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New Orleans Saints 2018 position grades: Linebacker

The most improved position on the team in 2018 invoked some memories of past Saints greats.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints linebackers were mostly abysmal between 2012-2016. The group provided very few impact plays for the defense, and were athletically overmatched against nearly every opponent. Too often this unit was seen woefully trailing behind an opposing running back or tight end in the open field in giving up a big play at crucial moments. That began to change last season with a draft pick and smart free agent signing, then was bolstered this season by one of the better free agent additions in team history. Let's have a look at how this position group influenced the fortunes of the 2018 Saints.


Pittsburgh Steelers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Saints acquisition of Demario Davis last spring was one of the best free agent signings throughout the league last season, and one of the best in Saints franchise history. The 30-yr. old seven year veteran instantly upgraded the entire New Orleans defense. He played every linebacking spot, though playing most often on the weak side or middle. He gave the team an every down defender, playing 85% of the defensive snaps. Davis led the Saints with 110 tackles, his sixth straight season with 89 or more stops. He forced two fumbles, recovered one, and racked up 11 tackles for loss. Davis provided very good pressure on the quarterback, tying his career high in sacks with five and adding 11 quarterback hits. He matched up well in coverage also, credited with 4 passes defensed and quickly snuffing out throws to running backs and tight ends. Davis was vital as the team's best run defender, and propelled the Saints to one of the league's best run defenses. He is an intimidating hitter and athletic defender who stepped into an immediate leadership role with the Saints, and has given New Orleans an every down playmaker at linebacker that they haven't had in quite some time.

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

A.J. Klein took on a versatile role for the defense in his second season with the team, playing both inside and outside. His 70 tackles were third on the team and a career best, including a career high 7 tackles for loss. Klein added 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception. He is an excellent run defender, and provided adequate pass coverage while proving to be a capable blitzer. Klein is a hard-nosed linebacker who flies to the ball with underrated athletic ability. He has excellent understanding of opposing offenses, as well as his own defensive schemes.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The second of the team's three 3rd round picks of their incredible 2017 draft, 76th overall, Alex Anzalone bounced back nicely from a shoulder injury that derailed a promising rookie year. He is an outstanding athlete, able to stay with the most athletic backs or tight ends, as well as exploding into an offensive backfield. He provided one of the defensive highlights of the year, with an acrobatic interception in a midseason victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Anzalone had 59 tackles on the year, including 3 for loss. He forced 3 fumbles and notched 2 quarterback sacks, adding 6 more qb hits. Anzalone's athleticism is a major asset to the Saints defense, and he is becoming a force at linebacker as he learns the intricacies of NFL offenses.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

One of the few bright spots of the linebacking corps in 2016 was Craig Robertson. He was the team's leading tackler in '16, and had the second most tackles a year ago. Roberson was relegated to a depth role last season due to the play of Davis, Anzalone, and Klein. He has shown the ability to play any of the linebacking positions though, and is a vital part of the special teams unit as well as a valuable team leader. Manti Te'o was another who played well filling in during 2017, but relegated to a lesser role last year. Te'o is limited against the pass, but is solid against the run. Both players are slated to become unrestricted free agents in March. The Saints added Vince Biegel during the season for special teams needs, but Biegel was re-signed for 2019 in hopes of adding to the squad's depth.

Divisional Round - Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Davis is a bonafide playmaker, and one of the key parts of this Saints defense. Anzalone has the looks of a potentially very good linebacker, while Klein made some important plays in 2018. Roberson would be a big loss to depth and special teams if he does leave via free agency, leaving the possibility that the team may look to add another athletic linebacker through the draft or a free agent signing. These linebackers may not have been quite as intimidating as the famous Dome Patrol units of the late 1980's and early 1990's, or even quite as productive as the team's linebackers in the early 2000's. The Saints improvements at the position this past season though vaulted them to a team that can win games on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football.



How would you grade the Saints linebackers in 2018?

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315 votes total Vote Now