We are beginning a new series here at Canal Street Chronicles where we will highlight some of the New Orleans Saints most promising undrafted free agents (UDFA) that were signed this offseason. We were able to sit down with SB Nation site managers and editors to get the inside scoop on each player’s time in college and how that may translate to their time in the NFL and competition for a roster spot. Up first is former Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie.
Ryan O’Bleness, managing editor of The Only Colors, was nice enough to take the time and help us dive into why Bachie was one of the highest paid UDFAs this offseason.
1. During Bachie’s time at Michigan State, what would you say were his biggest strengths?
Ryan O’Bleness: Joe Bachie had a decorated, productive career at Michigan State. He was a three-year starter and ranks in the top-22 in program history in both career tackles (285) and tackles for loss (27.5), and he also ranks sixth all-time in school history with five forced fumbles. Bachie was recognized with All-Big Ten honors three years in a row, including first-team All-Big Ten in 2018.
In terms of his strengths on the field, he’s fundamentally sound and brings disciplined technique to the NFL. Bachie is a strong tackler, and an instinctive player with a high football IQ. He has shown the ability time and again to read plays and flow to the football. He was also a team captain and leader at Michigan State. While his athleticism isn’t off the charts by any stretch of the imagination, he often made plays that would make you say “wow.” Bachie was a three-down linebacker at Michigan State, whose strengths are more as a run defender (especially at the NFL level, but he was adequate in pass coverage as well). He was absolutely a key cog in Michigan State’s highly-regarded defense each of the past few seasons (which ranked in the top-two in rushing defense and the top-10 in total defense in both 2017 and 2018, and ranked in the top-18 in both categories in 2019).
Here is a great example of an incredible play Bachie made in the 2018 season opener versus Utah State. Not only does Bachie tip the ball into the air on a pivotal third-down play, he also intercepts the ball to seal the win for the Spartans against an Aggies team that ended up finishing the year at 11-2.
2. How translatable do you think those strengths will be in the NFL?
I think a lot of the things mentioned above — good instincts, ability to read and react, high football IQ, ability to flow to the football and not often get washed out my blocks, etc., are all things that are going to transfer over and impress Sean Payton, Dennis Allen and the rest of the staff. He’s also going to always give 100 percent effort. Some of these things we talked about are the kind of intangible traits that should be coveted in rookies, as they often aren’t things that can be coached. Of course, Bachie has a lot to learn and much to improve upon at the NFL level if he plans to not only make a roster, but eventually make an impact, which I’ll get more into below. However, I like his fit in New Orleans’ 4-3 defensive scheme. Bachie likely isn’t a player who offers a lot of positional versatility — that is to say he’s probably not going to be making the transition to WILL or SAM on the outside any time soon. So he should be shooting for a backup or third-string MIKE linebacker role in the Saints’ 4-3 alignment, and that is where he will thrive. I think he has a good shot of making the team and can earn his keep as a special teams ace, while eventually working his way toward more playing time. For more on Bachie’s college accolades and NFL outlook, you can read his pre-draft profile from April.
3. What is the biggest hole in Bachie’s game that he will have to work on in order to make the Saints 53-man roster this coming season?
As mentioned, Bachie is much better as a run defender than a pass defender. He has average speed and could struggle keeping up with NFL athletes in the open field, which means he could easily be exposed in man coverage. He is much better suited to play zone concepts in passing defense. So, he probably doesn’t project as a three-down linebacker at the professional level, but should get some reps in base sets Like I said, he has somewhat average-to-decent athleticism, but not enough to stand out in the NFL. Some of this can be worked on in the weight room and through speed and conditioning training, but while he may improve a marginal amount, what you see is likely what you’re going to get in that area. He’s not really a rangy, sideline-to-sideline tackler, and he doesn’t have great length. Another thing scouts knocked him on was his change-of-direction ability, which is of course important for a linebacker. From a technique standpoint, he’s quite solid and with some NFL-level coaching, should remain strong in that area. It’s really more so things that are going to be more difficult to fix — he’s likely not going to get lengthier or noticeably more athletic, so he has to work with what he has.
4. What are some reasons you think NFL teams passed on Bachie in the NFL Draft?
Bachie was widely regarded as a Day Three selection and the word from several scouts and analysts was that Bachie was picking up some steam in the pre-draft process after impressing a lot of coaches with his knowledge of the game during private virtual meetings. So, I was surprised Bachie was not taken in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. As I am sure Saints fans are aware of by now, Bachie had taken and failed a PED test in late October. He was forced to miss the remainder of the season due to suspension. Bachie explained that this was caused by an over-the-counter pre-workout supplement that had some kind of banned ingredient in it that he was completely unaware of. Whether it was accidental or not, I think this may have been too big of a red flag for NFL teams to get over.
Additionally, while it’s not a detriment, some teams may have seen him as a bit undersized for a middle linebacker. He has good height at 6-foot-2, but only weighs about 230 pounds, which compared poorly to other 2020 linebackers, according to his Relative Athletic Score (RAS), although his overall score was considered “good.” The only other reason I could think of is possibly scheme fit. As I mentioned above, he’s best served in a 4-3 formation, and doesn’t offer a lot of positional flexibility, so certain teams may have passed.
5. Finally, are there any character or off-field issues that could prohibit him from succeeding in making an NFL team?
My answer is no, there should not be concerns about his character moving forward. I know that sounds counter-intuitive after the failed PED test, which undoubtedly raises some uncertainty about Bachie’s character (as it should), but I really don’t think Saints fans have anything to worry about. Maybe it was an over-the-counter supplement like he says it was, or maybe he willingly took it, but either way, Bachie has owned up to the mistake, apologizing multiple times for what happened, and won’t make that mistake again. He is a great locker room guy who was highly revered by his teammates at Michigan State. He was a captain as a senior, and a three-time member of Michigan State’s Eagles leadership council, which is a group of 12 players who are responsible for leading and guiding the entire roster, outside of the coaching staff. He is a high-effort, high-energy guy who will give it his all, and earn the respect of his teammates and coaches.
It is pretty clear that those who watched Bachie during his time were incredibly impressed by his performances. Clearly New Orleans liked the talent from the linebacker which prompted them to make a sizable investment of $160,000 in order to secure his signature.
With the failed PED test behind him, he should have the ability to compete for a place on the 53-man roster most likely as a special teams type guy. As most Saints fans are aware of, there seem to be chronic injury issues at the linebacker position. If Bachie impresses he could potentially find minutes on the defense in a backup role.
Do you think Joe Bachie will make the 53-man roster? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @KadeKistner and please give Ryan a follow @ryanobleness