Saints Linebacker Will Smith: New Position, New Worries

USA TODAY Sports

Should Saints fans worry about Will Smith's new position? Contestant five in our writer search thinks so.

Our search for fresh new front page talent here on Canal Street Chronicles continues. In case you missed the introduction to our little talent search, be sure to read it first before continuing. Remember, any and all criticism must be 100% constructive and positive in nature. Keep Da Chronic classy!

Now I present to you the fifth submission of our writer search.

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When the Saints changed their defensive formation to a 3-4 upon the arrival of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, there was initial speculation regarding where Will Smith would line up. Personally, I was convinced he would slide inside as a defensive end because of his size (280+ pounds) and speed (or lack thereof). I was admittedly wrong, though, as the Times Picayune confirmed Smith's move to outside linebacker for the start of OTA's in mid-May.

My reason for implying this move should worry Saints' fans is because Smith would simply be taking away playing time from more deserving players. Despite Smith's production throughout his tenure with the Saints, one cannot deny that he isn't the pass rusher he once was. Moreover, Junior Galette, Martez Wilson and the newly-signed Victor Butler were far more efficient pass rushers in 2012, not to mention they fit the 3-4 OLB mold significantly better than smith.

I'm sure a lot of you will point to that fact that Smith recorded more sacks in 2012 than the other three players. Congratulations, you found an inflated statistic that doesn't encompass a pass rusher's true productivity. I'm not saying that sacks aren't important because they undoubtedly are, they just don't tell the full story. You need to look beyond the sack- at the amount of times a player hits the quarterback, collapses the pocket, causes a hurried throw, etc. Think I'm crazy? This chart illustrates how inefficient Smith was as a pass rusher compared to the Saints' other OLB's:

Pass Rush Snaps

Sacks

Total Pressures

Pressure Frequency

Will Smith

586

7

37

6.31%

Junior Galette

225

5

30

13.33%

Martez Wilson

206

3

24

11.65%

Victor Butler

132

3

15

11.36%

DeMarcus Ware

454

14

58

12.78%

Anthony Spencer

318

11

40

12.58%

(A "pressure" is defined as a sack, hit, or hurry. Stats acquired from Pro Football Focus's premium statistics)

Now do you see my point? Galette pressured opposing quarterbacks nearly as often as Smith in less than half of the snaps, resulting in a pressure frequency more than twice that of Smith. Wilson and Butler, while slightly less productive than Galette, were still considerably more effective than Smith at harassing quarterbacks in 2012. For comparison's sake I threw in the numbers for Butler's old teammates, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, who were 3-4 OLB studs by any definition of the word. While Wilson's and Butler's efficiency was slightly inferior to that of the Cowboys' duo, Galette actually surpassed them while Smith was light-years behind.

I can also point to perennial pro bowler, Dwight Freeney, as further reason to doubt Smith's ability to make the transition to OLB. Freeney registered just five sacks on 48 pressures this past season after averaging over 10 sacks on 61 pressures throughout the previous four. Like Freeney, Smith is a seasoned 4-3 DE that I can't help but think would be out of his comfort zone playing OLB.

All things considered, is Will Smith guaranteed to play OLB in the season opener? Not by any means. But based on the numbers from 2012 we should hope not for the well-being of the Saints' defense. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely convinced he deserves to start at defensive end over Cameron Jordan or Akiem Hicks, either.

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