With OTAs underway and training camp just around the corner, New Orleans Saints players will be battling it out with each other to find their places on the depth chart. After a strong 2014 NFL Draft and a dip into the free agent pool, the Black and Gold are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Fans should be in for a real treat this fall, but first, we have to get through the summer.
CB Keenan Lewis has locked himself into the starting lineup, but what about the rest of the cornerbacks? With the experience and leadership 12-time Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey brings to the table, he looks to be the frontrunner to grab the spot opposite Lewis, but his age and health issues could say otherwise. We could very well see a four-way battle between Bailey, Corey White, Patrick Robinson and rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Robinson is likely the weaker link of the four, but his veteran presence still gives him the upper hand over Jean-Baptiste. However, after falling to a season ending injury last year in week 2, he has some serious catching up to do if he wants to be considered for a starting job. Robinson has yet to play like the first-round pick that he was, but he has been in New Orleans longer than any other defensive back on the team.
Former Saint, Jabari Greer‘s 2013 campaign was shortened as well following an injury against the San Francisco 49ers in November. These blows to New Orleans’ secondary opened up the opportunity for Corey White. White was a reliable backup plan; he was primarily used as a nickelback, but fared well on the outside once placed in that role. After a few mental errors last season, his game could use some maturing. With the addition of Champ Bailey and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, White’s days on the outside are likely limited. We could see him transition back over into the slot and battle with Robinson for playing time.
A product of the University of Nebraska, Stanley Jean-Baptiste screams shutdown potential. Like the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, he is a 6-foot-3 wide receiver turned cornerback. I am not saying he will be as good as Sherman, but their backgrounds and measurables do compare. Jean-Baptiste has excellent length, ball skills and man-to-man ability. He lacks the top-end speed to compete with the leagues’ faster receivers, but that’s Keenan Lewis’ job. Whether or not he starts, Jean-Baptiste will still see a huge chunk of action in 2014. The Saints drafted him to eventually play alongside Lewis.
Rod Sweeting, Trevin Wade, Terrance Frederick, Derrius Brooks, A.J. Davis and rookie undrafted free agents Brian Dixon and Derrick Strozier will all be fighting hard to make their case as well. Sweeting and Wade are the favorites, but anything can happen this summer. The NFL is full of opportunities; nobodies can easily turn into somebodies. The underdogs always seem to fight harder. That’s the joy of professional football.
Projected Corner Depth Post-Training Camp:
1. Keenan Lewis, 2. Champ Bailey, 3. Stanley-Jean Baptiste, 4. Corey White, 5. Patrick Robinson, 6. Rod Sweeting
The way I see it, we’re looking at Lewis and Bailey on the outside with Jean-Baptiste as their relief (eventually taking over Bailey’s job this year or the next). Corey White and Patrick Robinson should be used primarily in the slot and maybe a little 6-foot-3 Baptiste here and there to add some mismatches for opposing wideouts. After these five guys, the next spot or two is up for grabs.
The cornerback position will be one of the most heavily fought battles given the amount of depth. OTAs and training camp is the time to make your name known, especially for some of the youngers with a far less chance of making the cut. It will be interesting to see how things unfold before the 2014 season kicks off.