First of all, what a fun group this has become during the Sean Payton era! So many trials and tribulations, so many expectations and failures, some YES moments, and a lot more NOOOOOO moments in general. This is a troubled group position with so many lows, and yet, great amazing highs when they have clicked. And since 2017 with Marshon Lattimore as the cornerstone (pun intended), the Saints have slowly put together a working back end to the defense.
So I didn’t make my goal of completing the breakdowns before training camp. Stupid day job. But here we are looking at the back line of the defense. It’s gonna be great to see the competitions play out. At least one person from this group that gets cut will start for another team this season. That’s how stacked the Saints suddenly are in the secondary.
Marshon Lattimore (6′ 0″, 192 lbs):
Lattimore is entering his third season as the Saints #1 shutdown corner. After his amazing rookie debut in 2017 (and every part of that historic draft class), Marshon experienced a statistical “drop off” his sophomore season.
Now, that is a bit misleading. Lattimore had such a ridiculous rookie season that it’s hard to match season to season. Also, teams learned to stop testing him as much in year two. So going from 5 interceptions and a touchdown to 2 interceptions and no touchdowns is still quality CB play. He also was responsible for 4 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries last season. Get it together, Lattimore. Sheeesh. Look for him to have an uptick in year 3 because of…
Eli Apple (6′ 1″, 203 lbs):
Eli Apple came over from the hapless Giants midseason to try and be a plug in the bursting dam that was opposite of Lattimore. And he got picked on early and often. That said, the former first rounder held his ground, and had a serviceable second half of the season, finishing with 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Already in the beginning of camp he’s been showing up, looking every part of that starting number 2 spot. With a full offseason with the Saints, and finally being somewhere that he’s happy and appreciated, look for Apple to see a solid year 2 with the Saints.
Vonn Bell (5′ 11″, 205 lbs):
“Vonn Bell, got the ill communications” is fun to sing a la Beastie Boys, but in reality he’s been quietly improving every year since getting drafted in the second round in 2016. Bell has proven to be a solid strong safety for the Saints. He’s the main reason the Saints parted ways with hot and cold Kenny Vaccaro. And this year he’s added on 10 pounds in the hopes of improving his game. Well we will see, Mr. Bell. I think I can safely speak for the entire Who Dat Nation when I say I’m all for whatever works.
He’s a Roman Harper that can actually defend the pass when called for, adding much needed support to the old maligned secondary of Payton past. Bell will continue this uptick in year 4. I’m calling it now for at least one interception off an Eli Apple tipped pass.
Marcus Williams (6′ 1″, 195 lbs):
Marcus Williams came on the scene red hot with the Saints in 2017, only to have it end on the baffling and disheartening “Minnesota Miracle” that ended the Saints 2017 title run. Before that, he had 4 interceptions and a safety. Last year, he was one of the training camp standouts, determined to shake that horrendous ending that the media would not shut up about. Talking about feeding a complex?
But instead Williams finished 2018 a little quieter, but still solid with two interceptions (instead of 4), 3 passes defended (instead of 7), and his first sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery. I don’t know about you, but I think he’s just fine. Year three is gonna be an interesting year for the free safety though. Will he continue to put out these solid numbers? What does it mean when the Saints just drafted 2 promising rookies? It’s possible we will see him in a lot more rotational packages because of the promising youth just drafted. The Saints philosophy has been about getting the best 11 players on the field. The counter argument to that philosophy is not going with the hot hand necessarily…aka the NBA Jam rule in my book.
AND NOW THE POSITION BATTLES:
This is where things get spicy and interesting. P Rob is coming off a big injury that sidelined him for most of last season. The Saints drafted not one but TWO safeties in Saquan Hampton and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (the new law firm! Move over MJD!), so the backup safety battles got huge. Or are the Saints thinking about converting on of our new members into another cornerback? Also note that the Saints typically carry 5 CBs and 5 safeties with special teams in mind.
So here’s where things get interesting, and I’m gonna do things a little different. The slot corner is a battle, the special teams guys are a bit of a battle, and the least likely guys I’m gonna just gloss over for now for expediency. The slot corner is really a two way battle currently which brings us to…
Patrick Robinson (5′ 11″, 191 lbs):
Oh P Rob. He couldn’t quite be what Sean Payton wanted him to be in his first stint with the Saints, and then he went to the Chargers and was static (pun intended), and ended up with the Eagles eventually and grew his wings (pun also intended)! Payton gets excited for his boy, so he’s brought back, and then the man goes and gets injured. God dammit. But now the question with him is can he be productive and healthy? Well I guarantee you that he’s gonna get every chance to because of Sean Payton. And with PJ Williams’ dumb offseason shenanigans, he’s got every opportunity to finally be everything the Saints have wanted in a slot corner.
A lot of people won’t remember that 2011-2012 were actually good years for P Rob, mostly because of the horrific overall D. He posted combined stats for a sack, a forced fumble, and 7 interceptions in that time. His 2017 year with the Eagles included a sack and 4 interceptions. So this “aging” seasoned journeyman may still have a lot to offer.
PJ Williams (6′, 0″, 196 lbs):
Wow what a guy with highs and lows! I thought Saints fans were out for blood last season, and then everyone ended up loving PJ by the end of the season…and then the DUI happened in the offseason. He basically did the Saints a favor to resign him for cheap on a one year “prove it” deal. PJ, you may remember, had A LOT of concussions early on. The Saints were high on him after being drafted in the third round in 2015, and then after a series of nasty concussions in 2015-16, he was able to do just enough to hold on to a spot.
Last year, he started off slow, but then became reminiscent of that 2009 “opportunistic” defense, having 2 forced fumbles, an interception, and 9 passes deflected from the slot, despite getting straight owned early in the season. He was all primed to take charge and force the Saints into a tough decision or hit the open market…but went and got a DUI. Whoops! So the Saints resign him for cheap on a one year deal, and now this intriguing position battle for the slot corner proceeds!
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (5′ 11″, 210 lbs):
First of all, I love all of “Gardner-Johnson” fitting on his helmet. What a great year for Saints to have late quality draft picks. CGJ has so much upside, and he’ll be a player to reckon with come cut time. A fourth round draft pick, he was quickly turning heads in minicamp, and hasn’t slowed in training camp. His biggest knock against him was that he played for Florida. Eeew. Gross right?
Well that asshole is our asshole now, and we should be elated. In three years starting with the obnoxious Gators, he had 9 interceptions, 3 touchdowns, a lot of tackles for losses blah blah blah. The guy is good. Like seriously good. Get over your hates like I have to and accept that CGJ is going to be a staple here. I would be shocked by him getting cut.
Saquan Hampton (6′ 1″, 206 lbs):
And then in round 6 the Saints picked Saquan Hampton (the guy on the left, and I get you can read. You wouldn’t have made it this far in the blog otherwise, but I gotta say it. He’s getting no photo love in camp thus far.), proving that they truly go for the best available players. Saquan comes from a smaller school than Chauncey, but then like someone such as Deonte Harris, he has a lot of upside to offer. For expediency, I’m gonna just say he’s got a lot to offer the Saints, and his combine negatives are all correctable. That’s why the Saints were so high on him. You starving for stats? Ok, well with 4 years at Rutgers he had 4 interceptions and a fumble recovery and a lot of shut downs. Yes I’m rushing now. If you don’t like it, complain!
Such longshots. But always room for secondary and special teams right?? Who can round out the roster?
I’m going with 5 CBs:
Marshon Latimore, Eli Apple, Patrick Robinson, PJ Williams, Justin Hardee
And for Safeties:
Vonn Bell, Marcus Williams, CGJ, Saquan Hampton, Chris Banjo
Just a quick writer’s note: If you’ve read my blogs up to now, you know I’m focusing on mostly the Sean Payton era (obviously during current training camp). It’s mostly because I’m writing in the now. But if any readers want to talk shop with anything older, newer, good days, bad days, what’s a “Beerman”, when is a bag over head acceptable, how good was the Dome Patrol really, oh remember when Archie was good, or do you remember when Archie brought hope?????????? All great questions. I’m happy to write about new or old. Good or bad.
Please ask your questions, and I can feature you in your own fan blog!
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