Scout's Notebook: Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma

Posted Nov. 23, 2011 @ 6:45 p.m.
Posted By Nolan Nawrocki

MLB Jonathan Vilma
: 6-0½, Weight: 229, Speed: 4.72

Notes: Started 37-of-47 games at the University of Miami, notching 371 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and three sacks while also earning numerous academic honors. Was drafted 12th overall in 2004 by the New York Jets and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording 118 tackles, two sacks and four pass breakups and returned a interception for a TD. Earned team MVP honors and a Pro Bowl invitation in '05 after leading the NFL with 187 tackles, four pass breakups, four forced fumbles and one interception. Production slipped mightily in '06 upon the arrival of Eric Mangini and the introduction of a 3-4 front that did not cover him up and allow him roam as freely as he had been able to in Herm Edwards' 4-3 front. Finished '06 with 116 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception. Elected team captain in '07 by teammates and started the first seven games before suffering a season-ending right knee injury. Returned to Miami to have the surgery instead of having Jets' doctors perform it to remove floating bone chips that troubled him as far back as college. Was traded to the Saints on the eve of free agency for a conditional pick that became a third-rounder and plugged into the starting lineup immediately at his more natural MLB position in a 4-3 front. Started all 10 games in '08 and led the team with 151 tackles. Signed a five-year, $34 million extension following the season and went on to lead the Saints to a Super Bowl championship, racking up 130 tackles in '09 and 131 in '10. Started the first seven games in 2011 before having to sit out with a left knee injury that he originally suffered Week Two that required surgery.  

Positives: Extremely football-savvy and instinctive ­— steps before the snap and plays downhill. Outstanding eyes and anticipation — is very quick to locate and run to the ball. Good coverage recognition and range — gets good depth in his drops. Is a secure, wrap tackler in the open field. Veteran defensive signalcaller. Outstanding work ethic. Intense competitor. Plays every down and seldom leaves the field. Mentally and physically tough and consistently plays through injuries. Excellent career production (although it has slipped this season).

Negatives: Has a degenerative condition in his right knee and noticeably hobbled with a left knee injury suffered in Week Two against the Bears (which has kept him out of the last two games). Does not show the same range he did earlier in his career or make as many plays behind the line. Limited burst and closing speed on the blitz. Undersized and lacks physicality and take-on strength to handle bigger blockers — can be engulfed and hung up in tight quarters. Does not use his hands well to play off blocks. Not an explosive hitter.

Summary: In Gregg Williams' complex defense, a premium is placed on intelligence and foot speed at the ILB position. Vilma ranks among the league's best in the category of football-playing instincts and intelligence and is perfectly suited to line it up and set the tone, but knee issues have stolen speed from his game and left Williams to call the game more conservatively than he prefers. Despite not yet hitting the age of 30, Vilma's career is trending downward, and durability issues could call for the Saints to find replacement.