It was February 2, 2017.
The Saints offseason started with something of a prophecy from Veteran/Captain DE Cameron Jordan.
”I’m going to leave the drafting to them,” Jordan said Wednesday on Super Bowl 51’s radio row. “They seem to be doing well when we go draft a good defensive guy. Now, would I like a high defensive end? Yeah. But at the same time, I’ll take a corner.”
Jordan whispered those last few words -- “I’ll take a corner” -- before repeating himself quietly.
”I’ll take a corner,” he said. “I’ll take two corners.”
So, you mean to tell me that one of the BEST defensive ends in the game, that likely knows a thing or two about the value of a pass rush, suggested that he’d prefer secondary help over an elite rush teammate?
Well gee golly Cold Pizza for breakfast and AV Statistics Batman!
Nevertheless, the Saints would share this assessment as they would soon become tied to a Malcolm Butler trade via the New England Patriots that would be the talk of Saints fans in office cubicles, sports bars, and water cooler conversations right up until the 2017 NFL Draft.
Then came the big night, and the unexpected happened.
The Saints watched as two RBs and two WRs were taken in the Top 10 followed by a shocking trade up for Patrick Mahomes by the Chiefs, which would allow the Draft’s consensus No. 1 CB Marshon Lattimore to fall right into their laps as though dropped off by The Stork himself.
What followed after that fateful night happened to be referred to by Pro Football Focus on several occasions as one of the highest graded seasons for a CB (rookie or veteran) since Darrelle Revis. Yes, that Darrelle Revis, the one that booked “Do absolutely nothing to help your team for 60 minutes” vacations for WRs on his own private island for years.
Lattimore was downright dominant in all 13 games he appeared in, recording 52 tackles, 18 pass deflections, 5 INTs, 1 Defensive TD, and 1 FF. However, there are four games in particular that accentuate his brilliance as a shutdown CB.
Week 2 vs. Patriots - Lattimore vs. Brandin Cooks’
For all the 4.33 speed Cooks had in the tank, he could not find consistent separation from the equally speedy rookie. Lattimore would cover the standout wide receiver for 31 of his 39 routes while holding him to 1 catch on 3 targets for 13 yards. To further put that into perspective, Tom Brady went for over 400 yards in that game and only a measly 13 went to their star offseason acquisition. The Patriots 32nd pick in the draft vs. Saints 11th pick in the draft ended with a very clear winner.
Week 5 vs. Bears - Mitchell Trubisky picked off
It would be a game sealing INT by the rookie that would halt a comeback attempt by Trubisky and the pesky Bears, resulting in the Saints being over .500 for the first time in three years. This one was especially significant because prior to Lattimore’s arrival, the Saints would lose close games JUST LIKE THIS because they didn’t have enough playmakers on defense. Insert Lattimore, and you have a crystal clear image how the addition of a single player can be the difference in a win or loss.
Week 6 vs. Buccaneers - Lattimore vs. Mike Evans
A week later, it was the Bucs game where the now infamous cheap shot by Mike Evans took place. It would be Lattimore getting the last laugh, however, as he would break up a deep ball to Mike Evans at a pivotal point in the game. This would also set the stage for the now hilarious post-game altercation of Sean Payton and Dirk Koetter slapping each other’s chest in comedic barbaric fits of passive aggressiveness following the rematch in Week 17.
Following the exhibition, it was his comments that let you know the Saints found a real one, as the 21-year-old rookie let it be known that he’s as competitive as they come and is always down for snatching cookies.
”I wanted to go at him after that, so I was glad he wasn’t ejected,” Lattimore said after the game.
Week 16 vs. Falcons - Lattimore vs. Julio Jones
The dominant two week stretch between Week 5 and 6 led to Lattimore being announced as the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for October, but he’d save his most memorable performance for last when what became known as the “Buttception” was born. Lattimore would provide one of the year’s best catches while aiding the Saints in defeating the Falcons en route to clinching the NFC South Division.
Sprinkle All That seasoning onto a Good Burger patty (I just had to force that), and it’s no coincidence why Lattimore finished his rookie season at the Pro Bowl and as your DROY while also garnering an overall PFF grade of 90.6 - good for 4th out of 120 qualifying players at his position.
Lattimore himself has even argued that some of the negative plays counted against him, which actually results of him being in zone coverage (which is significant reason why PFF shouldn’t be gospel either).
There isn’t a better example of how a lockdown CB can change the fortunes of a defense!
Except if you turn your attention to what the Rams have been doing this offseason, you’d note that they traded away a pass rusher (Robert Quinn) while acquiring two CBs (Aqib Talib/Marcus Peters). Suggesting that a team that passes the ball over 50% (like the Saints) would be wise to toss resources into the secondary since teams must throw the ball to catch up. Toss in the fact that spread offenses are allowing QBs to release the ball in under 2.5 seconds, and the need for legit corners becomes even more defined in this New Era of Football.
As far as the explanation point on my argument?
There wasn’t a single passrusher taken in the draft last year that had a 16:50 highlight reel, and that’s real! Who Dat!