In Part 3 of Drafting the Next Saints Legend, let’s look at the final defensive position with potential draft implications – linebacker. There is no doubt who the Saints legends are at linebacker! The Dome Patrol – Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Vaughan Johnson and Sam Mills – are rated the #1 linebacking unit of all time by the NFL Network. These four players garnered 18 Pro Bowl selections, 10 All-Pro selections and Jackson is a Hall of Famer. In 1992, all four were named to the Pro Bowl, the only time in history that every happened. Jackson was a 2nd round pick in 1981, Swilling was a 3rd round pick in 1986, and Coach Jim Mora brought Johnson and Mills with him from the USFL when he was hired in 1986.
Since the scouting combine did not begin until the 1990’s, we will need to find a more recent Saints linebacker for comparison purposes. Jonathan Vilma is perhaps the best known linebacker of the last decade. He was picked up in a trade in 2008 for a 4th round pick and another conditional pick (which ended up as a 3rd round selection). Vilma had 871 tackles,10.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. He was also a Pro-Bowl selection
A consensus among draft experts is that the Saints will not go for a linebacker before the second round and most see them waiting until the third to go for a linebacker, if at all. So with that in mind, I have listed four players that would fall in that time frame that might fit the bill. Since the Saints signed James Laurinaitis in free agency, and already have an excellent young linebacker in Stephone Anthony, it makes sense for them to pursue an outside linebacker prospect. I have included Laurinaitis in the stats for comparison. He has 852 career tackles, 16.5 sacks, 10 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. He was also a second round pick.
In a straight eye-test Jones is faster in the 40yd dash and the 20 short shuttle, but in the middle of this group in 3-cone and did 18 reps at the combine. He is better than Laurinaitis across the board, but comparable to Aaron Wallace from UCLA. The rap on Wallace is lack of college playing time, but he is bigger and faster than most at this position. Cravens visited the Saints earlier but most feel he is a little small for linebacker and played safety previously. Wright had amazing production in college but was injured in his senior season. Many compare him with Zach Thomas – not a bad standard.
Will any of these be the next Saints legend at linebacker? We can’t be sure, but Rickey Jackson was considered only the second best defender on his college team (Hugh Green/Pitt) and look how well that turned out!