Linebacker Demario Davis upgraded the defense of the New Orleans Saints to one of the league's better units when he signed as a free agent in 2018. Underrated in national circles, Davis is one of the NFL's best defensive players at any position. He's led the Saints in tackles the last three years, helped bolster one of the league's best run defenses, and has provided standout pass coverage.
Davis was complemented perfectly by LB Kwon Alexander last season, a mid-season trade acquisition. Alexander's athleticism, range, and coverage ability helped transform the New Orleans defense into an elite unit. Unfortunately, Alexander suffered an Achilles injury late in the year and was released this offseason because of salary cap constraints.
Alexander may be brought back on a cheaper contract, but linebacker is still a glaring need as the Saints approach the draft. The team spent a 3rd round pick on talented but raw LB last spring and are high on 2019 7th round choice Kaden Elliss.
I still expect New Orleans to address the linebacker spot with one of their eight draft picks. If they don't add one in the first round, there are a handful of linebacker talents that will come off the board on the second day. Our draft profile highlights just such a talent from a college football powerhouse and a program that New Orleans has had great luck through the draft.
BARON BROWNING, LINEBACKER (OHIO STATE)
Pro Day 40m = 4.53
One of the highest recruited players in the country as a senior at Kennedale High School in Texas, Browning chose Ohio State after earning Texas 4A Defensive Player of the Year honors. He saw some action as a true freshman, recording 1.5 tackles for loss among 14 total stops.
Browning appeared in every contest in 2018 and recorded 23 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a sack. He started just one game for a loaded Buckeyes defense in 2019, but was still an important part of their linebacker rotation. His 5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss finished third on the team and were career-highs.
The COVID-19 pandemic shortened Ohio State's season to just six regular season games in 2020. Browning contributed 29 tackles (3 for loss) to the national runner-ups, adding a sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 passes broken up.
Browning's impact and production was inconsistent throughout his collegiate career. He’s slow to diagnose more intricate offenses. Doesn't seem to have great natural instincts, causing a delayed reaction to process plays.
As a run defender, he can get stood up in the gap and needs to lower his pad level when taking on blockers. He gets hung up in traffic too often in pursuit and needs to take better angles to runners along the edge.
Browning has tight hips and stiff change-of-direction in pass coverage, creating a disadvantage against shifty backs and tight ends. He must be smoother in his drops to close throwing windows more efficiently and close on throws in front of him faster.
Browning has the size and agility to play both the inside or strong side linebacker spots. He’s an effective pass rusher when asked and has an explosive burst into opposing backfields. He has the speed to chase down plays from sideline-to-sideline and packs a punch as a tackler to jar the ball loose.
Browning's athleticism allows him to cover most tight ends or running backs well down the field. He has a fluid backpedal into zones, along with the length and leaping ability to disrupt throws. His speed and bone-jarring hits make him an intimidating presence to receivers across the middle.
Baron Browning never developed into the dominant defender he showed flashes of becoming at Ohio State. He needs to improve his play diagnosis to be consistently effective at the next level, but his combination of size and speed will cause him to be a Day 2 draft choice. Still, he has the physical tools to be a success as a strongside or middle linebacker at the NFL level.