DL Akiem Hicks looks to take the next step in his young career.Every offseason, Football fans spanning the globe scour their respective favorite team's roster in search of the next emerging star or stars. Words like promise, potential, upside, and development are thrown around in correlation to young players on the cusp of taking the next step in their careers. Then there are those times where your teammate simply refers to you as a "monster."
For the New Orleans Saints, that monstrosity comes in the form of Defensive End Akiem Hicks. Fellow end Cameron Jordan, who recently had his 5th year option exercised by the Saints, dubbed Hicks as a 'monster' in a meeting with the press earlier this week at an NFL Youth event in New Orleans. The two players combined to tally 58 tackles and 17 sacks in 2013, with Jordan reaching the Pro Bowl and Hicks eventually working his way into the starting lineup.
Hicks, 24, certainly looks the part of a monster, with a 6'5 324 frame. Able to play both end and nose tackle in Rob Ryan's base 3-4 scheme, Hicks enjoyed a nice 2nd season as a pro, following a rookie campaign in which he served mostly as depth and a rotational body along the defensive line.
After traveling a star-crossed path to get to the NFL, the former University of Regina player is hoping for an even bigger output in his 3rd professional season. In addition to 4.5 sacks, Hicks totaled 8 tackles for loss, tied with David Hawthorne for 3rd on the team behind only Jordan and Junior Galette.
Hicks will look to continue to use his "monstrous" size to his advantage. With a lengthy wingspan and unusual athletic ability for a man his size, Hicks is still oozing with upside as he enters year 3 of his pro career. As the Saints defense continues to improve across the board, Hicks hopes to continue to grow with his teammates, and his most productive days likely still lie ahead.
Another player the team remains exceptionally high on is rising 2nd year pro John Jenkins. Jenkins, a 2013 3rd round draft choice of the Saints, worked his way into the rotation behind starter Brodrick Bunkley, and saw his playing time increase as the season progressed en route to a return of 21 total tackles. If Hicks is a monster, then Jenkins is a mammoth, checking in at 6-5 359 with similarly unusual nimbleness and agility for a player of his stature.
The Saints are high on NT John Jenkins
The team liked Jenkins enough last year to move up in the 3rd round to select him. Jenkins played in a 3-4 scheme at the University of Georgia, so we was a natural fit on paper as Rob Ryan began to install his defense last summmer. If he can continue to develop over the next 4 months, Jenkins should have a chance to see an even larger role in Ryan's plans for 2014. Although Bunkley recently agreed to a pay cut with the Saints, an impressive camp and preseason from Jenkins could coax the Saints into bumping the former Bulldog standout into the starting lineup, meaning Bunkley could see a reduced role or possibly find himself on the roster bubble heading into September.
Both Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins have bright futures ahead of them as professional Football players. The New Orleans Saints surely hope that those futures glisten down upon the crescent city over the course of the next several years, as the team finally has the majority of the pieces it needs to field a consistent, sinister defensive unit. With players like Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette, Keenan Lewis, Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey on board, there is an ever-growing ubiquitous feeling that the defense will only expand upon its noticeable improvement from 2012 to 2013.
As for their two young defensive linemen, 2014 could be a year in which the Saints see their monster and mammoth take the next big step in their evolutions.