New Orleans Saints: Way too early roster projection on defense for 2021
By Darral Nail
New Orleans Saints Cornerbacks (5):
- Marshon Lattimore
- Paulson Adebo
- Patrick Robinson
- Bryce Thompson
- Grant Haley
While the 2020 season saw the New Orleans Saints replete with a pair of top-end starting cornerbacks, the loss of Janoris Jenkins in free agency represents a return to normal for the team as they enter the season ahead absent a clear-cut option to work opposite star Marshon Lattimore at outside cornerback.
Though Patrick Robinson performed quite admirably as an injury replacement on the outside in 2020, and will likely run with the first team when the Saints open training camp, both he and fellow veteran P.J. Williams are likely best suited as slot defenders/overhang players at this point in their respective careers.
Among the players listed on the Saints’ current roster who have seen meaningful regular-season snaps at cornerback are the likes of Grant Haley and (clears throat) Ken Crawley, neither of whom is likely to inspire much confidence if pressed into starting duty.
Luckily for the Saints, the team added reinforcements over the weekend of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Occupying the rare air of a third-round pick and presumptive rookie starter, Stanford’s Paulson Adebo figures to be followed as closely as any first-year Saint in recent memory.
The good news is that, like most that have gone back to review his collegiate film, it is hard to see exactly why Adebo was still available for the Saints to nab with the No. 76 pick in this year’s draft. A highly productive player from a respected top college program, Adebo checks all the boxes in terms of the desired size, speed, and athletic traits for an NFL corner.
What makes Adebo such an intriguing projection for the Saints, in particular, is his demonstrated proficiency in the press-man coverage concepts that New Orleans deploys more than any team in the league. Furthering his fit within the group is his ball-hawking style and the almost hyper-physical approach that he takes in flying downhill to engage in run support.
Though Adebo is unquestionably the highlight of the Saints’ first-year secondary additions, a dark horse challenger for a roster spot could come from the ranks of the undrafted.
While not garnering the attention of fellow UDFA defensive back Trill Williams, who took his talents to South Beach after failing his physical with the Saints, former UT Vol Bryce Thompson was nonetheless the more likely of the two to challenge for an immediate place at the table.
While Williams would profile as more of a hybrid safety/corner-type in the Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, P.J. Williams-mold, Thompson represents a rarity among the Saints defensive back group outside of Lattimore and Adebo, in that he is a true outside corner.
Thompson came of age under the bright lights of the hyper-competitive Southeastern Conference, drawing starting duties as a true freshman. He would earn freshman All-American honors for his efforts and would prove a mainstay in his team’s starting lineup throughout his time in Knoxville.
A smooth, fluid athlete, Thompson also excels in man coverage and, like Adebo, represents the type of physical, ball-hawking corner that Richard employed as the architect of Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” secondary. In this scenario, Thompson eclipses Crawley and Keith Washington Jr. in camp to emerge as the team’s third outside corner.
In the battle for the fifth and final cornerback spot, Grant Haley holds off a handful of upstarts and lands on the Saints’ initial 53-man roster. Fast and tough, Haley plays bigger than his 5’9″ frame would suggest, and showed promise working from the slot in some extended playing time late in the 2020 season versus the Atlanta Falcons.