Call it the sophomore shuffle.
The New Orleans Saints might wind up moving each of their top three picks from the 2015 draft to new positions this season.
They have already announced plans to move their most successful rookie -- first-round draft choice Stephone Anthony -- from middle linebacker to strongside linebacker. And Thursday, I wrote about how the Saints will consider moving offensive tackle Andrus Peat into more of a full-time guard role.
It also appears more likely that outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha will play more of a full-time defensive-end role after the Saints failed to add at that spot in free agency or the draft.
Before you go worrying about the Saints messing up a good thing with Anthony and Kikaha, consider that the position switches should benefit both linebackers, who might have been asked to take on too much last season.
Anthony had a very good rookie campaign, starting all 16 games as the quarterback of the Saints’ defense and ranking 20th in the NFL with 112 tackles. But coach Sean Payton suggested earlier this offseason that the Saints were looking to take the signal-calling part of the job off Anthony's plate, which is why they signed veteran free agent James Laurinaitis.
Now the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Anthony can concentrate more on using his impressive combination of power and athleticism. Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt said before the draft that Anthony could be the first true 4-3 Sam linebacker for New Orleans since Scott Fujita.
Kikaha, meanwhile, had a terrific start as a playmaking edge rusher for the Saints last year, with four sacks and three forced fumbles in the first six weeks. But his performance dropped off after he began dealing with a nagging ankle injury. And he never looked fully comfortable when the Saints asked him to drop back in coverage.
The 6-3, 246-pound Kikaha was a full-time defensive end at Washington, where he racked up a whopping 19 sacks as a senior. He is a bit small to play an every-down DE role in the Saints’ 4-3 defense. But since they play nickel defense about 75 percent of the time, we could see Kikaha playing the Jack edge-rusher role on most of those nickel snaps.
Payton said earlier this offseason that Kikaha will likely play more at Jack. And it seems like a given now that the Saints didn’t add any new edge rushers in free agency or the draft.
For that reason, Kikaha might emerge as one of the most important players on New Orleans’ entire roster this season.
Here is a breakdown of New Orleans’ unofficial defensive depth chart heading into this weekend’s rookie minicamp, which starts Friday. Practices are closed to the public and the media.
DE: Bobby Richardson, D.J. Pettway, Mitchell Loewen
MLB: James Laurinaitis, Craig Robertson, Jeff Schoettmer