The New Orleans Saints entered the 2019 season with a linebacking unit considered their best in the Sean Payton era. The unit, long considered a team weakness, has been retooled with a third round draft pick in 2017 (Alex Anzalone) and two free agent signings in Demario Davis and A.J. Klein. Anzalone was lost early in 2019 with injury, but the team's linebackers performed up to task for the majority of the season. Much of the reason for that was due to the performance of today's year in review: A.J. Klein.
A.J. Klein was signed as a free agent by the Saints in 2017 away from division rival Carolina, where he had played for the first four years of his career. After being a key reserve and spot starter at linebacker for the Panthers, Klein was an immediate starter for the Saints defense. He had 2 sacks, 54 tackles (6 for loss), 4 passes defensed, and a forced fumble in twelve starts with New Orleans in 2017.
Klein would start 15 games for the Saints in 2018, playing a key role for one of the league's most improved defenses. The 6'1 240-Lb linebacker would finish that season with 70 tackles, including 7 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception.
The 28-Yr old Klein was one of the Saints most underrated defensive players in 2019. He had a career high 2.5 sacks and 7 quarterback pressures to go along with 67 tackles, six of those for loss. Klein was also credited with two passes defensed, forced a fumble, had a fumble recovery, and intercepted a pass which he returned for an important score in a road victory over the Panthers.
Klein is not strong in man coverage because of limited athleticism, but was still a valuable tool in the Saints pass defense. He is both smart in his coverage drops and has proven to be a skillful blitzer. Klein's biggest strength is his read-and-react ability as a run defender. He consistently knifed between opposing blockers to make a play on running backs at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield, helping fuel the Saints 4th ranked run defense. A.J. Klein is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but New Orleans is expected to make a strong push to re-sign him. He has been a vital part of a Saints defense that has become one of the better units in the NFL over the last three seasons.