Who is Khairi Fortt?


Jun 11, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints linebacker Khairi Fortt (54) during minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the Bengals chose to claim linebacker Khairi Fortt following his being waived from the Saints.  It was an interesting “waive” by the Saints considering they chose to use their “I.R. with a designation to return” tag the 2014 fourth-round pick; teams only get one of these per year, so using it and then simply releasing the player is odd.

Yet, Khairi Fortt is now a Bengal.  The team chose to claim Fortt after placing linebacker Sean Porter on I.R. after possibly tearing his ACL; it’s yet another injury in the long line of injuries for the young linebacker who’s time with the Bengals may come to a close following this year.  The relatively unknown Fortt will take Porter’s place as the team’s seventh linebacker.  So, who is Khairi Fortt?

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After being touted as a highly-ranked college prospect, Khairi Fortt played his first two years of collegiate football at Penn State University and then transferred to the University of California following the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  He played the “WILL” linebacker position at both schools.

He worked his way into a starting linebacker in his sophomore season after leading all freshmen in tackles the year before despite missing some time due to injury.  He accumulated 33 tackles, six TFLs, and 2.5 sacks during his sophomore season including strong performances against Eastern Michigan and Iowa.

After redshirting for a year due to injury, he played his junior, and final collegiate season, at California.  He accrued 64 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and 0.5 sacks in just nine games; Fortt missed the final three games due to injury.

Like Porter, a common theme with Fortt has been injury.  More specifically, Fortt injured his right ACL during his senior year of high school.  Prior to his 2012 redshirt year, he had surgery on that same knee to repair one of the ligaments that stabilizes his patella (knee cap); according to his draft profile,

Fortt had been dealing with a partial dislocation (subluxation) since high school.  During his junior year, Fortt missed the final three games of the year due to a biceps injury after enjoying a productive year; he led the team in tackles prior to his biceps injury.  Fortt was unable to finish the combine drills after straining his left hamstring during the workout.  Finally, Fortt suffered an unspecified leg injury during the Saints’ second preseason game this year.

Fortt is an athletic linebacker who CBS compared to Titans’ linebacker Zavier Gooden; another ultra-athletic linebacker who can make plays everywhere.  Despite historically playing as a WILL linebacker, Fortt acknowledged to NOLA.com’s Evan Woodbery that the Saints were training him at the SAM spot, hopefully using his athleticism to get to the quarterback.

"“At Penn State, I was basically the Will (weak-side) linebacker. At Cal, I was the Will linebacker. I was the Will here for a little bit. Then about two weeks ago they traded me to Sam.”“I’m basically rushing the passer. I have my hand down on the ground a couple of times. That’s very new for me. I’ve never put my hand down on the ground,” Fortt said. “These coaches are great, and they know how to teach, so it’s coming along well.”"

It’s this versatility that probably attracted the Bengals considering they drafted Sean Porter for similar versatility.  But seeing Fortt on the field seems like a “crapshoot” considering he seems to be an injury risk like Porter.  Also like Porter, both players were drafted in the fourth round of their respective drafts: 2013 for Porter and 2014 for Fortt.

There’s no doubt Fortt is an intriguing player; his speed and versatility makes him so.  But only time will tell if he can get over his injury woes and actually get on the field for an extended period of time.  He’ll have a shot to contribute once healthy as the Bengals did use Porter on special teams the first week he was healthy enough to play.