Saints News

Top 5 breakout candidates

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Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor (57) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor (57) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /
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Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker A.J. Klein (56) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers works out prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker A.J. Klein (56) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers works out prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

A.J. Klein

A.J. Klein has been fighting to breakout his entire career. But every year he got on his pads and went off to training camp with a twinkle in his eye only to ride the bench behind one of the best MLBs in recent memory, Luke Keuchley.

Klein is finally out from under Keuchley’s shadow and competing for a starting spot in a linebacker group that is just about as wide-open as it gets. Between Craig Robertson, the oft-injured Dannell Ellerbe and the relative unknowns of Manti Te’o, Alex Anzalone, Stephone Anthony and Adam Bighill, the safe money is on Klein to win a starting job. The question is whether that will be at MLB, WLB or SLB.

My early projection has Klein as MLB, Ellerbe as the WLB and Anzalone as the SLB. But that’s about as speculative of a claim as it gets. We have no idea, until we can see some full-contact action, how each player is performing at each spot. But the money that the Saints paid Klein in free agency suggests confidence.

If Klein does earn a starting job, he could be the best middle linebacker that the Saints have had since Jonathan Vilma. We all know that MLBs rack up tackles, and Klein’s ability against the run will play a big role in his success. But the most important thing Klein can bring — and based on all available evidence, will bring — is sound pass coverage. The Saints, for about as long as we care to remember, have been burned by tight ends. Tony Gonzales. Jason Witten. Jordan Reed. God damn Greg Olsen. And now the Saints have O.J. Howard in Tampa Bay to contend with. If the Saints are going to improve on defense, no matter how much improvement their secondary makes, they’re going to need to lock up tight ends. And while I have only love for Kenny Vaccaro and his attempts to fill the job, the Saints need a linebacker that can cover ground. If Klein can be that guy, the Saints have a real shot.

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