The Saints have a gaping hole at cornerback

Of all the moves the Saints made to become cap-compliant in 2021, cutting cornerback Janoris Jenkins hurt the most.  Hypothetically, at least.

The team spent two and a half seasons searching for a corner to play opposite Marshon Lattimore, going through Ken Crawley, Eli Apple and a litany of temporary fill-ins until they picked up Jenkins off the scrap heap at the end of the 2019 season.

After his release by the New York Giants, “Jackrabbit” Jenkins slid into the CB2 role opposite Lattimore and formed arguably the best corner tandem in franchise history.  And now he’s gone.  Jenkins agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the Titans less than a week after being cut for the second time in three seasons.

The Saints have yet to sign a corner in free agency, and with two weeks left before the 2021 NFL Draft, the team’s in-house options outside of Lattimore are P.J. Williams, Keith Washington Jr., Patrick Robinson and Grant Haley.

On top of all this, Lattimore was arrested on March 25 for receiving stolen property, which is a felony.  His availability for all 17 games next season is now in question, and given that he’s in a contract year and has been dogged by inconsistent play, it’s possible (though unlikely) that Lattimore won’t be on the team in 2022.

Mad Men‘s Pete Campbell said it best:

On the Sean Payton scale of offseason needs, musts and wants, cornerback is all three.  It has to be addressed, lest the defense backslide into the hellscape of the 7-9 seasons of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the position group in the immediate future and beyond, it makes sense to add warm bodies through free agency and the draft. Not one or the other, but both. 

It was reported that the Saints have/had interest in former 49ers and Seahawks star Richard Sherman and former Colts starter T.J. Carrie.  Both would be solid alternatives, or supplementary pieces, to a rookie (or rookies) selected in the draft.

There’s a cluster of corners that could be available when the Saints pick at 28, but one name that intrigues me is Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley.  Farley possesses the prototypical size that the Saints covet (he’s 6’2, 197) and has the mental tools to succeed and possibly blossom into a locker room leader, as he was a star quarterback in high school.  Before his COVID-19 opt-out in 2020 and subsequent back surgery, Farley was considered by some to be the top CB prospect in the draft.   

Given the lack of access teams and their doctors have to prospects this season due to the pandemic, combined with the seemingly inevitable flurry of head-scratching, out of left field first round picks, it’s possible that Farley could slide all the way to 28.  Or, slide far enough that Payton and Mickey Loomis will move up to snag him.

Farley’s potential tumble down draft boards is a real possibility considering his medical history. Taking a corner who recently had back surgery and hasn’t played at all since 2019 is a huge risk in the top 15. But after that, he could provide real value and would be worth the risk.

Good corners are harder to find than linebackers and receivers, and barring some crazy trade or an unexpected draft day free-fall, there probably won’t be any can’t-miss prospects available at 28.  Taking a chance on someone like Farley and then supplementing the move with a veteran like Sherman or Carrie makes sense.

The alternative smells a lot like burnt toast.

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