Linebacker Alex Anzalone was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft out of the University of Florida. Some may argue his talent was worth a higher round pick, but his long history of injuries in college caused him to fall into the Saints’ lap.
Through four games as a rookie, Anzalone showed promise, but then a shoulder injury derailed the rest of his season and raised questions about his durability.
His sophomore season saw him play in all 16 games, and begin to take away snaps from linebacker A.J. Klein in nickel formations due to his coverage skills and sideline—to—sideline speed. This has been an area the team has needed an upgrade at since Jonathon Vilma retired, and between Anzalone and Demario Davis, this unit has become one of the strengths of the team.
Anzalone by the numbers
- Approximate Value: 4
- Pro Football Focus rank: 34 out of 92
- Overall Grade: 68.9
- Pass Rushing Grade: 74.7
- Run Defense Grade: 56.7
- Coverage Grade: 67.8
- Total Defensive Snaps: 486
Paired along Davis, the two combined to help the Saints’ reach the top 5 in rushing defense, a turnaround from the sub-par performance of the defense in that category last year.
For the season, Anzalone registered 59 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles and one interception.
Throughout the season, he displayed a knack for finding the ball and maintaining his gap integrity when playing the run.
His lone interception of the season came against the Los Angeles Rams in week 9, and showed off his athleticism and coverage skills.
While he was only able to register the one interception, Anzalone consistently displayed the coverage skills that flashed throughout his college career and helped him get drafted.
And of course we can’t forget about this forced fumble:
If his injury issues are behind him, Anzalone should remain a key member of this defensive unit for years to come. His recent play could give the team the option of cutting A.J Klein. in order to save $4 million in cap space.
Whatever moves the Saints plan to make this off-season, linebacker won’t be high on their list of priorities for the first time in a long time.