Rookies are being asked to do more and more in today's NFL. Despite the fact that the days of exorbitant rookie contracts are over, fans expect them to come out and earn their keep in week one. Fair or unfair, this is why draft picks are such a sought after commodity in the present NFL. So of the Saints getting significant playing time, who has played up to their status and who has disappointed? This article will be covering the likes of linebackers Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha, defensive linemen Tyeler Davison and Bobby Richardson, and corner Delvin Breaux.
Breaux had a lot of Saints fans scared in the first few weeks of 2015, where he struggled mightily with penalties and getting beat when he wasn't initiating physical contact. Breaux, of course, was playing his first games in the NFL after a stellar (if brief) career in the CFL. Breaux is only a rookie to this league, as he has been playing at a high level his entire life (he was recruited to LSU before breaking his neck in a game, voiding his scholarship). Breaux played in a variety of leagues before ending up back in New Orleans, and since his rookie start he's been very good. Arguably his most impressive game when scaling to the talent he faced was against Atlanta, when he mitigated the efforts of Julio Jones. He played well against T.Y. Hilton as well, though he did give up yardage in huge chunks on multiple occasions when he tripped over his own feet. Playing with Brandon Browner on the other side, Breaux hasn't been targeted a ton in recent weeks, but he seems to have found a niche he's comfortable playing in. He still looks like he struggles with the faster pace of the NFL from time to time, but all in all he's been resilient for New Orleans.
Arbitrary Grade: B/B+
Kikaha is a player that gets his named called so often that it's very difficult to tell which plays he's even supposed to be involved in. It's a trite, tired cliche about LBs, but Kikaha has a true "nose for the ball." Interestingly, Kikaha's biggest knock appears to be that he struggles getting to the QB, sitting at 4 sacks, when that's what he was drafted for. Admittedly, this is a defense wide issue, but it starts with the individual. He also hasn't been relegated to rushing the passer every single play, with the Saints preferring to scheme around his athleticism. He has 48 tackles as a Jack, which isn't bad. It should also be noted that Kikaha was supposed to be used rotationally this year before the Junior Galette fiasco, so it isn't entirely fair to pin performance completely on Kikaha, but nonetheless it feels like he gets in the mix of a lot of plays, but has trouble closing.
Arbitrary Grade: C+
Anthony had by far the biggest responsibilities on the defense thrusted upon him from the moment that he entered the league. He was the signal caller of Rob Ryan's incredibly complex defense, and he was forced to play the Mike. Anthony has 92 tackles through 12 weeks, a pick and one sack. His biggest value lies in run defense. Keeping up the tradition of the Mike before him, Curtis Lofton, Anthony isn't overtly flashy, he just sticks to his gap and makes plays in his holes. His pass coverage and post snap reads leave something to be desired, as he tends to bite on play fakes, but Anthony has taken arguably the most difficult job in football and made it his own. He looks comfortable pre snap, but he tends to hesitate in game. This problem can be corrected with time, but with Joe Vitt doing the correcting Anthony may have a bit more trouble adjusting to the requirements of an NFL signal caller than most.
Arbitrary Grade: B-
Tyeler Davison/Bobby Richardson
I'm doing these two together because their work on the line complements each other. Davison and Richardson are two ends in a 3-4 defense, and they're part of a rotation. The Saints' front 7 play this year has been, frankly, horrifically bad, and it's hard to pinpoint just where the problem is. It could be the revolving door at NT, or it could be an inability for anyone to use their talents correctly. In any case, Richardson has shown flashes in the run game, and likewise in the passing game for Davison, but they just haven't seemed to put it all together yet. They may not be the core issue for the Saints' poor front play, but they certainly haven't stood out other.
Arbitrary Grade: C
This isn't to mention Saints' rookies that have been limited to injury (Damian Swann, PJ Williams) or players that were taken as projects (Andrus Peat), but the Saints' first draft under Jeff Ireland's supervision hasn't appeared to be a bad one. All of these players were cast into the fire, a fire with a historically terribly track record to boot, and they've been short of outstanding but long of deplorable. As they get better, hopefully Dennis Allen or whoever is managing the NO defense in the near future can grow with them.