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Saints Linebackers Could Struggle in 2018

The Saints have a lot of questions at the position.

New Orleans Saints v Miami Dolphins Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

FRS Football ranked each position group among all four teams in the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints topped out in the obvious categories: Quarterback and Running Back. In a surprise, the Saints only came in second at Cornerback to the Atlanta Falcons. But in a position group where it’s no surprise to see the Saints: the Saints group of linebackers came in at the bottom of the NFC South.

I’ll still give the Panthers first place in the South linebacker rankings, but Kuechly and Davis could be on the decline. David is a stud, while Alexander is still working toward his peak as a player. Time will tell if he can get there. Jones was the best linebacker in the division last year, and Campbell has shown some improvements. The Saints have adequate talent at linebacker, with the oft-injured Anzalone the one with the highest ceiling.

At the same time, it is recognized by many that the Saints high-floor players bring a lot of question marks. From Bleacher Report:

The Saints signed A.J. Klein to build on his history as a backup linebacker for Luke Kuechly. Klein didn’t have Kuechly’s athleticism or supernatural field-reading abilities, and he couldn’t match Kuechly’s pass-coverage abilities, but he was a decent enough run-stopper to seemingly make this deal reasonable.

But Klein was one of the seasonlong disappointments in a defense that improved drastically from the start of the year. Not only did he continue to struggle in coverage, but he also had problems getting to outside runners when he was placed closer to the line of scrimmage. And against receivers in the flat and up the seam, he looked out of place far more than he should have.

How he’ll fit into the New Orleans defense in 2018 remains a mystery, but of all the players on this list, Klein may need the most improvement in performance if he’s to avoid disappointment status.

Behind Klein are players like Manti Te’o, Craig Robertson, and he of the uncertain future: Hau’oli Kikaha.

Linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha lost ground as a starter after 2015, his rookie season, thanks to injuries. The talented pass-rusher has logged eight career sacks in 27 games and may have an issue finding a defined role. As such, he sits on the team’s roster bubble.

The Saints planned to utilize Kikaha as a full-time defensive end during the 2016 campaign before he tore his ACL for the third time. He continued to show his pass-rushing skills the previous year but only played 209 snaps in a backup role and landed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

A.J. Klein will likely hold the strong-side linebacker spot. New Orleans re-signed edge-rusher Alex Okafor and moved up to draft defensive end Marcus Davenport at No. 14 overall. Where does that leave Kikaha?

Clearly, the front office isn’t expecting much from the 26-year-old, who must find a way to impress in a rotational role. A nondescript showing through training camp may encourage the team to reserve Kikaha’s roster spot for a standout at another position.

So do you agree? Do you think the Saints Linebackers, specifically players like Kikaha and Klein, can step up in 2018? Let us know in the comments. Send me presents.