The New Orleans Saints released safety Jairus Byrd this offseason, putting an end to one of the biggest personnel blunders in team history. Byrd had actually played much better at the end of the 2016 season; but it was too little, too late for a player that had never come close to living up to his giant contract signing. Byrd's release does thin out a safety position that has struggled to make plays in recent years.
The starters seem set in Kenny Vaccaro and Vonn Bell. The team re-signed an old friend, bringing back Rafael Bush after a 2-year stint in Detroit. Erik Harris, Shiloh Keo, and Chris Banjo add a good special teams presence to the depth chart, but it remains to be seen what kind of effectiveness they can add to the secondary. Since 2010, the Saints secondary has averaged under 10 interceptions per year, with an average of three from their safeties.
By contrast, the Super Bowl champion team of 2009 had 26 interceptions, with nine of them coming from their starting free safety. This unit has lacked a balhawking presence in the secondary for a number of years. Today's draft profile is a small school prospect who could be a huge mid to late round value.
Lorenzo Jerome, S, Saint Francis University
Lorenzo Jerome is a 5-foot-10, 204-pound free safety from Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pa. The Red Flash is a FCS school in the Northeast conference, so one of the criticisms of Jerome was the lower level competition he played against in college. His talents did earn him an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where perceptions immediately changed. His aggressive and instinctual play in practices along with two interceptions in the game caught the attention of NFL scouts.
Jerome's scouting combine 40-yard dash time of 4.7 seconds was not spectacular, but his 3-cone drill of 7.63 seconds and 20-yard shuffle of 4.68 seconds ranked among the top 12 of all safeties in attendance. His March 16th pro day was an improvement on all of those numbers.
Jerome doesn't have great straight line speed, but is very quick to the ball and rarely takes bad angles in coverage. He is incredibly aggressive when coming up in the tackle box to make plays, and is a solid fundamental tackler. That aggressiveness can make him susceptible to play-action fakes, but makes up for that with good football IQ and play awareness.
Jerome has very good hands, evidenced by his 18 career interceptions. He is dangerous with the ball in his hands, as well. Jerome had four kickoff/punt return scores during his career at St. Francis, and exhibits excellent field vision in the open field. Some scouts have pointed out that he lacks the prototypical size for the safety position, but none seem to doubt his feel for the game.
Lorenzo Jerome could be a great fit for the Saints in the mid-to-later rounds. He would be a solid special teams contributor, with the potential to be dangerous in the return game. More importantly, Jerome would bring a classic "centerfield" element and legitimate interception threat to a Saints defense that has been lacking in that department for years.