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Why the New Orleans Saints could win it all, Part IX: Safeties

The prodigal son of New Orleans has returned.

Bay Area News Group Archive

Bringing back a series of pieces from the past three years, we’re going to check each position group on the New Orleans Saints and discuss how they improve the Saints’ chances of making a run in 2020. Continuing with what has become a strength on defense: the secondary.

To view previous parts, see below:

Part I: Offensive Line

Part II: Running Backs

Part III: Tight Ends

Part IV: Wide Receivers

Part V: Quarterbacks

Part VI: Defensive Line

Part VII: Linebackers

Part VIII: Cornerbacks

The New Orleans Saints safeties have been a bit of an enigma in recent years. Marcus Williams showed flashes of absolute brilliance in his rookie season, but has never seemed to fully recover after the Minneapolis Miracle to perform at that level consistently. Still, while Marcus’s tackling might leave something to be desired, he’s an above-average ball hawk who can roam the back half of the secondary at free safety.

At strong safety, Vonn Bell had one of the best years of his career in 2019, albeit in only 13 games, with a constant nose for the football forcing two fumbles and recovering a whopping five. Bell left in free agency to join the Cincinnati Bengals, with former Saints DB Malcolm Jenkins returning to New Orleans after his hiatus with the Philadelphia Eagles.

CJ Gardner-Johnson, who also saw time playing as a slot corner, along with Jenkins, is expected to fill the void left from Vonn Bell.

Divisional Round - Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

So here’s why they’re better in 2020:

Using Pro Football Reference’s “Approximate Value” stat, even Vonn Bell’s best season last year generated only 5 AV. Granted, Malcolm Jenkins is going to be in his age 33 season, but Jenkins hasn’t had a season with an AV that low since 2012.

Despite Jenkins being on the wrong side of 30, his football IQ and play-making abilities are still top-notch. His veteran presence in the locker room, especially in a tumultuous offseason that has seen the team leader in Drew Brees under heavy scrutiny and a global pandemic, cannot be understated either.

Jenkins can do whatever Sean Payton and Dennis Allen need him to do - keep your eyes on the quarterback and try to get that big interception, or even stay in the box and try to get the sack yourself.

With the addition of Jenkins and a focused Marcus Williams, the Saints should have a fantastic duo deep in the secondary.

But let’s not forget the emergence of CJ Gardner-Johnson, who looks like an absolute steal from the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. CJGJ had an incredible rookie campaign last year, and should only improve with his first year of NFL football under his belt and players like Malcolm Jenkins around him to help him grow and learn.

CJGJ has incredible versatility as he could play slot corner, free safety, or strong safety, and this versatility gives Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the freedom to move him around the field to best utilize his speed, physicality, and athleticism.