The first round of the 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone and in typical Saints fashion they threw us all a curve ball with the pick of IOL Cesar Ruiz. Most of the media and fans alike had mocked a linebacker to the team in the first round and based on social media reactions many were upset that the team let LSU linebacker Patrick Queen slip through their grasp. Luckily though, they still have some intriguing options going into day 2.
Here are a few players at the position they could look to add to the roster.
The 6’2” 241-pound product from Wyoming has the prototypical size of a classic linebacker. Wilson has ample experience at the position playing over 2,500 snaps the past three seasons. His best attribute is his ability to stop the run, followed up as a blitzer. Wilson also has had good ball production registering ten interceptions in his college career.
While he has adequate sideline to sideline range for a player his size, he lacks the athleticism to be a true three-down backer in the NFL. Wilson was typically only asked to play in zone coverage where he was able to watch the quarterback but would occasionally be out of position allowing throws underneath. The defensive scheme at Wyoming didn’t have him playing man-to-man often so there are questions in his ability there.
Wilson could be a contributor out of the gate even if it’s only on early downs, but the team may want to go with someone more proven in pass coverage.
Willie Gay Jr.
An SEC prospect from Mississippi State who is similar in size to Wilson, Gay Jr. checks a lot of boxes required in today’s NFL when it comes to athleticism and coverage. He faced suspensions and injuries during his time at Mississippi State limiting him to only 632 snaps the past two seasons but did not disappoint once he got on the field.
Placing in the 99th percentile in the 40 yard dash with a time of 4.46 seconds makes him one of the fastest players at his position in this class. This speed can be seen when he’s in pass coverage where he excels with fluid hips that allows him to run with quicker tight ends. While his backpedal isn’t the smoothest and will take false steps occasionally that cause him to get washed out on run plays, Gay Jr. has the football IQ to quickly diagnose plays despite rarely seeing the field.
He has the length to take on blocks but seems to prefer to work around them instead of attacking head on and is more fast than quick, which limits his ability when playing the run.
If all of the prospect’s red flags are behind him he could prove to be a mid round steal, but with the limited amount of time to conduct personal interviews teams may be hesitant to pull the trigger.
One of the smaller linebackers in the class Davis-Gaither is built more like a safety weighing in at only 219 pounds, but he sure doesn’t play small. Has displayed smooth, fluid hips which results in an ability to match up with tight ends and running backs in coverage and was even tasked with playing as an overhang defender and in the slot while at Appalachian State .
Davis-Gaither’s lateral agility is also top notch and can be seen when scraping the edge or outrunning an offensive lineman when chasing down a running back or blitzing. While he may be able to outrun most linemen, his size gets him in trouble as he can be overpowered once engaged with them and doesn’t display the hand strength to consistently shed blocks.
He best projects as a sub-package player in nickel situations and may look to add some bulk to his frame in order to be a full time starter, but should immediately contribute on special teams. His versatility is what makes him an intriguing prospect (250 plus snaps at edge, in the box, and slot) but his “tweener” size may scare off some teams who are unsure how to best utilize his skillset.
The Saints always seem to target at least one Ohio State player and Harrison could be that guy this year. The biggest of the prospects on this list (6’3”, 246 pounds) Harrison is a handful for offensive lineman in one-on-ones where he uses his strong hands to shed blocks. His downhill style makes him an asset in the run game where he can overpower blockers to plug up holes as well as being an effective blitzer.
Harrison has steadily improved in coverage during his time in college but still leaves much to be desired in this area. His stiff hips and lack of fluidity limits his appeal matching up in man, while his lack of short area quickness doesn’t bode well for zone coverage either. Harrison has also shown slow processing speed which allows routes to develop behind him and will give up plays due to this.
All in all Harrison can become an every down contributor if he can improve his coverage ability and processing speed, but in the meantime he may be best as a depth player that can contribute on early downs.