The New Orleans Saints knew they were taking a risk when they selected Hau’oli Kikaha in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Kikaha was a dynamic pass rusher at the University of Washington, totaling 19 sacks during his senior season, but he came with major injury concerns. He had suffered a couple of ACL tears and teams questioned whether or not he would hold up at the NFL level. Still, the Saints thought he would be able to and they spent the pick on him.
Now, it is looking like the Saints are going to regret choosing Kikaha. At practice on Thursday, he suffered yet another torn ACL and he will miss the 2016 season. Kikaha’s injury is a major blow to the Saints’ pass rush, and he will likely never be able to develop into a consistent threat for the team.
Kikaha was supposed to be a candidate to have a breakout season for the Saints. After playing in 11 games as a rookie a notching 4 sacks, the team was going to look to him to be their leading rush linebacker. After all, they did part ways with Junior Galette prior to the 2015 season and he was one of their best pass rushers. They need someone to step up, and Kikaha, with a second year of experience, was going to be the guy.
Now, the team will need to reevaluate their plans at the position. The team does have a new defensive coordinator this year, former Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, so he will be tasked with finding a replacement on the roster. Unfortunately, they really do not have many players who can play Kikaha’s position. Perhaps second year player and former fifth-round pick Davis Tull will get a go in replacing him. He has no NFL experience, but his measurables are pretty good.
Of course, Allen could also opt to run more hybrid schemes with four down linemen. The team is strong at the defensive end and tackle position, so eliminating a constant need for rush linebackers might be a good move. They honestly have the personnel to do this, and I would not be surprised if they can run a 4-3 scheme effectively.
Overall, this loss will have a big impact on the Saints. They are losing one of their young players who is supposed to be featured on defense. They cannot replace him overnight, but they will have to evaluate their scheme to see if they can make the job easier.