After exploring the outlook of every other position, we conclude our analysis of the New Orleans Saints with a look at the outside linebacker position. In 2013, outside linebacker was one of the more questionable positions as the Saints tried to transition to the 3-4.
However, things were looking up after they had signed Victor Butler. Unfortunately, after losing Will Smith and Butler to injury, as well as Martez Wilson, who was later released, the Saints entered the season with only two active outside linebackers, Junior Galette and Parys Haralson.
Despite the lack of quantity, the quality was as good as one could hope for. Galette was a force as a pass rusher, recording 12 sacks, half a sack shy of Cam Jordan’s 12.5 which led the team.
Galette’s breakout the season was much anticipated. He showed some promise early in his career, but Steve Spagnuolo grossly underutilized the athletic linebacker last season. However, Rob Ryan was able to get the most out of him, and will continue to expect the same going forward.
Haralson was brought in at the last minute from the San Francisco 49ers for the cheap price of a 7th round pick. That price ended up being one of the more underrated bargains the Saints pulled off.
Having played with the 49ers, Haralson brought a certain physicality and swagger to a defense that really needed one. He was one of the Saints’ best run defenders and was used in many run stopping packages. Haralson also brought a quiet leadership to a team that was very young.
He is an impending free agent this offseason, and I believe the Saints see it in their best interest to bring him back with all the intangibles he brings. This shouldn’t be very financially cumbersome, as Haralson won’t demand a great amount of money.
Going forward, the Saints will be looking forward to the return of Victor Butler, a prized free agent from last season. Butler’s athleticism will be welcomed and could be a scary proposition for opposing quarterbacks, as he will line up opposite Galette.
Other than that, there probably won’t be any huge splash as the position in free agency, and I don’t foresee any early round picks being used on the position. However, one under the radar guy to watch out for is Rufus Johnson.
Johnson, last year’s 7th round pick, is a ridiculous athlete from Tarleton State. Ryan really likes his size and speed combination. But most of all, his length and wingspan is something Ryan especially covets.
The group playing the outside should get fans excited. There is no reason to believe that Galette can’t put up similar numbers, and Butler should be fully healthy. And most of all with another year under Ryan’s system, players will be even more instinctive, which will allow them to make even more plays.