I absolutely love Hau’oli Kikaha.
He was one of the players I looked at during the 2015 draft season and immediately pegged as a future Saint. Following the whole Junior Galette debacle, I figured New Orleans would be in the running for a similar style player with a much MUCH cleaner background.
Low and behold, the draft came around, and after watching guys like Shane Ray and Randy Gregory slide due to off-field concerns the Saints stepped up to the podium and selected the 6-foot-3, 249-pound pass rusher with the 44th overall pick of the 2nd round.
Wearing No. 44, which I assume was no coincidence, things started out with a splash as Kikaha proved to have a knack for the big play. He accumulated 4.0 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in his first six games before an ankle injury derailed what had the makings of a very promising rookie season. He’d eventually go on to finish with 55 tackles, 4.0 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles in 15 games but with no sacks coming after the Week 7 game vs. the Colts.
Still, expectations were high going into his sophomore year when suddenly calamity reared its grotesque face as he suffered his third documented ACL during offseason OTAs.
Kikaha fought back tooth and nail to make a full recovery, but hasn’t been able to capture the same magic, bringing us to 2018 where the Saints have moved the former defensive end to linebacker to compete for the backup Sam LB position behind incumbent starter A.J. Klein.
#Saints depth battle to watch for Friday:— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) August 14, 2018
OLB/DE (EDGE): J. Elliott (saw 16 D snaps & 10 on ST) vs H. Kikaha (26D/0ST)
Elliott went against the lesser talent, but he produced, while also contributing on ST. He's not PS eligible so he'd have to make the 53. Could he unseat HK?
This in itself breeds a slight dilemma as Dennis Allen’s defense (much like we saw when he took over for Rob Ryan) tends to use the Sam LB as a traditional off-ball LB. The responsibilities of this role don’t necessarily play to the strengths of Kikaha, who is more of an on-ball Sam LB that can set an edge, chase down plays from the backside, and give you pass rushing snaps on 3rd down.
Complicating matters further is the fact that the former Washington Huskie doesn’t provide much in the way of special teams value, as noted by Deuce above.
Going into his contract year, Kikaha also curiously made a representation swap to Drew Rosenhaus, suggesting he’s looking to get paid. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think it would be hard to put Rosenhaus to good use as a backup and part time subpackage player.
This could all become moot in the very near future, but it certainly looked like the Saints were showcasing him during the preseason game vs. the Jaguars. With that being said, there are two variables that could make it harder to unload Kikaha. (A) The suspected availability of Khalil Mack, and (B) the recent Alex Okafor injury could up his stock.
Still, this is certainly something to keep an eye on as the pre-season winds down and decisions on who makes the final 53 have to be made.