Admit it, you felt great about last year’s signing of Champ Bailey, which today is actually the anniversary of the signing. We all did. How could you not after the complete defensive turnaround in 2013? The New Orleans Saints went from being the laughing-stock of the NFL on defense, earning their respective place in the records books for the statistically worst defense in league history, to an effort that was nothing short of spectacular.
The New Orleans Saints churned in a fourth overall ranked defense in the 2013 season, which featured the league’s second best passing defense. The Saints secondary only surrendered 194.1 yards per game through the air.
Entering the 2014 season, we could come to some sort of agreement that the team was ‘one player’ away from getting into the Super Bowl. Most deemed it a shutdown cornerback to line up opposite of Keenan Lewis. We all fell victim to the hype, and we all know the rest of the story.
After the major fallout from last year’s 31st ranked defense, the Saints front office has shown fans that they aren’t playing around.
Enter Dennis Allen, the new Senior Defensive Assistant for the team, who was previously notorious for his secondary stint with the Saints from 2008-2010. The team also passed on re-signing cornerback Patrick Robinson and let Corey White go. Not so long ago, we were staring at Keenan Lewis and a couple of young guys: Brian Dixon, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and Delvin Breaux.
The Saints courted the likes of Tramon Williams and Brandon Browner in the beginning, and it was once thought that the team would bring in both veterans to the Big Easy. The Saints would lock up their guy (Browner) on March 12, and several days later, Williams would sign a fat contract in Cleveland on March 16.
Instantaneously, the Saints received a major upgrade at cornerback. The addition of Browner is a move that is leaps and bounds above last season’s feelings of euphoria. The Saints didn’t get a cornerback that had to prove himself. They landed a cornerback that has won two Super Bowls with two different clubs. Oh by the way, he’s set to turn 31 in August, a much more appealing attribute over Champ Bailey. Browner also has a height advantage to him at 6’4″, something Sean Payton has emphasized as being pivotal to matching up against the likes of NFC South wide receivers like Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, and Julio Jones twice a year.
Some aren’t as high on the addition of the newly signed Kyle Wilson, who spent the previous five seasons (2010-2014) with the New York Jets. Much like Patrick Robinson, stop focusing on the negativity. Look at why he was brought in. Wilson is going to compete for the team’s slot cornerback position. Browner does brings versatility at being able to cover the slot position, but assuming Lewis and Browner take the outside receivers, Kyle Wilson is a guy who could easily find himself in the rotation. Naturally, he’ll have competition, and isn’t a given to be penciled in as that third corner. What you should be happy about with Wilson is his grades covering the slot.
Younger and less experienced prospects like Stanley Jean-Baptiste (who the Saints are still very high on), Brian Dixon, and Delvin Breaux will get their opportunity to prove themselves this year, more than ever. They truly get to learn from some of the league’s best, Browner and Lewis.
I’d implore you to not pass judgement on Jean-Baptiste. Many were perplexed by the thought of him not seeing much action last season. He’d find himself more as an inactive on game day, playing in four games for the Saints.
Here’s where I’d challenge your thought process. Look at Chicago’s Kyle Fuller, who the Saints were paired with in Mock Drafts last year, and Washington’s David Amerson.
Fuller was a first round selection in 2014 (14th overall), and was immediately put into action, seeing 877 snaps. His Pro Football grade was terrible, second worst in the league at -18.4.
Amerson was a second round selection in 2013 (51st overall – sound familiar?), and has graded poorly in both of his seasons. In 2013, he finished out 84th of 110 cornerbacks with a -5.0 grade on 694 snaps. In 2014, he finished as the league’s worst cornerback with a grade of -20.2 on 926 snaps.
The moral of the story? Rushing a project like Jean-Baptiste isn’t the answer. That kind of play (or lack thereof) can destroy a player’s mindset, and that’s something the Saints know.
When it’s all said and done, the Saints may or may not look at bringing in another cornerback or two to the mix through the draft. It might not be during the early rounds as many project, but more likely towards the later rounds and especially through the undrafted rookie free agent pool.
By making only a few moves, coupled with some added leadership and discipline through the coaching staff, the New Orleans Saints secondary is starting to take shape. However, we have to see it translate on the field.
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