I’m pitching a little underhanded to kick this piece off, but for Ken Crawley THIS was just the beginning!
Rewind to 2016 when starting cornerback P.J. Williams had left the game in the 1st Quarter with a concussion, and because they were already thin after losing Delvin Breaux, the Saints were forced to turn to the rookie undrafted free agent out of Colorado.
With roughly 1:49 remaining in regulation, the Giants would target the young corner on a fly route to Victor Cruz, who would successfully make the play on the ball and set the G-Men up for a 16-13 victory.
A week later, following an admirable game against Julio Jones and the Falcons, Sean Payton had this to say:
”Man, I know this: It’s not too big for him, and I like that,” Saints coach Sean Payton said on a teleconference Wednesday morning. “I think he’s stepped up, and ... being a rookie free agent, has really handled the coverages. He has good ball skills.
”A week ago, he’s in position there in New York. Granted, he’s not able to make the play, but his location, his head around, all those things are on point. There’s going to be some bumps along the way for a young corner like there would be with anyone, but I thought he played, overall, pretty well (Monday).”
So, it was surprising to all Saints fans alike that the first two weeks of the 2017 season saw Crawley end up a healthy inactive, while the defense and his counterpart De’Vante Harris struggled.
That’s cool. As I’ve mentioned before, coaches make the wrong decisions all the time, but I was impressed with how Crawley handled it.
You see most players, especially young players, have a hard time grasping how to be a professional. The maturity he displayed throughout that particular ordeal was closer to that of a 5-6 year veteran than a second year guy still fighting to prove himself worthy.
Undeterred Crawley used the games he was inactive as motivation.
“I was very anxious to get out there,” Crawley said. “But as games were going on I was taking mental reps and putting myself in a place out there and envisioning me making plays out there. Just getting better.”
As fate would have it, a disciplinary issue by the same player he replaced in the Giants game a year earlier would open up the doorway for Crawley to be the starting CB in a pivitol Week 3 matchup against the Dolphins.
Not only would he step through the door confidently, but he’d also close it behind him this time as he remained the starter until the conclusion of a storybook season.
I’ll be the first to say that I’ve been hard on Ken Crawley. In fact, I’ve downright underrated his contributions to the defense the entire season with such thoughts as: His ball skills at the catch point leave a bit to be desired, his slim frame causes him to get dragged by running backs, and he doesn’t make many plays in zone coverage.
Truth be told, the closest comparison I can find for what the second year Colorado man has been able to accomplish thus far in his career is former Texans and current Jaguars cover man A.J. Bouye. He too is an undrafted free agent corner who is making the impact that Crawley made this year, and that just doesn’t happen that often historically.
Sean Payton will be the first to tell you, the good pass rushers and good corners are typically taken with early round picks in the draft.
His skill set as a young player and what we’ve seen is something that you get excited about, especially at that position because I mentioned last night there are certain positions, the pass rushers, the left tackles, the cornerbacks. Those (positions) are harder to find and they typically go pretty quick in the draft, especially the first day and a half or two days.”
So, how good was Crawley last year? 54 Tackles, 17 pass deflections, and one interception good.
At one point in Week 4, he was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded corner. He went on to finish the season as the No. 39 ranked CB, suggesting he played like a high end No. 2 CB and was considered an above average player at his position.
The combination of Ken Crawley and Marshon Lattimore that the Saints banana-peeled into last year is something they’ve been looking for since the pairing of Keenan Lewis/Champ Bailey and the subsequent drafting of Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Here I was arguing that Crawley needed to/could be upgraded, but the truth was he just needs to be built around. This makes the signing of Kurt Coleman that much more important, because it gives him better safety help over the top.
That’s right, Saints Fans.
There’s no need for Malcolm Butler, Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib, or any other expensive DB in free agency, because the Saints should have Crawley written in as the No. 2 opposite Lattimore with permanent, non-perishable, smudge-free Ink.
After making plays like the one below all year, he’s earned it!