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Bears in the Draft: A Q&A with Canal Street Chronicles about Khairi Fortt

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We reached out to the New Orleans Saints blog, Canal Street Chronicles to see how they were feeling about their newest Golden Bear, Khairi Fortt, and what kind of an impact they thought he'd make.

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1. How crowded is the depth chart at linebacker? Prior to the draft, was there a greater need for inside or outside linebackers?

DC: Including Fortt there are 14 linebackers currently on the roster fighting for spots and about four of them are locks to make it. That leaves about four spots open for 10 other guys. The competition is stiff (that's what she said). The good news is that the battle at inside linebacker, where there is greater need for improvement, isn't nearly as tough as the outside spots. In the middle you've got Curtis Lofton as an obvious lock and David Hawthorne as a probable. But Kevin Reddick and Ramon Humber could both be unseated. The Saints always choose the best man, regardless of whether they were drafted in the second round or they came in off the street. He would greatly improve his chances if he contributed significantly on special teams.

KS: Our depth chart is pretty deep at OLB, particularly with the re-signing of Parys Haralson & the return from IR of Victor Butler, but our defense thrives on depth.  Rob Ryan uses so many sub packages and looks that it never hurts to add guys.  However, ILB is an entirely different story.  Hawthorne and Lofton are the only viable guys that we have between the 2 & 3 gaps at the second level, so Fortt's versatility should really serve him well.

2. Some analysts think Fortt has an opportunity to become a starter who replaces David Hawthorne. What are some of Hawthorne's weaknesses that you'd like to see Fortt address?

DC: I'm not sure that will happen in the first year but I'm sure that's the desired goal for the Saints beyond that. Improvement is always the goal and Hawthorne isn't getting any younger. Hawthorne had a disappointing 2012 campaign his first  year here but last season under Rob Ryan he stepped it up with 106 tackles and 3 sacks. It's not like he's terrible. Khairi will have his work cut out for him.

KS: Which leads into the next question.  Fortt should see quite a few snaps at ILB this year, if he earns that role.  He has good eyes and he's stronger in coverage than I believe a lot of guys on our roster are.  He may not have the burst that we'd like out of a jack weak side backer in a 3-4, but in the tape that I've seen he displays strong instincts for the ball, something essential to the zones and schemes that our defense employs.  With that being said, coverage is a stronger suit of Hawthorne's game.  Hawthorne struggles to read running plays and tackle, which is why I believe that we certainly took Fortt to eventually take Hawthorne's spot.  He's got better ball skills and he holds gaps considerably better.  He'll be a bit of a project, but he's a strong player and he can become a viable cog in our scheme within the next few years.

3. Where do you see a rookie linebacker like Fortt playing in your system?

DC: I picture him to be a rotational, sub-package kinda guy to start. I think fans would be happy with that in year one. Nobody is expecting him to come in and immediately do amazing things. Would that be awesome? Hell yeah. But I like to be realistic.

KS: His rookie season?   Probably utility.  A swiss army guy of sorts.  Front 7 rotations are just part of today's NFL, so there's no reason that we can't move Cam Jordan or Junior Galette to a 5 tech DE for a play while lining Fortt up as a 7 tech LB, just to give a new look.  Seeing a new face forces the QB to think a bit more about personnel, and that's where our defense thrives.  Fortt is also strong in the predator defense that the Ryan bros so love.  He's a good 2-point linebacker, so it'll be nice to have another not so familiar face prowling around out there.

4. Were there any indications or rumors the Saints were interested in drafting a linebacker or Fortt in particular?

DC: Fortt was never name that came up being associated with the Saints that I can remember. There definitely were no official rumors. But I'm definitely not surprised they draft a linebacker in the middle rounds. I'd say most fans wanted and expected the Saints to address linebacker at some point in the draft.

KS: It's not surprising to see the Saints address depth at linebacker.  We have Junior Galette, and a lot of other talent at OLB, but there are question marks.  Victor Butler is a high risk for re-injury and Parys Haralson is a stop-gap, but he isn't amazing.  There were rumbles of CJ Mosely being on our big board, but we would have had to give up too much to jump Baltimore, and we clearly wanted an impact guy in the first round.  There was little talk about Fortt himself, this draft wasn't terribly deep at linebacker talent and after Mosely and Shazier there were few players getting talked about.  People were too excited about receivers and DBs getting looks, to be frank.

5. How are Saints fans feeling about the value of drafting Fortt in the fourth round?

DC: I've seen a few Saints fans be very high on him. I think I remember someone saying he was their favorite pick. Some fans share a bit of concern about his knee injury, even though that was a little while ago. That's what has raised some eyebrows. But everyone is optimistic. His athleticism has got fans excited.

KS: The reception appears to be a bit lukewarm, from what I understand.  It's good to see a position of need addressed, but not a lot of SEC folk have seen enough Pac-10 football to get a great grasp for his game.  The 4th-7th rounds are always a bit more of a crapshoot, outside of a few big names like McCarron or Murray, so it will, generally speaking, take a bit longer to truly form an opinion on those picks.

Thanks so much to the folks over at Canal Street Chronicles for taking the time to answer our questions!