Projecting LSU players to the New Orleans Saints is often folly, as it’s in fact more likely that they’ll go to an NFC South rival. With Deion Jones in Atlanta and Devin White in Tampa Bay, it’s entirely possible that Patrick Queen ends up in Carolina to continue to spite Louisiana football fans. However, if Queen is available for the Saints, he would be an intriguing prospect for Sean Payton.
One of the risks of drafting a linebacker is that the Saints lost linebacker coach Mike Nolan to the defensive coordinator position with the Cowboys. Michael Hodges was promoted from the assistant linebackers coach job this year, so the Saints are hoping not to miss a beat in LB development. However, it is another an added dimension to any linebacker evaluation this season.
Queen brings plenty of raw talent to the table. He ran a 4.5 at the combine and his vertical was 35 inches. The Louisiana native was a key part of LSU’s underrated defense last season, logging 85 tackles and 12 for loss. His three sacks also prove promising for the Saints, who love to blitz linebackers in later downs.
The biggest drawback with Queen is a limited pool of games to look at. He played in 15 games last year, and he saw massive jumps from his 2018 campaign. While that’s ultimately good, it can also be a false positive.
One of Queen’s better games came in the CFP semifinals against Oklahoma. No. 8 read plays well and reacted effectively, which is something the Saints need alongside Demario Davis. Depth at linebacker is a concern, so an early pick could start to address that depth.
This play would be a good example of Queen diagnosing a play and breaking it up. In an offense full of window-dressing, it can be hard to keep track. Oklahoma pulls its tackle and guard on a trap play, but Queen quickly hits his gap and breaks this play up before it can started. As a result, Oklahoma finds itself in 3rd and long on the first possession of the game.
The real reason teams will want to take a long look at Queen, however, is for plays like this.
Oklahoma tried time and time again to quick-snap LSU, and on this play the Sooners caught the Tigers out of position. With LSU out of formation at the line, Queen (circled before the play) chases Oklahoma’s running back across the formation and takes away his angle. While he didn’t get the tackle on this play, he was able to help prevent a big gain.
In coverage, meanwhile, Queen can be a bit slower on the draw.
It goes without saying that Queen gets a bit of leeway going up against Devin Duvernay, Texas’ No. 1 receiver. However, the issue is how long it takes him to figure out what is going on in this play in zone coverage.
LSU’s cornerbacks are bailing out in zone on this second and long, leaving Queen responsible for the far third of the field underneath.
As Duvernay starts to break out into his route, Sam Ehlinger is telegraphing a pass to the right side of the field. Queen has not yet identified Duvernay’s route, and instead has his eyes firmly fixated on Ehlinger.
The result is an easy first down for Texas on 2nd and long. If Queen recognized this play earlier and got beat by a wide receiver, that would be completely acceptable. But looking into the backfield too long in a Cover 3 or Cover 4 defense is a good way to give up easy yardage. That’s bad news at the NFL level where quarterbacks can pick apart zone coverage with relative ease.
The common thread that I see with Queen is an outstanding ability to diagnose whether a play is a run or pass. When it’s run, he can stay in his gap and make a play as well as any linebacker in this draft. When it’s pass, however, he can at times appear tentative and nervous to commit to a play.
The biggest issue with drafting Queen is that he at times feels like redux of Davis. He plays the run and blitzes with fluidity, he shares a position with Davis, and he knows how to stay disciplined. But the Saints don’t need another Davis — they need a complement for him.
If Sean Payton and Dennis Allen believe Hodges will ultimately be at the level Nolan was in development, then Queen could be a phenomenal pick. They would have to ask him to play out of position, which is nerve-wracking for rookies, but Queen has the talent for it. His decision-making in the passing game is arguably his biggest red flag.
Allen is a big fan of stunts and blitzes in later downs, particularly with his linebackers. His playbook would be extremely demanding of a young player like Queen. But Queen’s issue isn’t his eyes on the field — it’s ultimately how much he trusts those eyes.
Much like Kenneth Murray, there’s a good chance the Saints would have to move up for Queen, which raises the question: Is he worth it? Long-term, he very well could be. He’s closer physically to a linebacker that could dominate the league for a long time. Queen’s adaptability would be tested early, so it ultimately comes down to how much he can be trusted to do something different in New Orleans.