Who Dat Dish

New Orleans Saints: Way too early roster projection on defense for 2021

Darral Nail
NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 30: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen use a Microsoft Surface during a game against the Seattle Seahawks at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 30, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 30: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen use a Microsoft Surface during a game against the Seattle Seahawks at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 30, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /
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Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

New Orleans Saints Linebackers (6):

  • Demario Davis
  • Pete Werner
  • Zack Baun
  • Kaden Elliss
  • Chase Hansen
  • Andrew Dowell

Of the six linebackers included as part of the Saints’ initial 2020 roster, four (Davis, Baun, Elliss, and Hansen) would be reprising their roles for the upcoming season in this scenario. Nonetheless, the on-field product in New Orleans at the linebacker position should look quite different in the season that awaits.

With co-starters Alex Anzalone and Kwon Alexander now departed, along with veteran linebacker, special teamer, and staff favorite Craig Robertson, Demario Davis will be welcoming a new starting cohort at the second level of the team’s defense.

The most likely choice to play alongside the All-Pro Davis in the Saints’ two-linebacker sets will be a new face from a familiar place. Pete Werner, the club’s second-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, is hardly the first prospect to arrive in the Big Easy by way of Ohio State.

An immensely physical linebacker, Werner combines something of an old-school approach to the position with the speed and athleticism to make plays across the field. With 35 starts to his credit as a Buckeye, Werner projects as a pro-ready linebacker whose hair-on-fire approach should endear him to Who Dat nation early in his tenure.

Despite the recent indications that he will receive snaps at WILL ‘backer in preseason camp, 2020 rookie Zack Baun should return as the titular third starter in the team’s lesser-utilized SAM linebacker role. A pass-rushing EDGE-type in college, Baun’s workload in his second season will likely depend on how well he continues to adapt to life as an off-ball linebacker in the NFL.

Despite emerging from last year’s training camp with respective spots on the team, neither Chase Hansen nor Kaden Elliss would log much in the way of meaningful defensive snaps in the 2020 season.

Hansen, a concerted college safety, offers an intriguing projection as a hybrid safety/linebacker type in sub-packages, and Elliss appears to have the confidence of the coaching staff as a backup at MIKE or SAM.

Should coach Sean Payton and company see fit to carry a sixth linebacker into the regular season, practice squad member Andrew Dowell would need only outperform a pedestrian group of challengers to claim a spot on the active roster. If a challenger were to emerge from this group, one should not be surprised if it is undrafted rookie Shaq Smith.

A top national recruit, Smith signed with Clemson out of high school, where he would spend his first few seasons before moving to his hometown University of Maryland program as a graduate transfer.

While perhaps not fulfilling his immense on-field potential at the college level, Smith offers the physical traits of an elite prospect. Also helping his chances will be the fact that, unlike many rookies entering the NFL, Smith has experience on special teams from his time at Clemson.

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