Grading The New Orleans Saints Third Round Pick Defensive Tackle Akiem Hicks

By Brandon Winkler

When the New Orleans Saints made their first selection in the 2012 NFL Draft with the 26th pick in the third round, 89th overall, it came off as quite a surprise for fans. Their selection, Akiem Hicks, a defensive tackle out of the University of Regina in Canada, left a majority of fans wondering who exactly he is.

This also addresses a position that is in “need” for the Saints and I believe looking for defensive tackle in the third round was where they should have went.

Hicks began his career at Sacramento City College in 2007, where he played for two seasons, recording 65 tackles (32 of those solo), three sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery that was taken back for a touchdown, a pass deflection, and an interception in 19 starts.

He signed with LSU in February 2009 as a highly recruited prospect, but with recruiting, transportation and housing violations by LSU with Hicks resulted in him never seeing the field in a Tigers uniform. He ultimately left school following the 2009 season.

After leaving, Hicks made his way to Canada to play football for the University of Regina in 2010. During his time at Regina he started in 16 games where he recorded 76 tackles (43 of those solo), eight sacks, 13 tackles for loss, four pass deflections to go along with four forced fumbles.

“We are really excited about our pick, Akiem Hicks,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. “He’s a guy we really studied. As late as Friday we probably spent and hour and a half to two hours on this player.

“We thought it was a guy who would be there for us. Height, weight, speed, (he’s) the kind of guy we are looking at for our defensive system. We love his tenacity. We know he is raw. He’s got to be coached, but that’s the fun part. He fits the character of our football team. He has good work habits. We love his resiliency.”

The 6’5, 324 pound defensive tackle should be a great addition to the New Orleans Saints front four. After defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers both being unrestricted free agents, and Rogers signing elsewhere this offseason, the Saints needed to draft a prospect to potentially fill a spot in the rotation behind Brodrick Bunkley, who the Saints brought in during the offseason, and Sedrick Ellis. He is a raw type of player that has some coaching up to do, no doubt, but he definitely has everything you look for in a small school gem.

He is a very athletic player for his size with a massive 84-inch wingspan, which will definitely opposing quarterbacks something to think about when they’re throwing short passes through the middle of the field. He’s a superb pass rusher with a great amount of upper body strength which allows him to shed blocks easily, even with his lack of moves, with a good amount of speed. Great open field tackler, who has good play recognition and will dart to the ball. Good tackler with some flexibility, due to being able to play in the 4-3 or 3-4 defenses. His size will be a great addition to stopping the run game, as well as being a factor in defending the pass.

A lot of people were scratching their heads at this pick due to him being a projected late-round pick. However, he had excellent showings in private workouts and several teams actually moved him up their draft board. It’s questionable if the Saints took him a bit too early, considering he likely would have been there in the 4th or 5th rounds. However, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis does a great job at grabbing small school prospects who turn out to be tremendous players. Lets not forget, Loomis has found players such as Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Jahri Evans who were diamonds in the rough during the later rounds.

This a bit of a risk by taking him this early, but they clearly liked what they seen. If anyone can coach up raw players, it’s the staff of the New Orleans Saints.

The knock on him is simply that he had not faced as good of competition in Canada as he would have in the NCAA, but lets face the facts. Just because you face good competition, that doesn’t automatically mean you can succeed at the NFL level. Players who perform well in the NCAA even in the toughest conferences will turn out to be busts when they make it to the league, so that does nothing to tell you about how good this player may or may not be. On tape, he looks phenomenal, and he passes the eye-test easily. LSU does a great job of recruiting defensive talent and he was highly recruited by the Tigers. If they were campaigning hard for this guy, I think it’s safe to say there’s a good chance that he will turn into something special

The Saints’ staff said he was the highest rated player on their draft board when they picked. Vitt said the Saints didn’t reach by drafting Hicks in the third round. In fact, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis apparently was set to trade down if Hicks wasn’t available.

“We tried to get a group of players that we thought would be there,” Vitt said. “I know you are not going to believe me, but he was at the top of the list on the board when it was our pick. And if he wasn’t there, Mickey was entertaining some phone calls to move down. But this is the player that we coveted and the one we wanted and we studied the most. It worked out well.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “He passes the eyeball test. He passes the commitment test. He passes the resiliency test. He wants to be a good football player. So we are going to integrate him in and see how long it takes.”

A lot of people were wondering, why did the Saints pass on a player like defensive tackle Jared Crick out of Nebraska, who has similar attributes? That’s pretty easy, actually, and it’s surprising that people make the case for a player like this for the Saints without doing some very easy homework.

The first knock on Crick is that he missed a majority of his senior season with a torn pectoral muscle. He looked to benefit from playing next to Ndamukong Suh in his early career, because after Suh left, he seen more double teams and usually always struggled with them. Whenever he was blocked by more than one linemen, he was often eliminated completely from the play or outright gave up on it. He also suffered a knee injury in training camp in the spring, prior to the season, so his durability will be even more of a question mark going forward. This is even more of a problem due to that already being an area of concern in the first place. To add to all that, he is widely regarded as a better suited as a defensive end in the 3-4 defense, which is why the Houston Texans added him to their roster.

Overall, Akiem Hicks will be competing for playing time and I believe next season you will see him in the rotation. Media and fans will often try to bash a pick if they necessarily don’t understand the reasoning behind it. Just because you don’t agree with the pick or you may have graded a player differently, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a terrible choice. It just means your eyes and understanding the fundamentals of a player is different than an NFL organization.

I believe that defensive tackle, Akiem Hicks out of the University of Regina will prove to be a solid role-player in the NFL.

Grade: B-

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