I honestly can't even remember the last time the Saints groomed a young linebacker into a promising player. Winfred Tubbs? Mark Fields? Recent history has been brutal when it comes to young Saints linebackers. They've just never seemed to pan out, whether it was injuries or just plain suckage.
Last year the starters were Scott Shanle, Danny Clark and Jonathan Vilma - all seasoned veterans drafted by other teams that the Saints acquired through free agency or trades. Before Clark was Scott Fujita, another player who was solid but was landed through free agency. Maybe the Saints don't believe in starting young guys at linebacker? Maybe that position needs experience?
Still, I find it alarming that continued attempts to groom young players at that position have been unsuccessful. Consider the Haslett/Payton era:2001: Jim Haslett drafted Sedrick Hodge. He was supposed to be a physical freak specimen with amazing size and speed. Despite his 3rd round draft status, he never lived up to the hype. He started a couple of seasons, but never had the football IQ to recognize plays or make an impact. Then he failed a drug test and he was out of the league at 27 after 5 unimpressive seasons.
2002: Haslett takes James Allen in the 3rd round again. Like Hodge, Allen was big and fast. He had some opportunities to start but could never fully put it together. He showed more promise than Hodge but injuries limited him. He only last 5 seasons with the Saints as well before his career was toast.
2003: Hey, Jim Haslett, let's draft another linebacker in the 3rd round! The last two worked out so well. Cie Grant was the next victim, and his bones were made of chalk. He was injured after each practice he had with the Saints, years apart. He lasted a whopping 4 years in the NFL.
2004: Haslett took Courtney Watson in the 2nd round and Colby Bockwoldt in the 7th round. Bockwoldt exceeded expectations and started a little bit, but never really had the skills to cut it. He is now in the UFL and lasted 4 years in the NFL. And Watson, who looked so promising on draft day, was a complete failure. He lacked maturity and professionalism, failing physicals for being out of shape. He started for a while too, but had some injuries and never committed himself to becoming an impact player. He lasted a pathetic 2 years in the league.
2005: In Haslett's last draft class, he couldn't help himself. He just had to take Alfred Fincher in the 3rd round. It's amazing that a defensive mastermind (I use the term lightly) would be so inept at trying to recognize potential at linebacker. Fincher fit the same description as "big and fast" and obviously Haslett was a sucker for that, with actual brain cells of any sort not really being a requirement. Anyway, Fincher battled injuries too and he lasted just 4 seasons in the NFL, totaling 26 tackles during that span.
2006: Ok we get, Haslett was awful at selecting linebackers. Maybe Sean Payton is better? No linebacker was drafted this season but he did select Rob Ninkovich, originally a defensive end, who went on to become a pretty good player for the Patriots in their 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker. He's still a starter for them today.
2007: Marvin Mitchell was the lone linebacker taken in the 7th round. He's been a decent role player for the team, but I don't see him unseating Jonathan Vilma any time soon. If and when Vilma leaves, I doubt Mitchell is being handed his job. It remains to be seen how his career will play out but I doubt he'll be a starter. Still, Mitchell has proven better than almost any Haslett drafted linebacker.
2008: No linebackers taken
2009: Stanley Arnoux was picked in the 4th round, and he's spent more time on the injured reserve than bin Laden spent in bunkers (too soon?). They still have high hopes for this guy, but I'm skeptical. Arnoux is probably one minor injury away from his career being done for good.
2010: No linebackers taken
And then there's Martez Wilson. Will he change the trend of all these young linebackers the Saints have drafted in the last decade that have been royal hot garbage? God I hope so. I am so sick of New Orleans not being able to groom a young promising linebacker that can make a big difference in the trenches. It's not like it was better before Haslett, either. We literally haven't seen that in over 15 years. The last linebacker the Saints drafted that I would consider "decent" would be Mark Fields back in 1995!
Nothing against the Fujitas and Shanles of the world - love those guys - but the Saints are a far cry away from the days of the Dome Patrol. I should also mention Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Jonathan Casillas, too, who are both promising linebackers and works in progress. Neither were drafted but signed as undrafted rookies with the Saints and so far, I'd say both have panned out better than the Cie Grants of the world. Granted, that's not saying much.
Will Martez Wilson finally break this awful trend? Do you think Martez Wilson will be a valuable and durable starter for the Saints someday?