The New Orleans Saints have a lot of things to look forward to this season, and watching their safeties dominate the backfield is one of them. The Saints have enjoyed becoming one of the top pass and run defenses in the past years and finished the 2020 season allowing the fifth-fewest passing yards and the second-fewest rushing touchdowns.
The men behind the Saints’ backfield success are versatile, multi-pronged pieces of the secondary. All-purpose and all toughness, these guys possess the combined strengths of a linebacker and a ballhawk, a blitzer and a robber. They’re not too shabby at safety, either.
Here are the Saints’ safety options for 2021 (including defensive backs):
- C.J. Gardner-Johnson
- Marcus Williams
- Malcolm Jenkins
- J.T. Gray
- P.J. Williams
- Keith Washington II
- Deuce Wallace
New Orleans got a safety-cornerback hybrid in fourth-rounder Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and it may have been one of their best picks of 2019. Gardner-Johnson quickly established himself as a consistent defender in slot coverage, and he’s only gotten better with time. Last season, he played on 82 percent of the defensive snaps and led the team with 13 passes defended, along with a third-best 66 combined tackles.
A heralded member of the deep receiving corps, Gardner-Johnson also proved he could be positioned closer to the line of scrimmage to defend against the run. And he’s a disruptive blitzer, recording his first sack in 2020 along with six added pressures. Is there anything he can’t defend against?
New Orleans Saints safeties provide versatile and uber-valuable insurance
Gardner-Johnson joins Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins as the starters of the group, and this trio is stacked with talent for 2021. Williams recently accepted a franchise tag, which could bode well for his future in the black and gold. (The Saints have only used the franchise tag twice, once for Drew Brees in 2012 and another for Jimmy Graham in 2014.)
Williams racked up 14 interceptions along with 12 pass breakups in four years at New Orleans, only being penalized eight times. He’s been named the 4th best safety in the league going into 2021, and the Saints already know his worth. Expect them to hold onto Williams for as long as possible.
Jenkins played in New Orleans from 2009-13, left and earned some Pro Bowl seasons at Philly, and then came back last season. No bad blood here, since Jenkins exploded as a defensive back in 2020. Jenkins played the most defensive snaps on the team and finished with 91 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions and 10 passes defended. He might be slightly overpaid, though.
The Swiss-army defensive back saw action all over the field, from playing underneath Williams as a robber, rotating into the slot, or quarterbacking the defense to help Demario Davis. Contract aside, Jenkins will be sure to impress this season.
The rest of the secondary roster: J.T. Gray and P.J. Williams are multi-year veterans of the squad who have served as reliable depth pieces in the past. Undrafted free agent Keith Washington could seriously impress in training camp this year and find a way onto the roster; Deuce Wallace signed on as a safety but may also help on special teams.
The Saints locked down opposing deep threats before, and they’ll do it again. They boast a winning hand with the jacks-of-all-trade in their safety unit, and come training camp, there will be no bluffs or surprises. Just the backfield defense doing what it does best.