The New Orleans Saints have been a team that, in recent years, had been full of offensive talent but typically lacked a collective level of defensive talent. In 2015, the Saints ranked 32nd in points allowed, and 31st in yards allowed. After that, in 2016, they finished 31st and 27th in those categories. In both of these seasons, the Saints finished top ten in both yards and points gained. These stats have been what has allowed them to stay afloat, finishing 7-9 in both of those seasons.
In the 2017 season, the NFL saw a Saints defensive core that was greatly improved, especially from any defense the Saints had possessed in many previous years. The Saints used the 2017 free agency and draft to improve their linebacking corps. Much of the defensive renaissance in the 2017 season was led by first-round pick turned rookie star cornerback Marshon Lattimore and other up and coming members of the secondary like Marcus Williams and Ken Crawley.
The cornerback corps will be an important part of the Saints roster going into the season. Let’s take a look at who the Saints will have line up against some of the NFL’s top offensive players this year.
New Orleans Saints 2018 Cornerback Breakdown
In just a few short seasons, the Saints defensive back corps and defense (especially secondary) in general has gone from looking like a shallow pool of talent to being one of the youngest and most promising cores in the league.
Led by rookie-standout from last year and dominant CB1 Marshon Lattimore, the much-improved Saints secondary returns much of its core from last year. It also returns pieces like Ken Crawley, P.J. Williams, De’Vante Harris, and Arthur Maulet. They also return a proverbial Swiss army knife in Justin Hardee. The Saints defense will look to build upon their successes last year. They finished with a combined 20 interceptions on the year.
Leading that core into his second year in the league and coming off a Defensive Rookie of the Year season, Lattimore will be looking to continue his good form after leading the team in interceptions and passes defended. He was one half of the pairing, alongside running back Alvin Kamara, that led the 2017 Saints to sweep both the offensive and the defensive rookie of the year awards. They were only the second team to accomplish the feat.
Returning alongside Lattimore is third-season corner, Ken Crawley. Crawley was a vital piece of the secondary in the 2017 season. Crawley prospered from having Lattimore being able to defend against many of the NFL’s best WR1s and racked up 47 solo tackles, one interception, and 17 passes defended as one of the main fixtures of the young Saints secondary. They’ll be looking for production from one of the most experienced members of the Saints secondary. Oh, and did I mention, it’s only his third season in the league? Talk about youth.
The Saints also return another defensive back from last year’s roster in the versatile Justin Hardee. The then-rookie out of Illinois Hardee then proved his worth and was, arguably, one of the best special teams players on the roster, and maybe in the league. He was a complete player when it came to special teams. He was rewarded with a touchdown return when he blocked a punt in the Saints November 5th matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To me, due to his versatility, and his mind for the position (Hardee played as a wide receiver in college), Hardee is a lock for this year’s roster.
New Faces – Patrick Robinson
Though there are many returning faces there are, however, some new faces on this Saints roster. The Saints signed cornerback Patrick Robinson from the Eagles in the off-season. Coming off of a Super Bowl win with the Philadelphia Eagles, Robinson (yes, the same one that struggled with New Orleans a few years ago) has recently transformed himself. He has become one of the best nickel backs in the league. The former Saints first round pick earned himself the sixth-best overall cornerback ranking in the 2017 season (according to Pro Football Focus) and will look to be a vital piece to the Saints secondary.
Though there are a couple other new faces when it comes to Saints cornerbacks, they are best discussed in the next section.
There are a few wild cards when it comes down to the rest of the Saints defensive back rosters, including who will take the last few spots on the final roster come the September roster cuts. The Saints will have a keen eye on returning players Arthur Maulet, P.J. Williams, and De’Vante Harris as they battle it out with sixth-round draft pick Kamrin Moore for the final two spots on the roster.
One defensive back that is widely expected to make the roster out of this group is P.J. Williams. Williams struggled at points last year though, which is what drops him from a sure returner into the wild card category. I would assume that a roster spot is Williams’ to lose, but he does have some weaknesses. The Saints definitely saw last year. The best bet is that Williams fights hard for his place on the team. He’ll put himself in a good position.
De’Vante Harris was another young player who struggled in coverage last year. Prior to last season, many thought he had a lot of potential to be a player in this Saints defensive back rotation. That being said, Harris dropped the ball last year. He’ll have some work to do on a roster that has widely improved from years past. Should he put last year behind him, he has a chance to make the roster, I mean, he’s done it before, right?
Maulet was on the Saints practice squad last year and is one person who could definitely land a spot on the final roster. Some analysts are saying that this is his year to break out. He could do just that with a little hard work in training camp. The second-year corner out of Memphis will be looking to secure a spot on the roster come training camp and preseason.
One of the biggest wild cards from this year’s young corner group is Kamrin Moore. He was the Saints sixth-round draft pick this year out of Boston College. The Saints took Moore in this year’s draft, and they liked what they saw out of the stocky cornerback. Moore’s toughness as a tackler and experience playing special teams may lead to his landing a roster spot.
The Saints cornerback group will without a doubt be a main focus for this year’s team. The young defensive core will have a lot of questions to answer this season: Can Marshon Lattimore keep his form after a nearly-perfect rookie season? Can newcomers step up to the plate? Will the combined talent be enough to allow the Saints to push for the Super Bowl this season?
We won’t know until the season is underway, of course. However, the realistic outlook is that this will mostly be a battle for the last two or three spots. The locks are Lattimore, Crawley, Robinson, and Hardee. The real fight will be down between P.J. Williams, Kamrin Moore, and last year’s scapegoat for the defense, De’Vante Harris. Expect Maulet and Williams will grab the last two spots with Moore finding himself a place on the practice squad. He will be there in case Maulet struggles to find his footing in the first-team NFL world.
This is the deepest defensive unit the Saints have seen in many years. It’s no doubt that the cornerback position will be a fundamental cornerstone to a deep playoff run. Time will tell in terms of providing answers to the questions posed above. As for now, the Saints cornerbacks look fast, young, and most importantly, talented.