A review of the 2016 Saints Linebackers.
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We will be reviewing the Saints roster as it currently stands leading up to free agency and the draft. Last week we reviewed the Saints Defensive Tackle position. This week it’s the Linebackers.
For what seems like years, the Saints linebacker position has been a roller coaster of good to unremarkable. Yes, this 2016 group won’t remind anyone of the days of the Dome Patrol. Nor will it remind anyone of Vilma, Fujita and Shanle. It’s been a revolving door of players, injuries and disappointment.
For all the big name free agent signings the Saints have had that don’t make a splash. Here’s a small free agent signing that played big for the team. Thought to be a role player to provide depth, Robinson took over the middle role from 1st round pick Stephone Anthony and never gave it up. He led the Saints defense with 115 total tackles a career high in 15 games while adding a sack and interception.
Really, the only knock on him in 2016 could of been a bogus pass interference call against him in Week One versus the Raiders on fourth down which led to a loss for the Saints. So much is made about the free agents that didn’t pan out, like Jarius Byrd, Brandon Browner and C.J. Spiller. All of that is fair, however you must credit the signings that did work out. For 2016, that signing was Craig Robinson.
Dannell Ellerbe-Free Agent
Still the same status quo for Ellerbe. When he’s on the field, the defense is better. When he’s out or injured, the defense is worse. Over the last two seasons in New Orleans, it’s been the latter, being off the field that makes up Ellerbe’s career.
He’s played in 15 out of 32 games with the Saints. Nine of those games happened in 2016. Ellerbe proved to be valuable on the outside recording 4 sacks. Entering free agency the writing could be on the wall for a player who can’t stay healthy. Ellerbe could be brought back at the right price with an incentive laden contact. Either way this is a position that needs to be filled.
Another free agent signing for 2016, Stupar was brought over from the Falcons to provide depth, special teams help and was pressed into more playing time due to injuries. Playing in all 16 games and starting six times, Stupar put up career highs in tackles in 2016. He fits the classic mold of depth at a position, plays well in small doses, but the more he starts the more he can become exposed. Still a solid free agent signing as a role player.
Michael Mauti-Free Agent
Almost the same type of player as Stupar above. Mauti the special teams captain, had his season end halfway through when he had surgery to correct a bowel issue. He should be fully recovered and fighting for a roster spot in 2017. I expect him in camp this summer.
A year ago, many thought we had our middle linebacker of the future in Anthony. The former first round pick came off a rookie season where he was a bright spot on a bad defense. Regression may not be a strong enough word to describe Anthony’s sophomore campaign. With the Saints Linebackers in disarray all season, Anthony could barely get on the field. He dropped from 112 tackles to only 16. Was a healthy scratch numerous times. Why you ask? It really comes down to the diagnosis of plays by Anthony. In 2015 the defense was so bad all around, that we may of missed what role Anthony played in it. We see him making tackles all over the field but the why was hidden. In the small sample size of Anthony in 2016, it’s easier to see the blown assignments and misreads. One such example could be seen on scoring plays vs the Lions last December where Lions receivers were wide open on Touchdowns because of the wrong reads by Anthony. As for the Saints, they still maintain that they have confidence in Anthony. Personally, I don’t like to grade a player until they have three seasons under their belt. That’s is what makes 2017 an important one for Anthony.
Jason Trusnik-Free Agent
A late season signing in 2016, Trusnik didn’t record a stat over the final three games of the season.
Signed off the Steelers practice squad for the final four weeks of the season. Feeney was a sixth round draft pick in 2016 out of the University of Washington. He’s a weak side linebacker who essentially took over for current Saint Hau’oki Kikaha on the Huskies. He seems to have the traits the the Saints look for the defense.
Sam Barrington-Free Agent
Added mid season to provide more depth. Barrington played inside linebacker and is a solid special teams player.
Added after the season and signed to a three year contract. Bighill comes from the CFL much like Delvin Breaux in 2015 and Eric Harris last season. Bighill was the most outstanding defensive player in the CFL in 2015. At only 5-10 and 230 pounds, Bighill is more in the Zach Thomas or London Fletcher mold. Time will tell if his CFL success transfers south of the border.