Early in the offseason, the Saints parted ways with some of their veteran linebackers including David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber. Both players filled key roles on either defense or special teams, but neither had been particularly productive in their last few seasons in New Orleans. Linebacker is a position that the Saints know they have to improve at from top to bottom, and on paper they look as though they have done just that.
The Saints have cast a wide net at linebacker. Since the season ended, they have added seven new players at the position. One of whom is undrafted free agent rookie Dillon Lee of Alabama. The Buford, Ga. native stands a solid 6-foot-4, 242 lbs. meaning he certainly has the size to play in the big leagues. He racked up 68 career tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery, and three interceptions.
Lee committed to Alabama as a four-star recruit according to 247sports and appeared in 50 games for the Crimson Tide over his career. He never carved out a full-time role on defense as he competed with guys like Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster, C.J. Mosley, and Tim Williams, but he made his impact felt in different ways.
His biggest impact in college came as a special teams ace, which is precisely the impact he is hoping to make as a pro. Almost as soon as he arrived on campus, Lee played a key role on special teams. By the start of his sophomore season he was a stalwart on multiple special teams units. His play on those units earned him multiple Alabama Special Teams Player of the Week awards.
Lee did get some time on defense though, and he showed off his coverage chops on several occasions. His most impressive play was in the 2015 Cotton Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans when he picked off a Connor Cook pass one-handed.
Lee has the ability to bang in the run game by disengaging from blockers and sifting through traffic in the trenches. He is a smart player that relies more on his instincts than merely his athleticism.
That is a good thing because Lee is not the most athletic player. His acrobatic interception looks incredible, but his Pro Day numbers were just average. He was timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.78 seconds, posted a 31-inch vertical jump, recorded a 9’5″ broad jump and bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times.
As for his character, Lee is a coach’s dream. He has been praised by his coaches for his work ethic and competitive nature. The only blemish on his record is a DUI he received in 2014 that he has, by all accounts, learned from.
James Laurinaitis, Nathan Stupar, and Craig Robertson are all on the roster with the expectation that they will play integral roles on either defense or special teams. Laurinaitis is the new starting MIKE while Stupar and Robertson will compete with Dannell Ellerbe for the WILL position in Dennis Allen’s defense. It is more likely that those two play situational roles on defense and make their real marks on special teams. The same goes for Michael Mauti and Davis Tull.
Dillon Lee faces an uphill battle to make the squad based on who he has to beat out, but if there is anything in his favor it is that he has been in this position his whole career. He aced his way to a role with the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide, and now he aims to ace his latest test in the NFL.