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2019 NFL Draft

UNDER THE RADAR: Why Saints Linebacker Porter Gustin Could Be Next Undrafted Rookie Star to Wear Black & Gold

Brett Maxie. Sammy Knight. Pierre Thomas. Lance Moore. Chris Ivory. Those names are among several of the undrafted rookies (better known by the term UDFA's) that the New Orleans Saints have signed over the years, who went on to become NFL stars.

And now following the recent 2019 NFL Draft that concluded last weekend, the Black and Gold might just have found another one in former University of Southern California outside linebacker Porter Gustin.

Saints fans that closely follow both the sports of college and Pro Football, won’t be able to help but notice the obvious comparisons between the 22-year old Gustin and Saints 3rd year linebacker Alex Anzalone.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Anzalone and Gustin share very similar college backgrounds, given that both are extremely-talented linebackers who both attended major college football “powerhouses” but spent a rather large portion of their time either playing hurt or missing numerous games  while they were held out of action with injuries.

It was the whole reason why Anzalone — who was a star at the University of Florida in the SEC — fell from a late 1st Round pick all the way down to where the Saints were ultimately able to snag him in the 3rd Round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

However, if he can stay healthy, the Saints may have potentially gotten a UDFA who could become one of their greatest ever along with names like Sammy Knight and Pierre Thomas, with the 6-foot-5, 260 pound Gustin.

While most respected NFL observers and analysts are in total agreement over Gustin's undeniable play-making ability, the primary (and overwhelming) concern with him has always been his lengthy injury history during his time with the legendary Trojans Football program, which includes a surgically-repaired toe, a torn biceps muscle, and an ankle fracture that ended his senior season.

It was the ankle injury specifically however, that ultimately led to his being passed over by all 32 teams in the Draft.

As originally reported by Los Angeles Times Trojans beat writer J, Brady McCollough, Gustin was certainly on the way to an All-Pac-12 or possibly All-America type season with seven sacks in five and a half games. And as McCollough notes: this was after Gustin had spent much of last summer feverishly working out to get back in playing shape and to prove he could stay healthy for a full season; after he had previously missed the last 10 games of his junior season in 2017 because of toe and biceps injuries.

But as if his luck with injuries wasn't already bad enough, Gustin then ended up tearing the meniscus in his knee a week into camp and had surgery. It was only a two-to-three-week recovery, which the Trojan medical staff viewed as a victory. Gustin was back for the season opener, but he told McCullough that the knee injury led to overcompensation in other areas.

It was then during a home game this past October against PAC-12 rival University of Colorado, where the rapidly-rising defensive star suffered the injury that nearly jeopardized his future in the NFL.

USC had the game well in hand late in the 4th quarter, so Gustin thought he was already done playing in the game for the rest of the night. But Colorado recovered an onside kick late and Gustin’s coaches asked him to finish the game. On the very next Colorado offensive series, a Colorado lineman pushed him awkwardly, and Gustin felt his ankle snap.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

“Just a chain of unfortunate events,” Gustin said to McCollough. “It’s something you can’t really control. It’s crazy. Who would have known?”

However, the good news is that now the Riggins, Idaho native appears to have put his injury issues behind him. He showed a stellar performance at USC’s Pro Day. where he wowed scouts with impressive workout times and would have ranked among position leaders at the NFL Scouting Combine (which he was forced to miss).

In four seasons in Los Angeles when he was on the field, Gustin racked up a total of 21.5 sacks, 33 tackles for loss, 5 pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. He also tallied 137 tackles (84 solos). If you were to project those stats over the course of time that he missed (a total of 16 games in four years), those numbers potentially could have been mind-blowing.

Our good friend WWL New Orleans TV and Radio Draft Analyst Mike Detillier in his expert analysis of Gustin, says that the powerfully-built youngster flows well from sideline-to-sideline, and is an instinctive player who has first-rate track-down skills as a tackler.

Photo courtesy of Mike Detillier

He adds that Gustin is a solid run defender but is even a better pass-rusher coming off the outside edge; although his skills in pass coverage could stand some fine-tuning. However, once again, health is the key.

If Gustin can manage to avoid injuries for the most part (as Anzalone appears to have done for the most part thus far), he likely could achieve even greater success here in New Orleans — and his earning a back-up linebacker spot alongside Craig Robertson behind starting LB's Anzalone, Demario Davis, and A.J. Klein, isn’t out of the question.

It simply will all come down to him being able to avoid the bad luck (or the freakish-level misfortune in his particular case) that seems to have followed alongside his every career move up to this point.

While he will remind Who Dats of Anzalone, Gustin has actually drawn the most comparisons to former USC All-American linebacker Clay Matthews; who recently left the Green Bay Packers after 10 NFL seasons, to sign with the Los Angeles Rams in Free Agency a couple of months ago.

It didn’t take Gustin long to make an immediate impact at USC, and perhaps the Saints are hoping to capture the proverbial "lightning in a bottle",  

(Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Orange County Register/SCNG)

At times, Gustin was a dominating pass rusher for the Trojans — and his legendary workouts and strict diet have earned him recognition that has been talked about nation-wide within the past few months.

Gustin consumes more than 10,000 calories per day, and has previously said that he hasn’t eaten a candy bar in more than a decade and blends all of his meals so he doesn’t waste any time chewing that he could spend in the weight room.

“There’s a reason he looks like a Marvel superhero,” USC coach Clay Helton told Sports Illustrated just prior to the start of the Draft. “He looks like a cross between Captain America and the Incredible Hulk.”

Certainly the team's coaching staff wouldn't mind if Gustin can become a 'super-hero' for the Saints defense, who already have a player that's been compared to the Marvel Comics super-hero "The Mighty Thor", in Anzalone.

But the best part is that the Saints don't NEED Gustin to be a super-hero, though it's quite obvious that they likely wouldn't be offended if he actually did.

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

And despite his very notable injury history, there's simply no denying just how talented this kid is, and can be.

When you throw in the fact that he'll be getting guidance from Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan over the course of the next few months, he could even end up seeing some extensive playing time as a rookie, both as an outside linebacker in pass-rushing situations, and on special teams (particularly on kickoff and punt coverage) for sure.

But make no mistake about it, whatsoever: this young man is a pure stud, and if he can manage to stay relatively healthy for the most part, the sky is the limit for him.

Most definitely, Porter Gustin has been "flying under the radar" throughout the entire 2019 NFL Draft process, and rightfully so because of all the injury concerns.

But if given the opportunity, he has the God-given talent as well as the personal dedication that's required, to become the next undrafted rookie star for the New Orleans Saints franchise....

 

Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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