It’s pretty widely accepted that the New Orleans Saints are enjoying big returns on their 2016 NFL Draft class. First round draft pick Sheldon Rankins combined for 10.5-sacks with newly re-signed free agent Nick Fairley at defensive tackle. Second round picks and Ohio State Buckeyes Michael Thomas (NFL-leading 92-catches, 1,137-yards, and 9 touchdowns among rookies) and Vonn Bell, a steady presence at safety, look great so far. Other rookies like David Onyemata and Daniel Lasco found their way into prominent roles.
But enough has been written about each of those guys. I’m putting the microscope over some Saints who have been working hard under the radar, patiently waiting for their shot in training camp. This is the same tier of talent that Willie Snead, Delvin Breaux, and Tim Hightower came out of. The odds are stacked against them, but don’t tell them that.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round last year, Travis Feeney (6-foot-4, 226-pounds, 24-years old) initially tried to crack the roster as a backup and special teams contributor but couldn’t displace more experienced players like Vince Williams, Anthony Chickillo, Jarvis Jones, and James Harrison. Feeney was a college teammate of Saints fan-favorite Hau’oli Kikaha on the Washington Huskies and a leader of their defense, though multiple shoulder injuries shortened Feeney’s career and hurt his draft stock. A preseason concussion shut the door on Feeney’s chance of suiting up for the Steelers during the regular season.
The Saints must have liked what they saw in a predraft visit, because they signed him off of the Steelers’ practice squad and onto their active roster late in the season. Feeney is a sleeper to see action at outside linebacker for the Saints thanks to his combined athleticism, football I.Q., and versatility (he played every linebacker spot and safety for the Huskies). Even with A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o signed as free agents and Craig Robertson and Dannell Ellerbe looking to return to starting jobs, keep an eye out for Feeney as someone to work their way into the rotation.