One of the things that the New Orleans Saints are known for is having perhaps the most dominant linebacking groups in NFL history in the Dome Patrol. The intimidating foursome of Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson, should-be Hall of Famers Pat Swilling and Sam Mills, along with Vaughan Johnson terrorized NFL offenses through the mid-1980's into the 90's, and has been one of the defining marks of the New Orleans franchise. The Saints have turned out a couple of very good linebackers since the breakup of the Dome Patrol, but the unit as a whole has never matched up to their exploits. The linebacking corps was actually a major team weakness between 2014-17, providing very little pass rushing pressure, struggling in pass coverage, and being a step behind many run plays. The same could be said about the struggles that the team had at the edge position opposite All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan. Both of those issues were largely rectified last season. The Saints drafted end Marcus Davenport with the 14th overall selection last year, who showed the potential to be a force. New Orleans also signed linebacker Demario Davis in free agency, who combined with Alex Anzalone and A.J. Klein to give them their most athletic and disruptive linebacking unit in years. While the starters are solid at these spots, the Saints still have some question marks about depth at the positions. One solution could come from a longtime collegiate football factory, and the subject of today's undrafted rookie profile
Porter Gustin, EDGE (U.S.C.)
Gustin, who comes from a highly athletic family, came to U.S.C. as a 1st team national high school All-American out of Salem Hills High School in Utah. He reminded some Trojan fans of former Southern Cal and current NFL star linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., not just with his long flowing blond hair but also his achievements on the gridiron. He performed well as a freshman in 2015, appearing in 11 games with two starts, and compiling 5.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss. Gustin flashed star potential in 2016, finishing with 13 tackles for loss among 68 stops, 5.5 sacks, and 4 passes defensed. U.S.C. fans expected a breakout season from Gustin in 2017, but he was limited to only four games due to biceps and foot injuries, although he did have 3 sacks in his four contests. The injury bug bit him again as a senior, suffering a broken ankle that ended his 2018 season after only six games. Despite the shortened season, Gustin was still voted to the All-PAC 12 2nd team, and finished with 7.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, and 10 tackles for loss. He showcased solid athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. His 4.69 second 40-yd dash, 35.5 vertical jump, and 119 inch broad jump all ranked within the top 10 of participating edge rushers, while his 31 bench press reps were more than any other participant at the position. He finished his career at Southern California with 21 sacks and 33 tackles for loss.
Porter Gustin is a high motor player who has very good strength at the point of attack. He gets opposing offensive tackles on their heels quickly with his upper body strength and movement, and keeps fighting for leverage until the whistle to end the play. He maintains a solid base throughout a play, and is often able to push his blocker into the backfield to create disruption. Gustin crashes down inside well to shut off running gaps. He possesses good field awareness, adusts well to a ball carrier's change of direction, and is rarely fooled by misdirection. He creates pressure on the quarterback with a relentless motor, getting many of his sacks by muscling a blocker backwards and wiggling free to the passer. He hits through his target well as a tackler, and exhibits solid fundamentals as he wraps up.
Gustin isn't a dynamic edge rusher, in spite of his collegiate production. He doesn't possess great bend around the edge, providing most of his pressures through sheer power and determination. Despite his above average athleticism, he tends to struggle in space, and doesn't have quick twitch change of direction ability. Gustin has little experience in pass coverage. He's too tight hipped to stay with most backs or tight ends in man coverage, and often looks lost when he drops off the ball into zones.
Gustin's injury history is a major concern, and much of the reason he went undrafted. He played in just 10 games in his last two seasons with U.S.C. Given his pass coverage limitations, Gustin most likely projects to defensive end initially, or a stand-up rush end in passing situations. His strength at the point of attack as well as his nonstop motor and high intensity makes him a possible rotational player useful against the run or pass. The Saints are set with Jordan and Davenport at ends, as well as a talented linebacker foursome in Davis, Anzalone, Klein, and Craig Robertson. Gustin could very well push Trey Hendrickson for a depth spot at defensive end though behind versatile free agent signee Mario Edwards Jr., who could play either end or tackle positions. Gustin's athleticism could give him the versatility to fill out the depth chart at outside linebacker as well. If he can put his injury struggles of the previous two seasons in the past, Porter Gustin has the NFL caliber ability to make every other team regret passing up the opportunity to draft him.