The New Orleans Saints took full advantage of the unlikely probability of the top cornerback in the 2017 NFL Draft falling into their laps at pick 11. Now that the pick is made and the prospect of an upgraded cornerback unit is upon the Saints, we will take a look at each of the first cornerbacks taken in the 1st round of the Draft since 2006. We will also see how each of these players performed in their rookie season, and take from it what we can to get a glimpse of what the Saints can potentially get from their highly-touted cornerback, Marshon Lattimore.
2006 - Tye Hill - St. Louis Rams (15th overall)
At 5’10”, 185 lbs, Tye Hill came to the Rams as a Thorpe Award finalist and consensus All-American corner out of Clemson. He was considered the top cover corner going into the 2006 Draft, but concerns about his lack of size stood as his biggest weakness. Due to his size, most considered Hill to be a nickel corner as opposed to a lockdown, outside guy. Despite size limitations, his coverage skills and speed would lead him to be the first cornerback off the board, ahead of Florida State’s Antonio Cromartie and South Carolina’s Johnathan Joseph.
Hill got off to a hot career start, with two tackles and an INT in his very first game. He started in 10 of the 16 games he played for the Rams in his rookie campaign. Hill ended the season as the Rams’ Rookie of the Year.
2007 - Darrelle Revis - New York Jets (14th overall)
At 5’11”, 204 lbs, Darrelle Revis came to the Jets as a Thorpe Award semifinalist and Nagurski Trophy candidate out Pittsburgh. He was widely regarded as the complete package at cornerback, with his only perceived weakness being that he, at times, relied too much on his natural, physical talents, giving a cushion to receivers, knowing he could easily recover to make the play. Revis had the cover skills, speed, instincts, and confidence to be a potential lockdown corner in the NFL.
Revis was named one of the Jets’ starting corners Week 1 of his rookie season and started the entire year. In just his rookie year, Revis already proved to be one of the Jets’ best defensive players. He surrendered only 3 touchdowns the entire season. From his very first year, the Jets knew they had something special.
2008 - Leodis McKelvin - Buffalo Bills (11th overall)
At 5’10”, 190 lbs, Leodis McKelvin came to Buffalo as a First Team All-American out of Troy. He was considered to be an explosive athlete with great quickness. His lack of physicality was his biggest weakness coming into the 2008 Draft, leading some to question his strength against NFL receivers as opposed to the competition he faced in the Sun Belt Conference. He was considered a little too aggressive at Troy, but his abilities projected him to be a solid cover corner.
Leodis McKelvin came off the board first in one of the deepest cornerback classes in years, followed by highly touted prospects like Tennessee State’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kansas’ Aqib Talib, South Florida’s Mike Jenkins, and Arizona’s Antoine Cason.
McKelvin started his rookie season in Buffalo as a backup, but midway through the year he became a starter, replacing the injured Jabari Greer (who would join the Saints the next season). He finished the season as a starter at corner and flashed skills as a kick returner.
2009 - Malcolm Jenkins - New Orleans Saints (14th overall)
At 6’0”, 204 lbs, Malcolm Jenkins came to New Orleans as a First Team All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award Winner out of Ohio State. Going into the 2009 Draft, many considered Jenkins to be neck-and-neck with Illinois’ Vontae Davis as the top cornerback prospect, but New Orleans selected Jenkins 11 spots higher than Davis. Davis was the 2nd cornerback off the board, selected by the Miami Dolphins (25). Jenkins’ most coveted attributes going into the draft were his impressive size, strength, and range. Although Jenkins proved to have a strong skillset as a cornerback in Columbus, he was already being projected as a potential free safety down the line in the NFL. This makes sense considering his abysmal 40 time and questionable hip fluidity at the combine.
Like Leodis McKelvin before him, Jenkins was given the opportunity for his first start of his rookie year thanks to an injury by starter, Jabari Greer. He finished the game with 7 tackles and his only INT of the season. He would continue to serve as a backup to Greer and Tracy Porter for the rest of his rookie year and would be rewarded with a Super Bowl ring for his efforts.
2010 - Joe Haden - Cleveland Browns (7th overall)
At 5’11”, 193 lbs, Joe Haden came to Cleveland as a First Team All-American and named the Sporting News’ National Defensive Player of the Year out of Florida. He was considered a hyper-competitive prospect and a consistently productive playmaker. Any and all attributes used to measure a great cornerback prospect were used to describe Haden going into the 2010 Draft. His only perceived weakness was that he could gamble a bit too much, but it usually worked in his favor in Gainesville.
Although he didn't become a starter until Week 11, Haden had a fantastic rookie season, ending with 6 INTs, including a stretch where he intercepted a pass in four consecutive games. Haden ended his rookie campaign as the top cornerback on the team for the present and immediate future.
2011 - Patrick Peterson - Arizona Cardinals (5th overall)
At 6’0”, 219 lbs, Patrick Peterson came to Arizona as a two-time First Team All-American, Chuck Bednarik Award Winner, and Jim Thorpe Award Winner out of LSU. He came into the 2011 Draft with a rare combination of size and speed that made him not only an elite playmaker but a shutdown corner day one. In short, Patrick Peterson was arguably the best sure-fire cornerback prospect many had seen since Georgia’s Champ Bailey in 1999. Peterson easily could have gone 1st overall, and he earned his lofty status in an absolutely loaded Top 15 in the 2011 Draft.
The writing was on the wall for Peterson in the first play of his NFL career, getting a pick-six against Philip Rivers in the preseason. He followed that by returning a punt for a touchdown in Week 1. He finished the season with four punt returns for TDs, setting the NFL record with 4 punt returns for TDs of at least 80 yards in a single season. Peterson started every game of his rookie year at cornerback, and was the only rookie selected as an NFL First Team All-Pro in 2011. Patrick Peterson put the NFL on notice in his rookie season, living up to lofty expectations.
2012 - Morris Claiborne - Dallas Cowboys (6th overall)
At 5’11”, 188 lbs, Morris Claiborne came to Dallas as a First Team All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award Winner out of LSU. His size, length, and aggression were considered his greatest attributes coming into the 2012 Draft. His perceived weakness was that there were concerns with his technique, but that it could be worked on. It would stand to reason that Claiborne was also benefiting from the “rub” of playing as a counterpart to the aforementioned Patrick Peterson while both were at LSU.
Patrick Peterson was so uniquely dynamic as a rookie in the NFL, many, like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, banked on Claiborne being equally as impressive, so much so that Jones traded up in the first round to select him. There were plenty of reasons to believe this would be the case, as Claiborne was coming off of a monster season in Baton Rouge. His fantastic play was just enough to edge him over 2nd overall cornerback prospect, South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore.
Despite missing minicamp and all OTAs due to offseason wrist surgery, Claiborne was still named a starter at cornerback for his rookie season. He had a solid and promising rookie season despite nagging injuries during his rookie year.
2013 - Dee Milliner - New York Jets (9th overall)
At 6’0”, 201 lbs, Dee Milliner came to the Jets as a First Team All-American and a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy and Thorpe Award out of Alabama. His strengths going into the 2013 Draft were his vertical leaping ability, and his strong, violent hands. His perceived weaknesses were his lack of tackling strength, his diving and lunging at feet on tackles, and poor timing on contested balls. Milliner was drafted above Washington’s Desmond Trufant (22) and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes (25).
Milliner was named a starting cornerback going into his rookie season. Despite the early show of faith by the coaching staff, Milliner was benched multiple times in his rookie year due to poor performances. He showed flashes at the end of the season, recording 3 INTs in his final two games. Despite his high draft status, the writing was already on the wall for Milliner during his rookie year.
2014 - Justin Gilbert - Cleveland Browns (8th overall)
At 6’0”, 202 lbs, Justin Gilbert came to Cleveland as an All-American and Thorpe Award finalist out of Oklahoma State. He was given all the standard cornerback attributes going into the 2014 Draft: athletic, fluid, quick, agile, explosive, so on and so forth. Despite this, many also felt he lacked aggression and physicality. There were concerns he didn't go all-out from play to play and would need to adjust his mentality to the professional game. Gilbert led a deep cornerback class along with Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and TCU’s Jason Verrett.
Due to injury and illness, Gilbert missed two games in his rookie season. He provided the most impact of his rookie year when he recorded four tackles and his lone INT of the season in a Week 14 loss to the Colts. Gilbert unfortunately provided little impact for the Browns in his rookie year.
2015 - Trae Waynes - Minnesota Vikings (11th overall)
At 6’0”, 186 lbs, Trae Waynes came to Minnesota as an All-American and a Thorpe Award semifinalist out of Michigan State. His strongest attributes going into the 2015 Draft were his length, his blazing speed, and fluidity. The only concerns in his game is that he had that Brandon Browner propensity to clutch and grab receivers too much at the point of contact, which could cost his team in penalties. Waynes went first off the board to the Vikings, followed by Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson (16) to Houston, and Washington’s Marcus Peters (18) to Kansas City, where Peters would be named an All-Pro and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Waynes saw little time on the field to start his rookie campaign and struggled with a midseason ankle injury. He made his first and only start of his rookie season in Week 14. Despite disappointment, he showed some flashes by coming up big in the second half of the Vikings’ heartbreaking Wild Card loss to Seattle, making a long pass breakup and an INT in the third quarter of that game.
2016 - Jalen Ramsey - Jacksonville Jaguars (5th overall)
At 6’1”, 209 lbs, Jalen Ramsey came to Jacksonville as an All-American out of Florida State. His greatest attributes stem from his pure athleticism as he was a sprinter and long jumper as well as a football star in Tallahassee. He had the prototypical “Seattle corner” frame that has been coveted by GMs in recent years. He had the ability to disrupt routes with his size and strength while also having the ability to close on escaping receivers with his speed. He had the instincts and ability to beat most receivers on jump balls thanks to his sheer height and fantastic jumping ability. His only perceived weaknesses were his footwork and the fact that he did not get many INTs during his collegiate career. Ramsey’s measurable set him apart from fellow first rounders Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Ohio State’s Eli Apple.
Ramsey had offseason microfracture surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee, suffered in rookie training camp. He made a full recovery from the surgery and started alongside Prince Amukamara at corner for the entirety of his rookie season. His biggest highlight came on Christmas Eve, when he made the game-clinching pick-six against the Titans.
2017 - Marshon Lattimore - New Orleans Saints (11th overall)
At 6’0”, 193 lbs, Marshon Lattimore comes to New Orleans as the consensus top overall cornerback prospect out of Ohio State. He is considered a well-rounded prospect who has both the speed to neutralize vertical threats and the size to matchup with the NFL’s bigger, stronger receivers. He can keep receivers attached at the hip, while also using his impressive closing speed to put himself in better position for a catch than even his opponent. He has shown his knack for deflecting and picking off passes while also being a solid tackler. Best of all, he doesn't get hit with a lot of pass interference penalties. He’s basically the anti-Browner.
For all of Lattimore’s physical gifts, the only consistent knocks against him are the hamstring issues he dealt with in 2015 coupled with his relatively short playing career in college. Lattimore doesn't boast the awards that many of the players listed above have, like an All-American selection or a Jim Thorpe Award, in 2016 those honors went to USC’s Adoree’ Jackson (selected 18th overall by Tennessee).
Despite not having collegiate trophies on his mantle, Lattimore was considered the very best of one of the deepest cornerback classes since the 2008 draft, along with former Ohio State teammate Gareon Conley (Raiders), LSU’s Tre’Davious White (Bills), Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, and the aforementioned Adoree’ Jackson (Titans). No team in the NFL may be as starved for top-end talent at cornerback as the Saints, so selecting Lattimore with their first pick was a no-brainer.
The Saints got a steal in Lattimore dropping to 11, after the offensive player free-for-all in the top 10 of the 2017 Draft. This fact really can’t be overstated enough. Now whether he makes an immediate impact in his rookie season remains to be seen, but from what we’ve seen here, the results of the past decade have been spread pretty evenly.
While it would be a lot to ask of Lattimore to have a rookie season as good as Revis, Haden, or Peterson, it would be great to see him have a season as successful as last year’s standout rookie corner, Jalen Ramsey. Lattimore was selected to lead the future while also contributing to the present. There will be pressure on him from his first minicamp, but his skillset and attributes stack up with the best of the prospects above, while also sporting some of the least-concerning weaknesses in the group.
Lattimore has better size and projects to be a better outside corner than Tye Hill. It remains to be seen if he truly has the natural instincts of a rookie Darrelle Revis, but he does flash some of his early coverage ability. Lattimore has looked stronger than Leodis McKelvin and much faster than Malcolm Jenkins as a prospect.
Joe Haden and Patrick Peterson have been the standard-setters for rookie corners over the last decade, but Lattimore, like Jalen Ramsey to an extent, had been the collegiate corner that had graded closest to those two as a prospect, which is very encouraging to say the least. Pick 11 is a steal for Lattimore if he looks like year-one Haden or Peterson.
Lattimore’s size and length beats out Morris Claiborne as does his flat-out speed. He crushes Dee Milliner and Justin Gilbert in every conceivable metric and analysis, and is nowhere near the penalty liability Trae “Browner” Waynes had been. While Jalen Ramsey may have the size advantage over Lattimore, Marshon has the speed advantage as well as better footwork. His fluidity and explosion in his hip movement sets him above Ramsey as well.
Ultimately, Marshon Lattimore projects in the upper third of the top cornerbacks drafted since 2006, only below Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, and Joe Haden. If he can approach any of their rookie seasons, just go ahead and put him in the Saints Hall of Fame at season’s end, but him beating out the middle third of this group really is his floor, and that’s pretty good considering what the Saints have had to field at cornerback for the last half-decade.
Marshon Lattimore has the chance to do something special in his first year in New Orleans. The opportunity to start will be there, and with the coaching staff and fanbase behind him, the sky may be the limit for Lattimore, and for the entire Saints cornerback corps. Finally.