Things do not often go right for cornerbacks.
Enduring ups and downs are the nature of the position, and the sample sizes from a single season are often too small to tell meaningful stories. Five plays go the wrong way, and it changes the way people talk about a player. Only the truly great ones — and there have only been a handful throughout history — normalize success.
So, no, everything probably won’t go right for the New Orleans cornerbacks. There will be some bad luck, and bad days are almost guaranteed playing in the NFC South. Sometimes you just get beat by Mike Evans or Chris Godwin or Julio Jones or Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore or Robby Anderson. But even if things don’t always go right, the floor is pretty high for Saints cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins.
If things do go right, and Lattimore and Jenkins get some good luck and play up to their potential, this will easily be the best duo the Saints have fielded during the Sean Payton era. The pair might even end up forming one of the league’s better combinations.
Lattimore is a known commodity. He’s elite when at his best and still good when at his worst. Jenkins is still a little bit of a mystery to a region that really didn’t get to see much of him last season. But make no mistake, he’s capable of elite stretches. Jenkins’ bad seasons look a lot like what many could consider good seasons from those playing alongside Lattimore the last three years.
Jenkins didn’t like how he was used by the New York Giants the last few seasons before being released last year. He made his name with the Rams as a cornerback who could travel with the opposition’s best wide receiver. He started in that role with Giants, playing all over the place in 2016 and 2017, but then he was primarily attached to a side of the field, which was a source of frustration.
Lattimore will be the top guy in New Orleans. When all things are equal, Lattimore should shadow the opposition’s best player. But adding Jenkins will give defensive coordinator Dennis Allen more options in the secondary. There shouldn’t be games like in 2018 when the Saints were hopeless against which Falcons receiver was not going against Lattimore. The Saints can now evaluate the matchups and decide which one of their high-end cornerbacks pairs up with the other receiver. That means being able to keep Lattimore off of players like the Rams’ Cooper Kupp, and other players of that ilk who have given him trouble.
Jenkins should fit into the fabric of this defense very well – if that wasn’t already apparent by how quickly he got acclimated last season. He’s a very good press cornerback and only 23.6 of the passes thrown at him since 2016 have come when he’s lined up within three yards of the receiver at the start of the play. The only year when Jenkins got thrown at a lot (39.1 percent) when pressing his receiver was 2016, but he allowed a passer rating against that season of 65.2.
This is good because the Saints like to press and play man concepts. Jenkins was a little shaky last year in Cover 1 looks, allowing a 106.7 passer rating against on 145 snaps. Still, his number is significantly better than the 137.27 passer rating allowed by Eli Apple. And this is an area where a small sample size can alter the picture, considering we’re only talking about 22 targets against Jenkins.
The cornerback allowed a 75.46 passer rating against from these looks in 2018 and was at 51.3 in 2017. With a better team around him, seeing Jenkins get back to where he was before things went sour in New York would not be a surprise.
New Orleans also likes to mix in a lot of Cover 3 defenses. Jenkins allowed a 22.57 passer rating against when targeted in this coverage last season.
The addition of Jenkins last season was unquestionably an upgrade over Apple, which was immediately obvious upon Jenkins’ arrival. He is also a big step up over Ken Crawley. There might be an argument for a better duo throughout Saints history, but Jenkins is easily the best player who has lined up alongside Lattimore. By the end of the season, if enough breaks go their way, these two could easily stand atop the list by a wide margin.
The New Orleans secondary as a whole has considerable talent. Bringing P.J. Williams back gives the Saints some depth on the outside and in the slot. That spot could still get upgraded, but otherwise, there really isn’t an area for concern across the roster. The depth at safety is as good as it has ever been on paper, and all the corners need is some luck.