Brian Allee-Walsh

A first-round Saints pick in 2015 not fulfilling expectations

New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Stephone Anthony is still trying to find his way on the defense in his second season.
New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Stephone Anthony is still trying to find his way on the defense in his second season. Associated Press

When the New Orleans Saints dealt tight end Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for center Max Unger and the 31st overall pick in the same draft, it seemed like a win-win situation.

The Seahawks acquired a red-zone touchdown machine for quarterback Russell Wilson and the Saints secured a decorated bodyguard in the middle of the offensive line for franchise quarterback Drew Brees.

What made this trade so intriguing for New Orleans was it gave Trader Mick (GM Mickey Loomis) two potentially meaningful picks in the first round — their own at No. 13 and lagniappe at No. 31. The possibilities were endless.

Plus, the cap-strapped Black and Gold got rid of an over-priced prima donna in Graham, who benefited greatly by being in an offense with Brees under center and coach Sean Payton pushing the buttons.

The aforementioned trade comes home to roost Sunday when the Saints (2-4) and the NFC West-leading Seahawks (4-1-1) square off at noon inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The centerpieces of the trade — Unger and Graham — will be in their rightful places in the starting lineups. Unger has made a bigger contribution to the Saints offense than Graham has in Seattle.

That said, I want to focus on how the Saints used their second pick in the first round — the 31st overall selection. They took Stanford OL Andrus Peat at No. 13 and Clemson OLB Stephone Anthony at No. 31.

Peat appears to have found a niche in his sophomore NFL season at left guard/tackle after discovering the hard way as a rookie the difference between college and pro football. Now playing strongside linebacker, Anthony has mysteriously disappeared in Year 2 after starting all 16 games at middle linebacker and leading the team in tackles with 112 as a rookie.

Through six games, Anthony has played 55 of 419 defensive snaps (13 percent) and made four tackles, three in a season-high 33 snaps in a 45-32 blowout loss against Atlanta in Week 3. He played one snap against San Diego in Week 4 and four snaps against Carolina in Week 6.

Anthony did not play in Sunday’s 27-21 loss at Kansas City because of an injured hamstring. His status for Sunday will be determined later this week.

The Saints don’t appear to have thrown in the towel on Anthony, although he clearly sits on the back burner for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Payton maintains there’s a place for Anthony in sub packages and on special teams.

And people wonder why the Saints’ defense is struggling. Wake up, folks! The Saints defense has been yielding points and yards in historic fashion for the past few years. This is not a new phenomenon.

The 31st overall pick in the 2015 draft — acquired in a blockbuster trade by dealing off one of the team’s biggest offensive weapons — should be playing a featured role and paying huge dividends on a weekly basis.

He should not be used as an afterthought in sub packages and on special teams. That suggests Anthony doesn’t fit in Allen’s scheme.

By the way, the Seahawks used the fourth-round pick they acquired from New Orleans as part of a package in a trade with Washington to move up from No. 95 to No. 69.

With the 69th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Seattle selected Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett.

Look for him to play a contributing role Sunday as the Seahawks’ No. 3 wideout and primary kick returner and punt returner.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

Game plan

Who: Saints vs. Seahawks

When: Noon, Sunday

Where: New Orleans

TV: FOX

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