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Analyzing the Saints’ elite defense heading into free agency

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Cornerback

Now we get to the excitement.

Of the defensive positions, cornerback has been the one that has been found to provide the most value in terms of wins above replacement. Meanwhile, there are plenty of studies to suggest that a strong secondary is the basis of a productive defense, as opposed to a dominant pass rush.

Thus, continuing to replenish the cornerback room should be a focus for the Saints. However, veteran Janoris Jenkins is likely to be cut to save $7 million, so a hole already opens up there.

Then, there’s Marshon Lattimore. The 24-year-old is entering into his final year under contract and will likely ask for a major contract extension that would make him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL.

Yet, he has allowed over 600 yards in coverage in each of the past three seasons, has allowed a 98+ passer rating in two of the past three seasons, and although his overall catch rate numbers/forced incompletions are fine, his struggles when targeted down the field:

So, what should New Orleans do? In my eyes, a trade is by far the optimal approach is to trade the former 11th overall pick out of Ohio State. Luckily for them, in the Jaguars, Browns, Packers, and Titans, there are plenty of teams picking at the back-end of the first round who could be interested in upgrading their secondary; the Bengals, Patriots, Broncos, 49ers, and Chargers also are intriguing fits.

Doing so would:

  1. Sell high on a regressing player
  2. Avoid paying top dollar for him
  3. Acquire extra draft capital to assist in long-term roster building
  4. Clear immediate cap space

In my eyes, this is a no-brainer if there is an interested party, which should not be an issue.

So, when it is all said and done, CJ Gardner-Johnson defending the slot its the only certainly for this cornerback group, and New Orleans won’t have the resources to replace their outside cornerbacks.

That’s where the volatility of coverage pays off for them though; they can target bounce-back young cornerbacks who have shown flashes in the past.

This includes, but is not limited to: Akhello Witherspoon, Rasul Douglas, Artie Burns, Gareon Conley, Sidney Jones,  Michael Davis, Cameron Sutton, as well as veterans Darqueze Dennard and Terrance Mitchell.

I would like to see the Saints also add cornerbacks in the draft, as there is a lot of overall depth.

They could immediately place Lattimore with a first-round cornerback, but I’d set my sights to the second round and beyond, where the following players fit from a production/athleticism stand point:

  • Eric Stokes, Georgia
  • Paulson Adebo, Stanford
  • Tay Gowan, UCF
  • Ambry Thomas, Michigan
  • Oliajah Griffin, USC
  • Thomas Graham, Oregon
  • Zech McPhearson, Texas Tech

The value in this draft clearly is in the middle rounds.

Stokes is the best-regarded, while Gowan and Thomas played just one year, but did so at a high level and are very athletic. Keep on an eye on Adebo, meanwhile, as he has multiple seasons under his belt as a starter and has a lot of playmaker traits in terms of pass breakups.

Trading down and attacking this depth, ideally coming away with at least two of these players, seems to be the way to go to rebuild the secondary for long-term success.

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