Apparently, while the Saints were scouting Aaron Curry, they discovered both Chip Vaughn and Stanley Arnoux. Vaughn seems to be exactly what Gregg Williams wanted at safety; but at first, Arnoux is a bit more of an enigma.
Unlike in the case of Vaughn, the problem evaluating Arnoux isn't that there's no immediately perceivable consensus; it's that there is. And the consensus is this: Stanley Arnoux is a high-motor overachiever who rated at best as a 7th round prospect, and more likely a free agent. Could the Saints have reached?
Positives: Short, squat frame to handle taking on and discarding blocks. … Plays with good overall physicality. … Reliable tackler between the hashes. … Flashes some pop as a hitter and can close in close quarters. … Better in coverage than his measureables indicate. … Gets surprising depth on his drops and reads the quarterback's eyes. … Team leader who made the Dean's list.
Negatives: Shorter than scouts would like and a bit round in the middle. … Lacks the instincts and quick first step preferred at the "Mike" 'backer position. … Takes a moment to recognize the action and is slow to flow toward the ball. … Lacks the straight-line speed to beat backs to the flanks and is a liability in coverage. … Lacks the lateral agility to consistently get around blockers in tight quarters, thus relying on his pop to disengage. … Needs an open lane to close when rushing the quarterback.
Projected round: 7-FA [Source: NFLDraftScout.com]
Strengths: Does a good job of reading and reacting quickly to the run; flashes a willingness to come up quickly to take on blockers aggressively at the line of scrimmage. When quick and aggressive with his hands, can keep the blocker from getting a hold of him. Does a good job of chasing down running plays between the tackles. In zone coverage, does a good job of reading the QB and can close quickly on passes in front of him to make tackles right after the catch.
Weaknesses: Is a one-speed runner who lacks athleticism...Does not show any quickness or burst chasing after the ballcarrier and makes almost all of his tackles down the field...Lacks the playing speed to stay with the tight end consistently in man coverage and lacks the awareness to anticipate routes, so he loses his man out of his cut too often.
Bottom line: ...We would not draft him, but we would sign him as a free agent because he has a chance to make it as a backup, though he will struggle to carve out a long NFL career. [Source: Sporting News]
Strengths: Excellent timed speed...Physical...Active with a great motor...Very tough...Can take on blockers...Intense and competitive...Nice special teams potential...Durable...Experienced...Hard worker...Team leader.
Weaknesses: Average athleticism...Does not have the ideal size or bulk that you look for...Isn't very instinctive...Hips aren't fluid and struggles in coverage...Has trouble in space...Isn't real stout...Misses some tackles.
Notes: ...Won't be a good fit for every team...Could compete for a roster spot as a backup and special teamer. [Source: DraftCountdown.com]
Strengths: Arnoux is a physical inside linebacker that thrives between the tackles. He is not afraid to mix it up near the line of scrimmage and shows the ability to disengage from blockers to make the tackle. He plays bigger than his size would indicate and shows the speed to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage. Arnoux shows some ability in coverage as well. He has no problems dropping back and does a good job of keeping his man in front of him and preventing him from making the play. Arnoux has some experience at both inside and outside linebacker, and could be a solid special teamer.
Weaknesses: Arnoux is short and a bit light in the pants for a linebacker, especially a true inside backer. He has some experience outside but may lack the overall athleticism and agility to project there. Arnoux is a bit hesitant in diagnosing the action and needs to be more decisive and aggressive.
Future Arnoux has the ability to be a backup in different linebacker roles along with providing a boost to the special teams. That versatility should allow him to till out the bottom of a roster, giving him the chance to prove himself as a starter down the line. He really made a name for himself with a 4.61 40 at the combine, but he does not show that type of speed on the field. That performance should make him a draftable player, but his upside in the NFL may be limited. [Source: Football's Future]
You have to wonder if the Saints didn't commit a serious reach with this pick. It's doubtful that Arnoux would have been taken before their original last pick, in the seventh round. But apparently they saw something in Arnoux that they liked enough that they didn't want to take the chance that anyone else had seen the same thing.
What was it?
As with Vaughn earlier, let's look at who Gregg Williams had playing for him in earlier days. The first thing to note is that, while Arnoux played middle linebacker in college, he's slated to be moved to weakside linebacker on the Saints. When Williams was defensive coordinator at Tennessee, two of the linebackers he had in that position were Joe Bowden and Eddie Robinson. In Washington, Williams used four different linebackers in that position, including Lemar Marshall (2004), LaVar Arrington (2005), Warrick Holdman (2005 & 2006), and Rocky McIntosh (2007). None of these players is significantly different in physical terms from either Arnoux or incumbent starter Scott Shanle—with the exception of Arrington, who at 6-3 and 256 was by far the biggest of the bunch. He was also the player who most incurred Williams' ire (though not, admittedly, because of his size).
The difference may be speed. Scott Shanle ran a 4.72 40 at his Combine in 2003; by contrast, Arnoux is significantly faster. He had the third-fastest time among inside linebackers at 4.56, a time that would have put him in 6th place among the outside linebackers—better than Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, or Clint Sintim, and nearly as fast as his teammate Aaron Curry.
Rocky McIntosh (4.6), LaVar Arrington (4.54), and Lemar Marshall (4.48) were all faster than Shanle, and in Arnoux's range. (I haven't been able to find Combine results for the Tennessee players.) Since Williams' defense employs an attacking system, we know that speed is essential, and Arnoux does have that. But is it enough to make a difference?
Now, consider what both the Saints and Arnoux's college coach have said about him. In an interview with the Times-Picayune
[Wake Forest head coach Jim] Grobe raved about new Saints linebacker Stanley Arnoux, who played inside in college but projects as a weakside linebacker with the Saints. He said in several games last year, Arnoux was "every bit as good, if not better than Aaron Curry."
He said Curry's a little smaller and faster, and Arnoux is a little more physical. He said Arnoux trimmed down to run fast in predraft workouts, but he played at around 240-245 pounds in college.
"He plays very physical and he's the most dependable guy in the world," Grobe said of Arnoux, saying he always played through any bumps and bruises.
Sean Payton, in his typically laconic way, backed up Grobe:
"When you watch Curry or you watch film of Wake, you see Stanley Arnoux. He's the kind of guy you see make a lot of plays. He's around the ball often. Those are good traits to have certainly as a linebacker."
Finally, consider what Arnoux has to say about himself:
"I was a Dean's List student at Wake Forest, and I bring that into the football game."
Tough, fast, smart, and a coach's player. Those are the kind of qualities Williams reportedly prizes in his players. So it looks as though Stanley Arnoux was very much a Gregg Williams-type of pick, and another step in the resurgence of the Saints' defense. Could the Saints have reached? If no other team recognized those qualities in Arnoux, then certainly: we may have been able to get him with our 7th round pick. But if the Saints are correct in what they think they see in him, the risk was too great; and besides, Payton and Loomis were simply following their board. Time will tell who was right; but until they're proven wrong, I'm going to assume that PayLoo made another great mid-round pick.