Projecting the Saints 53-man Roster: Linebacker
Demario Davis etched his name into the New Orleans Saints rich history of linebackers by earning his first career All-Pro honor in 2019. Davis was the team's first Pro Bowl LB since Jonathan Vilma in 2010, and it’s first All-Pro at the position since Winfred Tubbs in 1997. Davis was one of the NFL's most dominant defenders, but injuries beset the rest of the New Orleans LB corps. They lost Alex Anzalone for the season with a shoulder injury after just two games, and they placed rookie Kaden Elliss on injured reserve after three games with a knee injury.
The Saints made a few big offseason additions to the unit after losing reliable veteran LB A.J. Klein in free agency hoping to strengthen this position. Here is how the New Orleans training camp depth chart looks at the linebacker spot.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS LINEBACKERS
- Kiko Alonso
- Alex Anzalone
- Joe Bachie
- Zack Baun
- Nigel Bradham
- Anthony Chickillo (LB/DE)
- Demario Davis
- Andrew Dowell
- Kaden Elliss
- Chase Hansen
- Craig Robertson
Alex Anzalone (6’3” 241-Lbs., 25-Yrs old)
The talent of Anzalone, selected in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, is undeniable. He has missed 29 of his team's 53 games with shoulder injuries, however, leaving concerns about his durability as he heads into the last year of his contract. When in the lineup, Anzalone is an athletic defender who can stay on the field in every situation. He is a devastating blitzer who plays the run well and can stay with the league's best tight ends in pass coverage.
Zack Baun (6’3” 225-Lbs., 23-Yrs old)
New Orleans traded back into the 3rd round of this spring's draft to select Baun out of Wisconsin with the 74th overall pick. Baun was often used as a stand-up defensive end in college but is expected to assume a more traditional LB role with the Saints. He is an instinctive run defender with excellent pass-rush ability and the athleticism to handle coverage duties. I expect Baun to be a bigger part of the New Orleans defense as the season progresses, as he gets more familiar with coverage responsibilities.
Nigel Bradham (6’2” 241-Lbs., 30-Yrs old)
A recent free-agent pickup by New Orleans, Bradham is an experienced starter who is still playing at a high level. A key member of the Eagles Super Bowl champion defense three years ago, Bradham has terrific instincts who is equally effective as a run and pass defender. Expect him to assume a starting role quickly, giving an added boost to the defense with his athleticism.
Demario Davis (6’2” 248-Lbs., 31-Yrs old)
One of the NFL's best defensive players has helped transform the Saints defense to the cusp of the elite since being signed as a free agent during the 2018 offseason. Davis led the team in tackles for the second straight year and had at least 90 stops for the seventh consecutive season. He also added 4 sacks, 15 QB pressures, 11 tackles for loss, an interception, and 12 passes defended. Davis, who stays on the field in every situation, is perhaps the Saints most important defensive player
ON THE BUBBLE
Anthony Chickillo (6’3” 255-Lbs., 27-Yrs old)
The Saints added Chickillo as a free agent after spending the first five years of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the mix for one of the team’s LB spots and at DE, Chickillo must improve his pass coverage but is a good special teams contributor with adequate pass-rushing skills.
Kaden Elliss (6’3” 240-Lbs., 25-Yrs old)
A 7th round pick in 2019, Elliss looked like he was on his way to a role in the LB rotation before his knee injury. He’s a tenacious sideline-to-sideline defender that understands coverage schemes and plays the run well. Elliss might be under pressure to repeat the impressive camp he had a year ago to keep his spot.
Craig Robertson (6’1” 234-Lbs., 32-Yrs old)
The elder statesman of the Saints linebackers, Robertson is a special teams captain and capable of filling in at any of the LB spots. He is a reliable and versatile defender who has mentored the team’s younger players. His experience and special teams contributions give him an edge for a roster spot.
PRACTICE SQUAD CANDIDATE
Joe Bachie (6’2” 231-Lbs., 22-Yrs old)
Bachie was a tackling machine and a team leader in college with Michigan State. He has great instincts as a run defender, but limited athleticism can make him vulnerable in pass coverage. New Orleans thought enough of Bachie to target him as a priority free agent immediately following the 2020 draft.
Andrew Dowell (6’1” 225-Lbs., 23-Yrs old)
A teammate of Bachie's at Michigan State, Dowell spent time on the Cowboys practice squad as a rookie before being signed by New Orleans toward the end of last season. He is undersized but has nice athletic ability and plays aggressively.
Chase Hansen (6’3” 222-Lbs., 27-Yrs old)
Hansen has good pursuit skills in open space but can get overwhelmed by blockers. He must show that he can excel in coverage and on special teams to earn a spot.
Kiko Alonso (6’3” 239-Lbs., 29-Yrs old)
Alonso was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list by New Orleans while recovering from a knee injury suffered in last season's playoff loss to the Vikings. A heady player with good instincts, Alonso played well for New Orleans after being picked up in an early-season trade with Miami.
New Orleans will probably keep six linebackers on their active roster with Davis, Anzalone, Baun, and Bradham as sure things. Bachie seems like a good practice squad candidate and Chickillo has an uphill battle but his experience and versatility give him a chance. With the possibility of Alonso starting the year on the P.U.P. list, the Saints could carry both Elliss and Robertson into the year with a decision to make once Alonso is healthy. The addition of Bradham to go alongside Davis and Anzalone gives New Orleans their best trio of linebackers in Coach Sean Payton's 14-Yr tenure, but the overall health of the unit continues to be one of this team's biggest question marks.