When your team’s defense was as bad as the New Orleans Saints were this season, you question everything. One great place to start is why did your second round pick, whom scouts directly compared to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, not active most of the season?
NFL Media Analyst Mike Mayock projected him as a corner, Charles Davis projected him as a safety, and former GM of the Cleveland Browns Phil Savage split the difference saying he was one of the “safer” picks in the draft that could play either position.
The criticism was mostly swept under the rug but you get bits and pieces: stiff hips, not a quick-twitch athlete, lacks recovery speed. Almost the same analysis of Richard Sherman who was projected to not have the talent to be a future starter.
The difference? When you compare the football acumen between Sherman and Jean-Baptiste the difference is night and day. Jean-Baptiste didn’t play to his size and there’s really no point to being about 6’3, 215 pounds if you don’t play like it.
, he didn’t locate the ball unless he was in perfect position (rarely happens in the NFL), got grabby when beat in coverage, and he is coming up on 24 years old and is still in the development period.
As a Saints fan, you have to assume that the above assessment is what the tight-lipped staff couldn’t say to the media. This approach to the rookie may prove to be the best decision the staff made in 2014.
The Saints defensive system fits him like a glove. Jean-Baptiste has a lot of natural ability, but he didn’t know how to use it effectively in his rookie season. Most young players are different players in their second year for two major reasons.
Young players are not in football-specific conditioning programs coming in to the NFL. It doesn’t affect the production of some rookies, for other rookies it makes a huge difference. I have to believe that this could have played a small role in Jean-Baptiste’s inactive status most of the season.
The second major reason is technique. Alshon Jeffrey made the leap from good receiver with impressive size, to great pro-bowl caliber receiver with the Chicago Bears in his second year. The reason why was his improved footwork, body control, and crispness in and out of his route breaks.
Players have the facility at their disposal during the off-season to work on the field with teammates every day and those days aren’t optional for a guy like Drew Brees who constantly wants to get better.
Jean-Baptiste spent his rookie season learning from coaches and players on a mental standpoint and this off-season he will drill that new mentality into his muscles with solid technique refined by his teammates. The improvement of his overall game will increase the competition behind Keenan Lewis in 2015.