A.J. Klein, Dalvin Cook

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, left, runs from New Orleans Saints linebacker A.J. Klein (53) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) ORG XMIT: MNCN110

Editor's note: The New Orleans Saints could justify drafting a player at nearly every position. In the days leading up to the draft, the Advocate will evaluate each of those positions and make a case for and against taking a player at each spot early in the draft.

The case for selecting a linebacker

New Orleans has spent the better part of the past four seasons trying to build a deep and talented collection of linebackers.

There have been some hits. There have been some misses. The vision is finally starting to come together with Demario Davis, A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone sitting atop the depth chart. But there are still questions to be answered, and the group isn't so talented that adding to the room and bringing in competition should be considered off limits.

More talent. More speed. More range. All of those elements could help this group.

Davis, who was signed this offseason, should start at middle linebacker and help the group. But it wouldn’t hurt to bring in more competition for Anzalone and Klein. A player knocking one of those players from the starting lineup would represent a loss considering the investments made in both money and draft capital, but there are worse things than having high-priced depth, such as turning a blind eye to talent.

The New Orleans defense is pushing toward becoming one of the better units in the league. There are bigger needs on the defensive line. But it would be a surprise if a good pass rusher drops that far. Stockpiling talent at safety worked well last year. Doing the same at linebacker could have a similar impact.

The case against selecting a linebacker

The Saints have been investing heavily in this position the last few years, drafting Stephone Anthony and Anzalone and signing James Laurinaitis, Klein, Davis, Nate Stupar, Manti Te’o and Craig Robertson.

There is talent at the position on the roster. If nothing else happens, signing Davis and having a healthy Anzalone, whom the team was very high on before his season-ending injury, should represent an upgrade over how things played out last season.

Selecting a player high in the draft would mean the team is hoping that either Anzalone or Klein will be replaced after the Saints used valuable assets to obtain both players a year ago. Now, sticking with a player just because of his price or draft position would be a mistake, but you would like to see those assets spread around to address other areas on the roster.

Who would be the odd man out? Would another linebacker push Klein off the field one year after he was signed to a moderate contract? Would Anzalone have to fight to get back on the field? At some point, the Saints need to get a collection of players at this position they feel is good enough.

Top five

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

There is almost zero chance Edmunds is available when the Saints come on the clock for pick 27. With his combination of size and speed, he is the best linebacker in this class.

Roquan Smith, Georgia

Smith is also likely to be off the board before the Saints pick. He also is also a fast player with good size who will cover a lot of ground for his new team. While he could play inside, he could also be a very good weakside linebacker wherever he lands.

Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

The Boise State product has a chance of falling to the bottom of the first round, though it is becoming increasingly less likely if reports are to be believed. Vander Esch has good range, diagnoses well and has a knack for making plays. He looks like someone who would fit well in New Orleans.

Rashaan Evans, Alabama

Evans has good range and would likely project as a weakside linebacker. The Alabama product diagnoses quickly and knows how to make plays. He could be available when the Saints pick at the end of the first round.

Darius Leonard, South Carolina State

Leonard is a rangy linebacker who could potentially be available in the second or third rounds. He looks like a weakside linebacker in the NFL.


Even if it isn’t in the early rounds, New Orleans should keep an eye out for rangy players in the later rounds who could develop and eventually have a role on the team.

Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​