The New Orleans Saints’ most glaring hole is very likely to be considered the cornerback position. After losing Janoris Jenkins this offseason and with legal questions still unclear for Marshon Lattimore, the team could field at least one big hole at the position with its current roster. Thankfully, the NFL Draft has some early options in supply to help the Saints address this need.
It’s a need so obvious that head coach Sean Payton called it a position that “must be addressed” ahead of the 2021 season at the Zurich. New Orleans is in a peculiar position, going into the draft with needs and holes in the starting unit.
Looking ahead to the draft’s options, here are at least three players that could have an immediate impact and be contributors their rookies season at cornerback.
Caleb Farley - Virginia Tech
The 6’1” and 197-pound Hockie is undeniably one of the most talented corners in this class. He has dropped a bit recently on boards due to his medicals. He had an offseason procedure this year, though there’s confidence he’ll be ready for camp, and he’s also missed time in 2017 and 2019 with various injuries. But if a team feels comfortable with him after checks, he could be an enormous steal if he falls far enough.
Taking advantage of falling talent is not at all new for the Saints. In the 2019 draft, they did it twice trading up for offensive lineman Erik McCoy in the second round and drafting C.J. Garner-Johnson in the fourth. Both were expected to be first-round selections by many.
Farley dropping out of the first round is unlikely, but even a fall out of the top 15 would be notable. If the Saints have their eyes on Farley who allowed only a 48% completion percentage when targeted in the 2018 and 2019 seasons according to Pro Football Focus, a trade up could be possible.
The former quarterback opted out of the 2020 season after allowing only a 26.8 passer rating when targeted the season before.
One of the elements of Farley’s game that’s most interesting is that his profile matches that of a press-man corner. He’s shown a proficiency in the reps he’s gotten, however, he’s not had many opportunities. According to PFF, he’s played only 58 press-man snaps in his short career at Virginia Tech.
Farley is a dominant corner when healthy. But his health and ability to transition to the Saints’ scheme at the next level are important pieces to project. If both project well, New Orleans could find their answer opposite Marshon Lattimore.
Greg Newsome II - Northwestern
Easily one of my favorite corners in this year’s class. Newsome may lack a little bit of size when it comes to his wiry build, but he’s an incredible talent with natural instincts and elite speed. He ran a 4.38 40 at his pro day, allowed only a 56.1% completion percentage over his three-year career with Northwestern, and surrendered a passer rating when targeted in 2020 of only 31.7. However, much like Farley, durability will be a concern.
Newsome has missed at least three games in each of his three collegiate seasons with various injuries. However, when he’s on the field, he’s been remarkable.
Despite playing only six games in 2020, he led the Big 10 is passes defended with 10. He’s racked up 25 such plays since 2018, but only has one interception on his career catalog. Converting some of those plays on the ball to takeaways will be a big improvement point for Newsome at the next level. But his instincts and athleticism lend themselves to the task.
Newsome, like Farley, could be gone before the Saints are on the clock Thursday at 28. Trading up in the first round is not new to the team who may be forced to move into the lower-20’s to make either selection happen. I’ll be watching selections 21 and 24 of the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively. However, that spot seems to be the hot spot for several teams in the back of the first round to trade up, so keep an eye on the late-teens as a larger jump may be necessary as well.
Paulson Adebo - Stanford
A lot of chatter has connected the Saints to a different Stanford prospect, but Adebo is one that I look at as a potential steal for a cornerback-needy team.
The former wide receiver may be a Day 2 selection, but he packs a lot of skills that should be enticing to an NFL team looking for a potential starting cornerback. If the Saints choose to double-up early at the position, or missing out on it entirely in the first round, Adebo could be the guy.
The 6’1” and 197-pound prospect measures similarly to Caleb Farley although Adebo looks to have a higher center of gravity. His previous experience as a wide receiver has helped him learn to navigate that while also equipping him phenomenal ball skills and impressive understanding of route concepts and combinations.
The Stanford Cardinal had a total of 24 passes defended in 2018, another 14 in 2019, and four interceptions in both seasons. That came with him missing the final three games of 2019.
He could use some development in the transition game and tackling game, but that can be said for a lot of corners in this draft. Especially those who are getting into the NFL game after a year away from real-time college snaps.
Like Farley, Adebo also opted out in 2020 to get ready for the NFL Draft. Perhaps for that, his stock has fallen. Otherwise, some could view his talents as Day 1 warranted. Ball skills, scheme versatility, football IQ. He feels like a New Orleans Saints pick should they still be in the market for a corner at his draft range.
My Pick: Caleb Farley
New Orleans may have to move for him. But if the medical re-checks check out and the Saints feel comfortable with his progress, availability, and durability, this is a no-brainer. Farley was widely considered the best cornerback of this class until the offseason procedure became public. New Orleans being the team to reap the benefits of a fall for such a talented player and at a position that needs to be addressed would feel like a great start to the 2021 NFL Draft.
Which corner do you like best in this year’s draft? Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints.