NEW ORLEANS - One is a baby rhino, the other a great white shark.
Together, Akiem Hicks (the rhino) and Cameron Jordan (the shark) are two of the most underrated, yet impactful, young defensive linemen in the NFL.
You’re as likely to hear about their influence as you are the backup left guard for the Division III Redlands.
They’ve combined for six sacks in the past two games, nine quarterback hits, two passes defensed and 23 tackles.
Against San Francisco, Hicks was a one-man wrecking crew, one-arm tackling 49ers left and right.
Against Atlanta, Jordan was clutch, working from both ends of the defensive line to harass Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Both have earned the spirit animal nicknames given to them by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The nicknames are meant to somewhat mirror the on-field personalities of the defensive players, a light-hearted ruse by Ryan to keep his charges entertained and relaxed.
It might be hard to get Hicks and Jordan more relaxed than they already are. After the 17-13 win over Atlanta, Jordan was talking to reporters when Hicks walked by, deftly tossing a ball of athletic tape at his fellow defensive end and hitting him in the chest.
On the field, however, both play with as much energy as anyone in the NFL.
One play early in the third quarter shows what the two can do when working together.
Hicks lined up inside of Jordan and bull-rushed guard Garrett Reynolds into Ryan. With the quarterback stumbling, Jordan looped back to his right and finished the quarterback off.
“Hicks is a beast,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.
No question about that.
His presence is certainly helping Jordan take the next step to becoming a household name, too.
Not that Jordan needs much help for that. He has upped his level.
“His effort is phenomenal and that is the biggest thing that we saw last year, his effort to the ball every play,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “He is one of those d-linemen that can play literally every down of the game and not be tired.”
They’re a big reason the Saints defense is among the best in the league on third down (No. 6), sacks per pass attempt (No. 1) and fourth down (No. 3).
According to Pro Football Focus, Hicks is the 15th-rated 3-4 defensive end, but the third-best in forcing offenses into negative plays. Jordan, meanwhile, is No. 1 according to PFF with 36 quarterback hurries.
Because as quickly as they can get to the quarterback and pressure him, it means the back end is in coverage for precious little time.
“I feel like we have one of the best front eight in the league where you can put any guy in there and he’s going to be able to rush the passer and get to him,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “Whether it’s Cam, Junior (Galette), Akiem, Parys (Haralson), whoever it is, (Keyunta) Dawson – those guys get to the quarterback and makes our job easier.”
Hicks is in the second year of a four-year contract. Jordan is in the third year of his deal.
In other words, the future – at least the immediate future – appears bright along the defensive line.