Covering running backs and tight ends have been a big problem for the Saints for several years now. Almost none of their linebackers have had the athleticism and the sideline-to-sideline speed needed, and the one that had (Dannell Ellerbe) could never stay healthy and is set to be cut as soon as possible.
To help fix this issue, the Saints drafted Alex Anzalone in the 3rd round of this year's draft. And at this early stage, it's looking like a good decision.
Anzalone has played really well throughout camp and has shown up in the running game - and maybe more importantly in the passing game, where he has been tasked with covering running backs and tight ends. Furthermore, he also had a great showing against the Browns where he finished with 3 tackles. To explain how good Anzalone played, here is what Pro Football Focus had to say about his performance.
LB Alex Anzalone, 84.3 overall grade
Equally adept at stopping the run and dropping in coverage, rookie Alex Anzalone impressed in his 39 snaps. The former Florida Gator allowed just five yards on three targets as he showed solid ability to close on underneath throws. He only faced nine run plays but showed good ability to cut off running lanes, earning a team-high 81.4 run defense grade.
Anzalone showed sideline-to-sideline speed and range and he had some really impressive snaps. Here is one of them.
I really like this play by Anzalone! pic.twitter.com/L7TkuJj3SU— Christian Lok (@Lok12Lok) August 15, 2017
As you can see, Anzalone's athletic ability allows him to chase the ball and tip it, which resulted in an incompletion. Had the pass been completed the Browns would have been in field goal range with only a few seconds left in the 2nd quarter.
This was definitely Anzalone's most impressive play of the night, but when you take a look at the film, he just looks solid in coverage throughout the entire game. He stays with his man and is aware when playing zone coverage. In a sense, it’s exactly what you want from an outside linebacker playing in a Dennis Allen defense.
It's still early and we don't know what will happen over the next couple of weeks, but Alex Anzalone is off to a strong start. If he can continue and stay healthy, he could very well become a starting linebacker on the Saints defense.