The New Orleans Saints look like they’re ready to address cornerback in the first round. However, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL Draft. If all of their top corner prospects are off the board, they may shift focus to another position of need: linebacker.
After losing Kwon Alexander and Alex Anzalone this offseason, the Saints have a hole beside Demario Davis on defense. Luckily there are some great candidates to fill that void over the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.
Zaven Collins - Tulsa
The NFL Draft moves quickly. Sometimes players fall in or out of favor in a matter of days. That’s sort of happened for me when it comes to Zaven Collins. He’s reportedly bulked up a bit (up to 270 pounds), looking to reach defensive end size. That may knock him down some boards that view him as an off-ball linebacker as his primary focus potentially shifts to a different position.
Prior to that bulk up, Collins was basically my draft crush. At the time a 6’4” 260-pound unicorn of a defender who had the athleticism of a modern day linebacker despite his classic positional size. One that could cover, play against the run, and rush the passer with his hand in the dirt. I liked him a ton as an option to play WILL downs one and two before being asked to sporadically put his hand in the dirt on third down. Imagine him lining up opposite Marcus Davenport in NASCAR packages with Cam Jordan on the inside.
A dream come true.
Taking care of multiple needs with just one player is always a benefit, and to the Saints, versatility is a love language.
However now, if he’s turned his focus and preparation to being an edge rusher, the dream may have come to a screeching halt. So, even though I sing his praises in the video above, the caveat comes down to newly circulating questions about his position.
I’m beginning to substitute Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah here who could play WILL this season and wreak havoc in the middle of the field before eventually transitioning to Malcolm Jenkins’s hybrid safety role when his time in New Orleans comes to an end. That also buys Zack Baun some time in the tricky transition from pass rusher to off-ball linebacker.
Jabril Cox - LSU
I don’t evaluate helmets, so the fact that he’s an LSU Tiger doesn’t mean anything to me. However, the fact that he’s a proficient coverage linebacker who’s active in the run game, can blitz from the second level, and dominated at the FCS level before making his mark in the SEC is very appealing.
He’s a very experienced linebacker with 55 collegiate games under his belt and a lot of success in them including 26 passes defended and 9 interceptions.
He was dealing with a left hamstring strain this offseason and was unable to test at LSU’s mid-March Pro Day, but was able to hold his own this week.
Linebacker Jabril Cox is holding his own Pro Day after missing #LSU's due to a hamstring strain. Measured 6-3, 5/8 and weighed 233. His workouts so far:— Brooks Kubena (@BKubena) April 26, 2021
40-yard dash: 4.54(u)
Broad jump: 10-3
The numbers are good for a versatile linebacker, especially when he was expected to run in the 4.63 range. His 9.73u RAS score also bodes well in terms of the athletic profiles the Saints tend to like.
But beyond the numbers, there were some interesting tidbits Brooke Kirchhofer of BRProud shared with me on Tuesday’s Locked On Saints. Brooke mentioned that one of the Saints defensive coaches (either Ryan Nielsen or Michael Hodges) worked with Cox extensively throughout his Pro Day.
Reportedly, Cox worked almost exclusively with Saints personnel when it came to on-field drills and he handled it with great poise while also performing well. This is tough to do when you’re the only player participating in the Pro Day.
That type of confidence and evaluation on the mental side of the game is something you can only see in the moment and in person. One of the aspects that’s made scouting so challenging this year (and last) is connecting on that level with prospects via Zoom. Nothing replaces the in-person evaluation. And it sounds like the LSU linebacker knocked that part out of the park.
I’m not sure if Cox has done enough to raise his profile from what I imagine is heavily already a second-round grade. But that may be all he needs as a top-five linebacker in this class. Teams usually only have about 20 first-round grades, so the bottom of day one sometimes becomes about getting “the guy” a team thinks might not be there when they select again on day two.
Baron Browning - Ohio State
Again, don’t want to scout the helmet, so I’m not too concerned about the Ohio State connection here. I truly think Baron Browning is a fringe day one guy who could also end up being third round pick. His market runs hot and colt depending upon who you’re speaking to, but he has a lot of the necessary tools the Saints are looking for at the position.
At 6’3” and 245 pounds, he has great, pro linebacker size. His 4.55 speed is enough to benefit a second level player, and his 40” vertical along with 10’10” broad jump show a ton of explosion. He helped himself out by running a sub-seven second 3-cone drill as well, showing short-area quickness.
He’s the type of linebacker that can play in coverage, rush the passer, and play in multiple linebacker spots. So again, if the game is versatility, the Saints have a ton of options.
My Pick - Jabril Cox
The draft moves fast. I’m differing from my video above here and taking Jabril Cox out of this three. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could have been the selection as well, but I decided to play by the rules.
If Zaven Collins’s focus truly does shift to edge rusher, then I can’t rightfully pick him as my favorite linebacker. So, I’ll go with LSU’s Jabril Cox. Natural ball skills, impressive athleticism, trustworthy instincts, a ton of experience, and comforting intangibles to tie it all together. Add all of that into the physical profile he brings to the table and he’s a hard prospect to pass up.
Which linebacker do you like best in this year’s draft? 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 @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints.