The New Orleans Saints took California-Berkeley linebacker Khairi Fortt with the 126th overall pick in the fourth round Saturday. Fortt was a transfer from Penn State who left Happy Valley after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The 6’2”, 240 pound redshirt junior ran a 4.70 40-yard dash, one year removed from a major knee injury—another reason he transferred from Penn State.
In his sophomore season at Penn State in 2011, Fortt registered 50 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks in the Big 10 (statistics courtesy of sports-reference.com/cfb). The Saints hope they are getting the Penn State version of Fortt, which came before the injury.
His Cal film is not impressive, as he does not show off the traits teams are looking for, especially at this point in the draft. He doesn’t exude burst, nor does he have great range.
In the Cal 4-3 defense, Fortt mostly played the "Will" linebacker spot—commonly referred to as WLB. This was likely the thought process for Saints coaches, hoping that Fortt could use his excellent speed and athleticism—relative to his size—to chase plays.
Instead, when playing the run he often did one of two things: overrun the play entirely or run into blockers as if that were the goal. He didn’t use his hands very well to disengage from blockers, either.
Hopefully for the Saints, the 2011 version of Fortt is the one they are getting in black and gold. That version, based on the numbers, was a player who flew around the field with reckless abandon.
Yet even that version was not much of a playmaker. And that seemingly was the goal for the Saints defensively in this offseason. Unless there is something the Saints are seeing on film or from workouts, Fortt doesn’t seem to fit into their supposed preoccupation with defensive playmakers.
Instead they got a rather blasé linebacker, one who is a really difficult projection to the NFL level, especially in Rob Ryan’s defense.
The Ryan defense last year proved to be the epitome of a hybrid scheme. It is possible that Fortt, with his versatility, fits into that. He does look a bit like David Hawthorne in his ability to line up all over the field.
In reality, though, this pick has to be questioned a bit. Is this kid really going to see the field in 2014? Most likely not on defense. And that is OK.
The Saints did not need to find an instant starter—especially in the fourth round. But since he projects to the inside linebacker spot, it would have been nice to find a player who could contribute if called upon.
Instead, they took a player who likely needs a redshirt season. He is almost assuredly a practice squad/training camp body this season.
If he comes in with the right attitude, works extremely hard and shows some unforeseen ability, he might find his way onto the special teams unit in 2014.
That seems a rather ambitious and hopeful projection though. With Ramon Humber and Kevin Reddick as the lone qualified backups at inside linebacker, a player more ready to play seemed to be a priority.
Of course, the harsh reality exists that as a draft analyst, I could be completely wrong.
For the Saints’ sake I hope I am wrong. And I hope Fortt is a great selection.
Right now, though, the pick doesn’t make much sense in term of scheme fit or player fit.