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How Paulson Adebo Can Win a Starting Role

Could the rookie corner be “next man up” sooner than expected?

Arizona v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints are thin at cornerback. Marshon Lattimore, their 2017 rookie of the year is currently the team’s only sure thing at the position. Behind him, veteran depth that have had some positive showing in spot starts recently, but currently trust dwindles at the idea of 17 games. Lattimore himself doesn’t even come without his own questions marks following an offseason arrest that could land him an early-season suspension depending on how the process plays out.

For third-round pick Paulson Adebo, the possibility of starting Week One for the Saints should not be considered a farfetched proposition.

Northwestern v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

But what would it take for the former Stanford Cardinal to win that opportunity outright? Not just because of a potential suspension to a starting corner. The CB2 spot is open for now, though the Saints have been open about the idea of pursuing another veteran corner.

Richard Sherman drew early connections to the Saints but has been lukewarm on the topic following the organization trading up to draft Adebo.

There are still other names on the market as well. Including some who would fit in with the Saints’ man coverage-heavy scheme. The departed Janoris Jenkins played 41.6% of his 531 coverage snaps in man coverage. The Saints have a lot of snaps to replace.

Steven Nelson played 37% of his coverage snaps throughout 2020 in man coverage allowing a 54.8% completion percentage and three touchdowns. Breshaud Breeland’s season with the Kansas City Chiefs was shortened due to injury, but he spent 41.9% of his coverage in man allowing 56.4% of his targets to be completed for four touchdowns.

Even a player like Gareon Conley, who didn’t appear in a game in 2020, could be an option. In 2019 after landing with the Houston Texans, Conley played 38.6% of his coverage snaps in man and allowed only 48.4% of targets going his way to be completed. However, he did allow four touchdowns in man coverage.

The fact of the matter is that every player that’s on the market in May is there for a reason.

While Adebo didn’t play in a man-heavy scheme at Stanford, it’s certainly a versatile one which asked him to play a ton of different coverages. He gave up only five touchdowns to his eight interceptions in 2018 and ‘19 allowing only a 56.6% completion rate over the two seasons as well.

So, what would Paulson Adebo have to do to alleviate concerns around his transition to the NFL enough to take on the starting role upon his own merit? Let’s take a look.

Re-Gain His Confidence

When Jeff Ireland visited with Jeff Duncan of the Athletic to talk Saints draft class, he mentioned that confidence is an important trait in their draft evaluations along with size. Adebo (6-foot-1, 197 pounds) had a remarkable redshirt-freshman year in 2018. In that season, after fully converting from wide receiver, he paced the PAC-12 conference in passes defended with a whopping 17, setting a school record along the way. He also intercepted four passes and piled up 64 total tackles. He was a surefire first round selection according to a lot of experts.

However, his 2019 campaign cost him a drop in his stock after some underwhelming performances. Despite knocking away another 10 pass attempts and adding another four interceptions to his resume, questions began to arise regarding his position in the draft. Adebo looked to struggle with his feet, bite hard on double-moves, and had his season cut short by injury. He decided to return for another season in 2020, which he would eventually opt out of with all of the uncertainty around the PAC-12 season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ireland remarked upon Adebo’s decision to go back in 2020 in a way that suggests his competitive edge to return and replenish his draft stock speaks louder than his subsequent decision to opt out. However, it leaves the confidence from 2018 still unseen for the moment. If Adebo can come in to New Orleans and show a regained trust in his abilities, short memory, and instinctual knowledge, that could be the first step towards meaningful snaps Week One against the Green Bay Packers.

Maintain Ballhawking Ability

The New Orleans Saints took the ball away at the third-highest rate in the NFL last year along with the Buffalo Bills with 26 takeaways. They also tied for the most interceptions with 18. But since 2017 when they had 20 picks, New Orleans has been middle of the road in the category. Their outstanding turnover differential over the years has just as much to do with how rarely they give the ball away than it does with their ability to take it away.

Even last year’s 18 interception season for the team was an inconsistent one including a six-game stretch to open the season with only three and a later four-game stretch with none before the team’s five interception game against the hapless Carolina Panthers. In the middle of that, came a spike of ten interceptions over four games.

It was a bit of a roller coaster in the takeaway department for New Orleans. A playmaker like Paulson Adebo could help. With No Saints player has had two consecutive 4+ interception seasons in the Sean Payton era. If Adebo could effectively channel and execute his ball-hawking ability in New Orleans, it would make it challenging to keep him off the field.

Adding his ball skills to a secondary with Marcus Williams, Marshon Lattimore, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who all had 10+ passes defended in 2020, could be a reliable replacement for Janoris Jenkins who has 12 on his own.

Be Reliable in Run Support

In addition to the eye-popping 24 PBUs Adebo forced over his collegiate career, he’s also shown a willingness to get involved as a tackler with 97 total in his career. But his work as a defender will need to be more than willingness.

Pro Football Focus notched him with 25 career missed tackles, again with 2018 being more efficient. Nothing helps your stock as a player on the Saints defense than your ability to play the run. Well, outside of positional versatility maybe, but Adebo only played 25 slot snaps over his 1,476 defensive snaps at Stanford.

This may be another matter of confidence. In 2018 he looked to be a more sure and sound tackler. Can he get back to that level of production even if it’s not necessary once he hits the field? It would certainly catch the eyes of the coaching staff if he could.

Defensive backs coach Kris Richard will have his hands full with experience veterans along with the Stanford newcomer. He may even get another face thrown into the mix at some point. But expect eyes to be keenly focussed on Paulson Adebo until then. If he puts on display the confidence, ball skills, and scheme versatility he’s proven to have in his arsenal, it could be tough to keep him off the field if a more proven alternative isn’t added to the mix.

Do you think Paulson Adebo could start in 2021? Let us know in the comments. 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 and checkout the Locked On Saints YouTube channel.