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Even after drafting Marshon Lattimore in the 1st Round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the starting pair of Cornerbacks for the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 was PJ Williams and De’Vante Harris after the latter shined in the 2017 preseason.
Eventually Lattimore and Ken Crawley took over as primary Cornerbacks for the Saints with PJ coming in as the third Cornerback on passing downs. Harris still saw starter’s snaps when Lattimore went down with injury late in the season. Delvin Breaux was never able to return in 2017 due to injury, so the Saints were forced to rely on Crawley, PJ Williams, Harris, and a re-signed Sterling Moore to hold down the fort in the secondary.
Unfortunately, while Lattimore was able to shadow the opposing team’s #1 WR in the game, even when Lattimore was healthy, Crawley and PJ Williams were largely ineffective when called to work in the slot. As Harris continued to falter, he was cut and then re-signed to the practice squad in December.
This poor work in the slot is what caused the Saints to immediately address the position in the offseason by bringing back former Saints CB Patrick Robinson - the same Patrick Robinson coming off a pick-6 in the NFC Championship Game for the Philadelphia Eagles on his way to a Super Bowl victory.
So here’s why they’re better in 2018:
Patrick Robinson is far from the P-ROBlem player he was for the Saints during his first stint in New Orleans. He finished 2017 having played in all 16 games with 4 interceptions and Pro Football Focus named Robinson’s performance as one of the biggest surprises of the season:
Few players enjoyed the kind of surprise season that Patrick Robinson did, and the impact that it had on the Eagles may be second to none. Robinson was moved to the slot primarily in 2017 for the first time in his career, and that resulted in by far his best season. He allowed just 54.5 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught when guarding the slot, the second-best mark in the league, narrowly trailing Denver’s Chris Harris (54.0 percent). On those targets, though, he had three interceptions compared to none from Harris, yielding a passer rating more than 40 points better (65.2 versus 108.8).
With Robinson now ready to line up in the slot, the second-biggest weakest area of the Saints cornerback group has been addressed. The biggest weakness of the Saints at cornerback was the usage of De’Vante Harris. I don’t want to re-hash the entire “Player in Review” piece I wrote up on Harris early this offseason, but here is the most important section:
In Week 1, De’Vante Harris played 67.7% of the team’s defensive snaps against the Minnesota Vikings. Result of the game? Vikings QB Sam Bradford has a career night against the Saints on route to a 29-19 victory for Minnesota.
In Week 2, Harris is still used rotationally, but now in a lesser role. He still plays in 23.7% of the team’s defensive snaps. Result of the game? Tom Brady carves up the Saints secondary to the tune of 447 yards and 3 TDs for a Patriots’ win.
Then Harris was benched in Week 3, playing in only 7 defensive snaps the entire game. Result of the game? The Saints beat the Carolina Panthers 34-13. Harris then continued to ride the bench through the majority of the team’s 8-game winning streak.
Harris did see a little bit of time in the blowout win against Buffalo in Week 10, but the game was already decided before Harris saw the field. Injuries came to the Saints secondary, and Harris was asked to play 52.2% of the team’s defensive snaps in Week 11 against Washington. Result of the game? Well, the Saints won, but barely, as Kirk Cousins went off for 322 yards and 3 TDs.
Harris saw his snaps again increase for Week 12, back up to 67.5% (around his Week 1 total) against the Los Angeles Rams. Result of that game? New Orleans lost 26-20. He was cut from the active roster following the game.
Between Weeks 1-12, the Saints lost only 3 games. De’Vante Harris played significant and meaningful snaps in all three games. The Saints won 8 games during that span, and Harris played meaningful snaps in only one game, the narrowest win of the group.
So yeah, Harris was not very good in 2017.
So why are the Saints going to be better at Cornerback in 2018? Because Marshon Lattimore should improve in his second year. Because Ken Crawley should improve with more snaps. Because Patrick Robinson has been signed to address slot cornerback. And because all of the above means De’Vante Harris shouldn’t see significant time on the Saints starting defense.