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Saints secondary could see Aaron Colvin as its missing piece

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GLENDALE, AZ - Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin (22) celebrates after breaking up a pass against the Arizona Cardinals offense at University of Phoenix Stadium.
GLENDALE, AZ - Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin (22) celebrates after breaking up a pass against the Arizona Cardinals offense at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Longtime New Orleans Saints defensive back Kenny Vaccaro moved from safety to slot cornerback last year, and now he’s probably on the way out of town. The Saints fielded a young secondary with several good pieces in Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Ken Crawley, but finding an upgrade for Vaccaro in the slot is paramount.

That’s where Jacksonville Jaguars free agent Aaron Colvin comes in. The Jaguars defense has earned its “Sacksonville” nickname from its pass rush, but the secondary prefered the “Jackson Five” thanks to Colvin’s contributions. Head coach Doug Marrone expressed as much in a midseason interview with Jacksonville beat writer Mike Kaye:

“He’s out there more than half the snaps and he’s a vital part of what we’ve been able to do, as far as our pass defense, so I think he gets overlooked when you’re talking about that whole group back there. As the season has gone along, he’s gotten better and better every week, to the point where we feel, I feel great when he’s out there. I think he’s a very good tackler, he plays some [special] teams for us. If something happens with one of our corners, there’s no issue with him going out there. There’s a great amount of flexibility with him.”

Name, position: Aaron Colvin, cornerback (26 years old until October)

Measurements: 6-foot-0, 192-pounds, 31-inch arms. Never recorded a 40-yard dash time

Injury history: Colvin was the unfortunate victim of a torn ACL at the 2014 Senior Bowl practices, but has since recovered. He missed the final two games in 2016 with an ankle injury and sat out the 2017 preseason with a foot issue, but has since regularly started.

Experience: Four seasons (48 games played)

2017 snap count, key stat: Colvin logged exactly 700 snaps in the regular season, with Pro Bowlers A.J. Bouye (1010) and Jalen Ramsey (993) ahead of him at cornerback. Per Pro Football Focus charting, 35 different cornerbacks dropped back into coverage more than 500 times last year - and of that group, just two refused to allow a touchdown: Colvin and Marshon Lattimore.

Colvin started several years in college for the Oklahoma Sooners, earning all-conference recognition at cornerback after moving from strong safety, but saw his NFL fortunes derailed with a predraft knee injury. Since then he’s cemented himself in the Jaguars starting lineup, leading the defense in snaps played in 2015 and ranking third at cornerback in 2017. In a defense featuring Bouye and Ramsey, Colvin saw the fewest passing targets (4.0) and allowed the fewest yards per game (22.3) in the NFL.

The Saints fielded a nickel defense as its base look, commonly using five defensive backs and just two linebackers. Colvin would allow them to continue doing that while providing cleaner coverage than Vaccaro; the Jacksonville product was flagged just three times all year, and only once for holding or pass interference. For comparison, Vaccaro was flagged eight times in twelve games, with five of them counting for holding or pass interference. If Colvin wants the opportunity to start outside in base looks then I could see him winning that job from Crawley, too, but staying over the slot when in nickel sets. Crawley was penalized nine times last year, with seven of them counting for pass interference or holding.

It’s tough to project Colvin’s contract value because teams generally don’t pay highly for slot cornerbacks. Chris Harris Jr (Denver Broncos) has been the best at it in football for a few years now, and his $8.5-million per year ranks 19th for all corners. So if you think Colvin is limited to starting in the slot (which we’ve established is a hugely important role) then that number makes sense, though OnTheClock.com’s Jason Fitzgerald speculated that he could see closer to $6-million annually.

But if you believe he can be more than that - and I do - then something more in line with the contracts Logan Ryan (Tennessee Titans) and Jimmy Smith (Baltimore Ravens) got makes more sense. A contract averaging $10- to $10.275-million per year isn’t unrealistic. With the Saints playing Crawley and Lattimore on rookie contracts for the next three years, now is the time to invest in a veteran like Colvin.