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New Orleans Saints land three defenders on ESPN’s top ten lists

Should it have been more?

Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The top story around the New Orleans Saints all offseason will appropriately be the quarterback competition between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. However, the defense will be the next massive focal point for many. After losing productive players at all three levels of the defense (defensive line, linebacker, and secondary), the Saints must rely on young talent panning out next to proven veterans.

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The good news is that the Saints have a positive track record with both draft and undrafted talent. The better news is that the defense is still populated by outstanding players, some ESPN has recently named top-ten at their position.

Edge defender Cameron Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore all find their way to mentions on their respective lists. ESPN also put out lists for interior defensive linemen and safeties, but no Saints were named to either list. Some potential snubs there for sure.

Cameron Jordan, who ranks second in franchise sacks heading into 2021 was named the #9 edge rusher. However, one NFL defensive coordinator put Jordan top five in both the edge and interior defender lists. According to ESPN the coordinator believed “He belongs on either list.” Saying it “Doesn’t matter where he lines up. Just a great football player.”

More on Jordan from the piece:

Jordan’s sack totals dipped from 15.5 to 7.5 and his 11.6% pass-rush win rate in 2020 wasn’t elite. But the Saints had some early-season injuries that allowed offenses to focus on Jordan, thus affecting his numbers. And he won 14.3% of his rushes from the interior.

Demario Davis lands at #9 as well on the linebacker list and to be honest, most are just happy to see him ranked. Davis’ impact on the Saints offense since arriving in New Orleans is undeniable, not only from an on-field perspective but also a leader for this team and in the community.

Beyond his ability to cover and play like heat-seeking missile in the passing game, Davis has been touted as one of the better pass rushing linebackers in the NFL as well. Of course, that goes for off-ball linebackers whose responsibilities are not primarily rush the passer.

Per Pro Football Focus, Davis’s 33 total pressures in 2020 were tops amongst all off-ball linebackers. His eight QB hits tied for the most and his 21 hurries took second place. Unsurprisingly, that also means that his 21.5% win rate as a pass rusher ranked #1 against all ‘backers with 75 or more pass rush snaps.

Marshon Lattimore’s ranking is in the bottom half of the top-ten list as well but he finds himself just a couple spots higher than Jordan and Davis at #7 on the cornerback chart.

For all the talk around inconsistency in Lattimore’s play, which he himself acknowledged but feels may be a bit overblown, he still finds his way to being recognized as one of the best corners in today’s NFL. And deservedly so. The former Ohio State Buckeye and defensive rookie of the year has been an invaluable piece to the Saints rejuvenated defense over the years.

In the three games against Tampa Bay last season, he was credited as giving up. only 35 yards as the nearest defender. Even in a game like the early matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020 where he’s credited with giving up 99 receiving yards by PFF, he made the play on a massive fourth-and-six that sealed the game.

Lattimore made three separate plays on fourth downs in 2020 forcing turnovers on downs. The only other Saints player to be involved in multiple of those moments was safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was also a part of the fourth down stop against Los Angeles.

All in addition to allowing only a 57.8% completion rate, 34 pass break ups, and 10 interceptions since 2017. Jalen Ramsey, who topped the list, has similar numbers in that same span. 55.2% completion percentage allowed, 34 pass break ups, and nine interceptions.

More on Lattimore from the ESPN piece:

“Can show you one game where he looks like an All-Pro, and another where he looks like a complete train wreck,” a high-ranking NFL official said. “But he can play man and take you out of a game. He’s that talented.”

Two names that also received votes were interior defensive lineman David Onyemata and safety Marcus Williams. Both players have arguments over others on the list, but have also continued to improve each of the last few seasons. Perhaps they propel themselves to next year’s collection of top-ten lists.

Were Onyemata and Williams snubbed? Let us know your thoughts in the comment. 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.