The New Orleans Saints have been without a LONG TERM answer at the middle linebacker spot for some time now!
In this article, I’ll breakdown the spot in recent history. And I’ll give you my humble take on this year’s contestants on “Who’s The Man In The Middle of the Defense for The New Orleans Saints”.
Over the last three years the Saints have been searching for the “man in the middle”. Let’s go back to 2014. The Saints added former Atlanta Falcon inside linebacker Curtis Lofton who occupied the spot for three seasons (2012-2014). Lofton compiled, according to NFL stats, 392 tackles & 3 sacks over 48 games played for New Orleans.
The Saints eventually felt that Loften became a liability in the passing game. And they wanted someone who could cover the passing & running game’s equally well.
The 2015 Saints then drafted a 6-3 245 lb. linebacker out of the University of Clemson in the first round by the name of Stephone Anthony. The only thing Stephone Anthony did was to come in as a rookie: start 16 games, broke HOFer Ricky Jackson’s rookie tackle record with 142 , 1 sack, 1 interception & 2 forced fumbles.
In 2016, the second-year Anthony fell out a favor with Coach Payton. Through free agency the Saints sign former St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. It should be noted that the Saints were going through changes at the defensive coordinator position, with the removal of Rob Ryan & the promotion of Dennis Allen from special assistant.
The Saints hoped to get a healthy Laurinaitis who could come in & stabilize the position. The 2016 training camp looked good as Brees & Laurinaitis dueled IQ wise on the field. But when the season started the linebackers health didn’t stand up. The 2016 stat line for James Laurinaitis was 5 games, 17 total tackles, 1 fumble recovery before succumbing to injury & release.
During that same 2016 free agency period, the Saints signed former Cleveland Brown versatile linebacker Craig Robertson as a backup option, which turned out to be a good investment. The deal Robertson signed with the Saints was for three year $5 million.
Craig Robertson then played in 15 games, recorded a combined 115 tackles, 2 forced fumbles & 1 interception. The Saints then felt hey were not quite satisfied with Robertson then proceeded to sign & draft help in 2017.
The Saints during the 2017 free agency period signed former Carolina Panther multi-purpose linebacker A.J. Klein & former Charger & Notre Dame Star Manti Te’o to compete at the middle spot. Klein’s deal with the New Orleans according to Spotrac is 4 years @ six mil a year. One can realistically expect that Klein will get every opportunity to start at the middle spot.
The fact that Klein backed up one — if not the — best linebacker over the past three seasons in NFL’s Luke Kuechly, played significant minutes and look liked a solid replacement suggests that he can bring stability to the position.
Klein’s stats over a four-year period include 60 games played, 146 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 forced fumbles & 1 int. This is a supreme opportunity for Klein to show what he can do as a full starter as he emerges from the shadow of Kuechly.
Manti Te’o signed a two year deal worth $5 mil according to spotrac. Te’o played under Saints new linebacker coach Mike Nolan in San Diego. We know Te’o has the skills. But the question has been availability so far in his young career. Manti has compiled, through 38 games, 154 total tackles & 2 picks with the Charger over four seasons.
In the third round the Saints drafted linebacker Alex Anzalone out of the University of Florida. we don’t currently know what position Anzalone will play. But during his injury limited three year career, he played mostly middle linebacker. He is very athletic & visually resembles Packers linebacker Clay Matthews with those flowing locks. But that’s just about it.
This is another year where we all hope that the defense finds its signal caller on that side of the ball. Watching the transition period of the position since Jonathan Vilma held it has been head spinning to say the least. I will give the saints some credit this year, the position has a solid & well-rounded mix of talented personnel.
The pressure is ON this year for the Saints to make a deep run in the playoffs and that can be helped by solving the “Man In The Middle” problem.