3 players who must take the next step for the Saints in 2019
The New Orleans Saints have thrown together back-to-back great seasons. In 2017, the team went 11-5, but they lost to the Minnesota Vikings on a miracle play. In 2018, the team improved and finished atop the NFC South with a 13-3 record. They ended up losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the conference championship game thanks to one of the worst no-calls in recent memory. Now, the Saints have to continue to find ways to improve in 2019.
The Saints have such a talent-heavy offense that this article consists of three defensive players. The team doesn’t have a bad defense. The unit finished 14th in total defense (yards per game) last season. The defense was also spectacular against the run, finishing 2nd only to the Chicago Bears. The Saints allowed just 80.2 rushing yards per game in 2018. The Bears allowed 80.0, barely topping New Orleans.
Pass defense is really where New Orleans struggled last season. The team finished 29th in the league in passing yards per game, allowing 268.9. Opposing offenses completed 67.0% of their passes against the Saints in 2018, the seventh highest completion percentage in the league. Quarterbacks finished with a 100.3 rating against the Saints defense. The pass defense also got beat often, allowing the second most completions of 40 or more yards. Needless to say, this article will highlight some of the players from the Saints secondary.
3. Vonn Bell, Safety
The strong safety was drafted in the second round by the Saints back in 2016. A lot was expected of Bell when he was initially taken. As a high draft pick out of powerhouse Ohio St., Bell had his universities pedigree on his shoulders. Scouts also believed that Bell was a quality selection in the second round because he had starter level potential. Bell’s versatility also allowed him to be moved around and play in various positions in the defensive backfield and closer to the line.
While Bell has appeared in every game of his three-year career, he’s seeing fewer and fewer starts every year. In 2018, Bell started just eight games. The biggest issue with Bell is his pass defense. He’s terrific against the run, but he’s vulnerable in coverage. Both traits are reflected in the Saints defense as a whole. In 2019, Bell needs to prove he can handle more than just run defense and needs to play a larger role in evening out the Saints defense.
2. Marcus Davenport, Defensive End
Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins sheltered Davenport in his rookie season. With Rankins recovering from a torn left Achilles tendon, Davenport will have to play a larger role in 2019. Coming into his rookie season, Davenport was a raw prospect that the Saints traded up for. He really didn’t show out as a rookie, but many players take a year or two to become full-time starters. Given the situation with Rankins though and the team’s success last season, I have a feeling Davenport will be pushed towards a starting role this season.
As a rookie, Davenport recorded just 22 tackles and 4.5 sacks. For a player like Davenport, who is 6-6, 265 lbs., 4.5 sacks won’t satisfy anyone. To be fair, his highest single-season sack total in college was 8.5. He’s never been that superstar pass rusher, but the Saints hope they can mold his raw physical traits into great production. The Saints need someone who can really bring the pass rush to another level. Putting together a star-studded pass rush would bail out the struggling secondary.
1. Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback
The Saints took the Ohio St. product with the 11th Overall pick in 2017 despite injury concerns. The decision paid off big time. Lattimore recorded five interceptions and 18 passes defensed, went to the Pro Bowl, and won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. 2018 wasn’t a perfect follow-up season as Lattimore missed the Pro Bowl and his pass defense numbers dropped. However, he did pick up the slack by forcing four fumbles.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) listed Lattimore as the 16th best cornerback in the league last season. If you know how PFF works, then you know 16th is actually a lot better than it sounds. Still, Lattimore is hovering in an area between perennial Pro Bowler and just being one of the “best of the rest” guys. Considering how talented he is, the Saints are hoping he can develop into an All-Pro caliber player. Taking that next step would be huge for Lattimore because it would give the Saints a ringer in their secondary. Lattimore is a good player as he is now, but he has the potential to become great.