The New Orleans Saints secondary opened the 2018 season in horrendous fashion. They gave up passing yardage and big plays in bunches, eventually leading to the team ranking just 29th in pass defense for the year. Despite the low ranking, the young secondary did improve their play as the season went along, even holding six of their last ten opponents to less than 210 yards passing. The Saints final line of defense, though inconsistent at times, played a big role in containing a few of the league's better receiving units. Today we see how the very back end influenced the fortunes of the 2018 New Orleans Saints.
One of the most intriguing storylines involving the Saints entering last season was how free safety Marcus Williams would respond to the devastation of the last second playoff loss to Minnesota. Williams, a second round pick in the 2017 draft, the 42nd overall selection, regressed a bit in his second year. He intercepted 2 passes, down from 4 in his rookie season. His tackle total also dropped, from 71 to 59 in 2018. Williams seemed to be slow in responding to plays over the top much of the year, and communication was often an issue between he and the cornerbacks in front of him. The 22-yr. old Williams is a good athlete, and has all the natural instincts of a solid ballhawking safety. He faces a pivotal year in 2019 to prove whether he can improve on the potential that earned him a spot on the NFL's All-Rookie team in 2017.
Vonn Bell quietly had a very good season for the Saints defense after a rocky start to the year. A second round pick in 2016 after a playmaking collegiate career, the 24-yr. old Bell has yet to record an interception in three seasons as a pro. He has improved in coverage each of those three years though, and has shown the ability to capably pick up an opposing wideout or tight end out of the slot. Bell is a dangerous blitzing threat when he does line up on the slot as well, and had a quarterback sack in 2018 to go along with numerous pressures. He is the secondary's best run defender, and was pivotal in the Saints number two defensive ranking against the run. Bell had a career high 88 tackles, including 62 solo, marking the third consecutive season that he finished either first or second on the team in tackles.
The Saints signed veteran safety Kurt Coleman away from division rival Carolina last offseason, hoping to replace the free agency departure of Kenny Vaccaro. Coleman was a nonfactor, at best, often getting caught out of position or a step behind in coverage. New Orleans released Coleman shortly after season's end after not a single credited pass defensed or turnover created in 16 games of action.
Chris Banjo is best known as an outstanding special teams contributor, and a vital part of that important unit. He logged some important snaps at defensive back each of his two seasons with New Orleans though, and has been able to provide some underrated depth on the back end. He had 2 interceptions last season, tying for the team lead. Banjo is an unrestricted free agent, but the team may try to re-sign him to retain defensive depth and his continued impressive special teams play into 2019.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded Bell's 2018 performance with a 75.3, 27th among 101 eligible safeties and the highest PFF grade of Bell's career. Marcus Williams received a 73.7 grade from PFF, down a bit from his rookie performance but ranking 33rd among eligible safeties. Both Williams and Bell can cover well, are solid in run support, and even blitz well when called upon. The Saints need this position to react better against downfield throws and create more turnovers though. The two combined for just six turnovers in 2018; 2 interceptions, 2 fumbles forced, and 2 fumbles recovered. Despite the lack of big plays, Williams and Bell are each versatile defenders and solid starters on the back end. Depth may be a concern however, particularly if they lose Banjo in free agency. A deep crew of safeties available in free agency could tempt New Orleans to upgrade the position, and it would not be surprising to see the spot addressed late in the draft.
SAFETY GRADE = C-
How would you grade the performance of the Saints safeties in 2018?
This poll is closed