Weakside Linebacker Spot A Priority For Saints In The Draft


What the New Orleans Saints should do in the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft is being debated with more ferocity, as the team winds down their remaining two games for the season.

Alright let’s be honest, this was being discussed weeks back as the team went into full death spiral mode after bookending two losses before and after their bye week.

The Saints are currently projected to have a top ten pick in the draft (at ninth overall right now) and might sneak higher in the draft if they drop their last two remaining games.

The pros and cons of the team having such a “prized” position is up for interpretation:  the Saints would be able to land a possible immediate impact player, yet their track record in drafting the last 4-5 seasons hasn’t been great (yeah, and with the selection of Stanley Jean-Baptiste, we weren’t exactly smiling too much either).

Jun 10, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (33) during minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints seem to take the opposite approach that some teams do during the offseason; which is sign free agents to help compliment their roster and not treat them as the future building blocks.

Franchise quarterbacks like Drew Brees that’s understandable, but big misses(with big contracts to boot) like running back C.J. Spiller make the Saints look like they’re in desperation mode at filling out the roster.

Good, dare I say great teams like the New England Patriots, use the draft to build quality depth behind starters while making low risk moves in free agency.

Lack of depth combined with injuries is what has hamstrung the Saints this season and we’ve seen that with a constant Monte Carlo shell game being played on the offensive line, secondary, linebacking corps, etc., etc.

I’ve said before that my thoughts on what the Saints need have fluctuated from week to week mainly due to the aforementioned lack of depth.

Heading into the offseason it’s pretty clear that the Saints need a solid starter at weakside linebacker to help strengthen the front seven.

Jun 17, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (59) and nose tackle John Jenkins (92) during minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I was leaning towards pass rusher since it looks like at times the defensive line was taking ballroom dancing classes but current “starting” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe helped solidify the decision.

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Brought in via the offseason trade with the Miami Dolphins, I see now why they were so eager to get rid of him.

Ellerbe had great promise after taking over for an injured Ray Lewis during the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl run and had 92 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.

He parlayed that into a big contract for the Dolphins as a free agent in 2013 and had a career high 101 total tackles along with one sack, and two interceptions.

But then this is where Ellerbe’s injury concerns started and he missed almost all the 2014 season with an injury and the trend has continued with his stint in New Orleans.

So far this season he has managed to be active for only six games and is declared to be out for the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Dec 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Charles Sims (34) is tackled by New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (59) during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Behind Ellerbe is Ramon Humber and James Anderson, with both seeing some playing time in Ellerbe’s absence.

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Humber and Anderson could be considered serviceable but that’s not what the Saints need at the position, especially when it’s uncertain if the Saints will hang on to either player at the end of the season.

And if you have to ask about plugging David “The Heater” Hawthorne in at the spot then you haven’t been watching his tenure as a Saint that closely then.

No the Saints need some quality depth at weakside linebacker and it should be their main priority heading into this offseason.

If the Saints were to get into the upper echelon of the draft order, one name that has been circulated is Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith that in some mock drafts has been predicted to go within the first ten picks easily.

Other names that have been getting mentioned is UCLA’s Myles Jack and Georgia’s Leonard Floyd, although Jack’s is rehabbing from injury and Floyd might be a reach in the first round.

Sep 12, 2015; Jonesboro, AR, USA; Arkansas State Red Wolves wide receiver Dijon Pachal (84) fights for the ball as Missouri Tigers linebacker Kentrell Brothers (10) strips it for an interception in the fourth quarter at ASU Stadium. Missouri defeated Arkansas State 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

A sleeper that could interest the Saints is someone like Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers whom Big Easy Believer’s editor Barry Hirstius has mentioned in a mock draft as well as a possible rebuilding block of the linebacking corps.

Of course as Barry mentioned with Brothers, he’s currently projected to go between the second and third round of the upcoming draft and if the Saints can get a crack at someone like Smith then they should sprint and then dive to the podium with the selection card.

Thankfully the Saints look to have had a decent draft this year and it’s something they need to follow with weakside linebacker at the forefront.

Ellerbe will hopefully be healthy going into the 2016 season and the team MUST have quality depth if he isn’t, otherwise the issues that plagued the Saints this season will continue to haunt them…..