jack would be ideal. But he will either be long gone by the time the Saints pick at No. 12, or if he falls, it will be because of injury concerns. Another elite linebacker, Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, could fall several rounds because of significant injury concerns.
That leaves Ohio State’s Darron Lee as a possible option in Round 1. Or LSU’s Deion Jones or USC’s Su'a Cravens in Round 2. All three linebackers weigh less than 235 pounds, but the NFL has started to turn more toward those linebacker-safety hybrids in recent years. Maybe the Saints will follow suit. As Cravens revealed on his visit to New Orleans, the Saints measured him up against safety Kenny Vaccaro.
As for the strongside linebacker position, the Saints have even better depth now that they appear likely to move Anthony from middle linebacker to the strong side. And Kikaha, Edebali and Tull are all promising young pass-rush specialists who could work into the mix on throwing downs.
For that reason, I’d be a little surprised if the Saints add another “‘tweener” type of pass-rusher at outside linebacker, such as Georgia’s Leonard Floyd in Round 1 or Boise State’s Kamalei Correa in Round 2. I think they would prefer to find a bigger pass-rusher who fits at defensive end in their 4-3 scheme. But I’ll never say never, since pass rush is such a vital need for the Saints.