My All-Time Saints ‘Hit Men’ (part 2)
We supplied you with the first half of my Saints all-time “Hit Men” (#s 22-12). Now here is my top 11.
11. LB Jonathan Vilma
The trade acquistion from the Jets spent 2008-’13 in the Black and Gold with 68 starts at middle linebacker. He produced 439 tackles and six interceptions, two of which he returned for scores. The former Miami Hurricane was a textbook tackler who could read plays like a fortune teller. Vilma was a sure-handed vice grip tackler and was rarely out of position.
10. SS Sammy Knight
An undrafted 215pound linebacker from USC, Knight landed with the Saints in 1997 and found a home until 2002. During that span, he started 89 contests, totaling 561 tackles, 28 interceptions and five sacks. A Pro Bowler in ’01, Knight is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame. He made himself into one of the most valued and admired players in franchise history through sheer desire, effort and preparation. Naturally, he had a reputation for laying the wood on opponents.
9. LB Demario Davis
The nine-year NFL veteran is entering his third campaign with the Saints. Like Vilma, he left the Jets to find greater success here. The 6-foot-2, 248 pounder possessing 4.52 speed is a trend setter for the defense. He has 221 stops with 22 for loss the past two seasons in New Orleans. Davis was ranked as the fifth best linebacker in the NFL by a recent ESPN poll. A native of Brandon, Mississippi, Davis is the cousin of the late NFL star Steve McNair.
8. DE Wayne Martin
From 1989-’99 with New Orleans, this complete player totaled 597 tackles and 82.5 career sacks. Martin made a career-best 15.5 sacks in 1992. Quite simply, he thumped quarterbacks and ball carrier. Called a quiet assassin by former teammates, the University of Arkansas product flashed fire and desire between the white stripes.
7. DT Derland Moore
This one tough hombre’ shed blockers and devoured runners. He was at his best when the game was an extra physical one. He was once the NFL’s top strongman, winning the league’s arm wrestling competition in consecutive years (1983-’84). Moore played so hard, he’d seem to find a way to get dirt on his uniform while playing on artificial turf. Sacks were not recorded during his tenure in the NFL, but estimates are he came up with between 40- 50 total. He played in 171 games in 13 seasons. The three-year starter at Oklahoma arrived as a walk-on for the Sooners, originally offered a scholarship as a shot putter. Moore instead made a living throwing linemen out of his way.
6. SS Bennie Thompson
It was a brief but notable stay with his hometown team from 1989-91. The native New Orleanian prepped at John McDonogh where he was a two-time All-State linebacker and also excelled on the baseball diamond. Thompson played in the secondary for New Orleans but he was really a dynamo of special teams where he would blow up blocking wedges on kickoffs and pulverize return men. His fearless play helped raise the intensity level of teammates and fans alike. In 34 games with the Saints, he had 49 tackles with 37 coming on special teams where he twice in his career earned All-Pro acclaim (1991 and ’98).
5. FB Lorenzo Neal.
A fourth round pick of the Saints out of Fresno State, he called New Orleans home from 1993 to 1996. Although a fullback on this list might surprise you, former teammates and opponents agree he belongs on it. The 5-11, 255-pound battering ram blocker was quite proficient at his job. Neal was a four-time Pro Bowler and is an pro football Hall of Fame nominee because of his long, impressive track record of lead blocking success. He served as a lead blocker for 1,000 yard rushers 11 times during his 15-year NFL career. Evidenced by his on-field strength, he put up 33 reps on the 225-pound bench. Most impressive, he did miss a single game from 1994-2006 when he may have been the best blocking fullback in league history.
4. LB Vaughn Johnson
It will come as no surprise to Saints fans that most of the remainder of this list is comprised of the famous Dome Patrol. Johnson racked up 664 tackles, third most in team history and added 12 sacks. Affectionately called “Meat” by teammates, his violent hits turned the ball carrier to jelly. Although, a member of the NFL’s all-time best linebacking corps, Johnson was sometimes overlooked due to the celebrity of the other members of the famous foursome. A big playmaker in short yardage and goalline situations, Johnson appeared in four Pro Bowls.
3. SS “Mean” Gene Atkins.
Spending 1987-’93 in the Black and Gold, he played in 107 games, recording 462 tackles, 21 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. He roamed the backend of the Dome Patrol-led Saints like an arrow shot from a high-powered bow racing. Atkins came down the alley many times to light up a runner just past the line of scrimmage. More than just a classic hitter at strong safety, Atkins had good ball skills, too.
2. LB Sam Mills
The 5-foot-9 pack of dynamite was called Field Mouse by teammates and opponents, but he was called “the best player I ever coached” by former head coach Jim Mora. Sam seemed to constantly play with a chip on his shoulder, totaling 936 tackles with the Saints en route to four Pro Bowls. Always around the ball, Mills had a keen instinct as to exactly where the play was headed. He was both smart and tough, fitting the Dome Patrol perfectly as a physical leader.
1. LB Rickey Jackson
There’s no debate here, The six-time Pro Bowler and Pro Football Hall of Famer paces the Saints 1,104 stops and 115 sacks all-time. He caused a lot of nightmares for opposing offensive linemen the night before a game. Rickey’s hits lifted the entire defense, sent echoes throughout the stadium and often motivated the Saints’ offense. The man was a complete linebacker, able to play on the edge, in space and in coverage down the field.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…