New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton has always had an affinity for players with NFL bloodlines. The father of defensive end Cameron Jordan is Steve Jordan, a Pro Bowl tight end for the Minnesota Vikings from 1982-94. Keyshawn Johnson, a Pro Bowl wideout for three different teams from 1996-2006, is the uncle of Saints All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas. Former Saints running back Mark Ingram is the son of former standout receiver for the Giants and Dolphins Mark Sr. Al Toon, All-Pro wideout for the New York Jets from 1985-92, is the father of former New Orleans receiver Nick Toon. Linden Stephens, an undrafted rookie in training camp last season and currently cornerback with the Denver Broncos, is the son of former NFL linebacker Mac Stephens. Vinnie Sunseri, a safety for the Saints in 2014, is the son of Sal Sunseri, who was a 1982 linebacker draftee of the Pittsburgh Steelers before his career was cut short by injury. Today we preview one of the newest Saints draft picks that add another branch to the New Orleans NFL family tree.
Kaden Elliss, LB (Idaho)
6'3 240 7th round (#244)
Kaden is the son of Detroit Lions Pro Bowl defensive lineman Luther Elliss, a 1995 first round draft pick who played until 2004. A native of Salt Lake City, UT, Kaden was the Utah high school most valuable player in 2013, starring as a quarterback and defensive end. After redshirting the 2014 season, Elliss quickly worked his way into the starting lineup, and finished second on the team with 83 tackles and 7.5 for loss. He led FBS linebackers with 5 interceptions in 2016 (returning one for a score), while recovering 2 fumbles, forcing 3 fumbles, recording 3 sacks and 8 tackles for loss. Elliss earned second team All-Sun Belt conference honors in 2017, recording 13 tackles for loss among his 71 stops, and adding 5 sacks and 2 fumbles forced. He was 1st team All-Sun Belt to finish his Idaho career in 2018, leading the Vandals with 16 stops for loss and 7 sacks, along with 3 passes defensed and 60 tackles. Elliss even contributed on the offensive side of the ball for the Vandals, catching 10 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns as a fill-in tight end over the '17 and '18 seasons.
Elliss was a versatile defender and team leader in college. He brings a high motor energy to the pros; taught the nuances of the position by father Luther, who was one of his defensive coaches at Idaho. Elliss has good upper body strength to take on blockers, and is a solid rusher from the edge with effective inside counter moves. He has good speed to pursue plays laterally, and possesses an explosive burst into the backfield. Elliss is a powerful tackler, also showing good fundamentals and angles while tracking down the ball. He will likely have to add bulk to realistically hold up as an every down defensive end, and as a linebacker he isn't very fluid in space or possess great change of direction off the ball. Elliss makes up for those shortcomings by having good recovery speed off the ball, and solid strength at the point at the line of scrimmage.
Kaden Elliss has a decent shot to make the New Orleans roster with a strong preseason performance and standout special teams play. With his pass rushing skills and tenacious run defense, he seems best suited for a linebacker/defensive end hybrid role. The Saints are set at the starting edge spots with All-Pro Cameron Jordan and last year's number one draft pick Marcus Davenport, but outside of 2017 3rd round pick Trey Hendrickson and free agent signee Mario Edwards Jr. are rather thin. The team's starting linebackers are as good as they've been in years, with Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone, and A.J. Klein, but don't have any proven depth behind versatile veteran Craig Robertson. Elliss may be able to give the Saints a versatile rotation option at each position, and one who possesses the football IQ and work ethic to possibly round into a valuable defensive piece and special teams contributor. And one that could add to the New Orleans Saints family lineage.