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Saints 2017 Year in Review: Cameron Jordan

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Rejoice, Saints fans. Your team has the best defensive end breathing right now.

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Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saint Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Full disclosure: I love everything about Cameron Jordan the football player. His pass-rushing, run-stuffing, and throw-swatting play on the field is as wonderful to watch as football gets. What makes and elevates Jordan from “very good player” to “superstar franchise defender” is his unbelievable level of consistency and dependency. Let’s get to appreciating his greatness.

2017 marked the 7th year in a row in which Cameron Jordan played in all 16 games. Now, you may have read that and thought, “The subsequent sentences will also feature nuggets of information.” Nope, just a request that you read that first sentence again. Cam Jordan plays one of the most physical positions in one of the most physical sports on planet Earth, and he has never missed a game. Better yet, he’s started 111 out of 112 games, only coming off the bench for one game back in 2011, his rookie season. Even the partially cyborg Drew Brees has missed in that time period.

Each offseason around late June, you can follow Jordan’s Twitter account to see him talk about his workout routine that gets him into shape for the season. The man basically does a three-a-day workout regiment, including his toughest workout in mid-afternoon when the sun is hottest. Players and coaches often talk about how absurdly well-conditioned he is each year, and it has shown up profoundly in his ability to be dependable and available throughout his 7-year career.

The single best quality of Jordan’s game is the totality of his proficiency. Cam Jordan isn’t just an asset on passing downs, but rushing downs as well. He seals the edge to his side and forces the play back inside with regularity. And if you leave him unblocked, he’s fast enough to chase down the running back that’s trying to find a hole. As evidenced towards how complete his game truly is, Pro Football Focus graded him as the #2 run defender and #3 pass rusher among all EDGE players in the league last year, good for a composite grade of #1 defensive end and the 6th best player in the entire league.

This year, he showed that he has now added a new and very significant piece to his game: the ability to bat down passes. Consider this: of all players the players to record double-digit sacks in 2017, only Cam Jordan recorded double-digit pass deflections. He stated during the season that he was aiming for the “triple-double”, a reference to a statistical season in which a player records double-digit sacks, tackles-for-loss, and pass deflections. Here is where each player ranks in relevant statistical categories among the league’s sack-leaders (minimum 10 sacks):

Cameron Jordan’s worst ranking among these stats league-wide was 4th best. He was 4th in sacks, 1st in pass deflections, 3rd in tackles-for-loss, and 2nd in sack-yards-lost. Nothing quite encapsulates the breadth of his impact like these numbers. However, the numbers still can’t fully do justice to Jordan’s 2017 performance, because while the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald ranked 2nd in pass deflections, Cam Jordan had more than double Donald’s totals on the year (Jordan’s 11 pass defenses vs Donald’s 5 pass defenses). Additionally, Jordan recorded an interception and returned it for a touchdown this past year. If the filter is adjusted to include only the defenders that had double-digit sacks and scored a touchdown in 2017, the list gets smaller and more impressive for Jordan.

What more is there to say? Nobody is offering the variety of impact plays that Cam Jordan offers, and he consistently does it for 16 games a season. Now, you’d think that a season of this caliber, in which he was objectively excellent in every statistical category, would lead to strong consideration for NFL postseason honors, specifically Defensive Player of the Year. In fact, only 3 times in the history of the NFL has a player recorded 10+ sacks, 10+ pass deflections, and recorded an interception returned for a touchdown in a single season. The list: Jason Taylor (2006), J.J. Watt (2014), and Cameron Jordan (2017). That’s it. That’s the whole list.

Can you guess what quality those Watt and Taylor seasons both have in common that Cameron Jordan’s season does not? It rhymes with Pefensive Dlayer of the Mear. Yes, those two won the award while Jordan did not. Cam Jordan’s season also had something neither of those seasons had: a playoff berth and a playoff win. Jason Taylor’s team went 6-10 while J.J. Watt’s Texans went 9-7. Jordan, on the other hand, wasn’t just a passenger to the playoffs; he was the captain of the ship during the playoffs, making the most decisive plays at the end of the game against Carolina to propel the Saints to the divisional round.

Ask yourself this question: How many defenders in the NFL are legitimate closers, the NFL equivalent to Mariano Rivera, on defense? I don’t know the answer, but I do know the Saints have one of the people on the list, because we can definitively say Cameron Jordan is a closer. He willed the Saints defense to a victory against the Panthers, forcing an intentional grounding call after demolishing a double team and proceeding to subsequently end the game by combining with Vonn Bell to sack Cam Newton. The effort Jordan gives on the final plays of a game are as ferocious as the first snap. He’s the Russell Westbrook of NFL defenders: He’ll record statistics no human should be able to achieve while giving the effort of a roster bubble player.

Saints fans, don’t be shy about it. You have the best defensive end walking the planet right now. He’s one of the best players in the entire league, he’s in his prime, and he’s doing things that have only been done by Hall of Famers. We’re currently watching the prime of the best defensive player to play in a Saints uniform since Rickey Jackson. We might have just watched the first season in which he became the best player currently in a Saints uniform. Either way, of all the reasons to be excited about the future of New Orleans Saints football, Cameron Jordan is at the top of the list.