Marshon Lattimore is a Huge Key to the Saints Defensive Success

The 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year and a three-time Pro Bowler, CB Marshon Lattimore might be the most crucial key to the New Orleans defense in 2021.
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Entering the 2017 NFL Draft, many experts felt that Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore would be a top-10 selection.

When Lattimore started to slide down the board, the New Orleans Saints snatched him up with the Number 11 overall selection.

Rarely throughout their franchise history have the Saints had a top-notch cornerback, but Lattimore provided exactly that immediately.

MARSHON LATTIMORE - 2017

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore breaks up a pass thrown to Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans. Mandatory Credit: Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via USA TODAY NETWORK

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore breaks up a pass thrown to Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans. Mandatory Credit: Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via USA TODAY NETWORK

Lattimore, the first corner drafted in 2017, was the opening day starter for a New Orleans pass defense that ranked 32nd in the league in 2016. His coverage skills were one of the primary factors in the Saints' rise to 15th in pass defense in 2017.

Lattimore led New Orleans with 5 interceptions and 22 passes broken up as a rookie. Facing some of the league's best receivers in his own division, he quickly established himself as a lockdown corner.

Lattimore won the 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and was voted to the Pro Bowl. He was the first New Orleans cornerback to earn a Pro Bowl bid since Dave Waymer in 1987 and only the third corner in franchise history to earn the honor.

LATTIMORE - 2018

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) breaks up a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (84). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY 

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) breaks up a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (84). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY 

After missing three games with injury in 2018, Lattimore started every contest for the Saints in 2018.

He declined a bit statistically, but still tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions. He led New Orleans with 4 fumbles forced, 3 fumbles recovered, and 12 passes broken up.

Steadying himself after a rocky start to the year, Lattimore allowed 64.4% completion percentage when targeted and added 2 more interceptions in a Divisional Playoff victory over Philadelphia. He led the NFL with 91 yards on fumble returns during the regular season.

LATTIMORE - 2019

New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) and Chicago receiver Anthony Miller (17) attempt to make a play on the ball. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) and Chicago receiver Anthony Miller (17) attempt to make a play on the ball. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Lattimore again got off to a slow start in 2019, allowing a 73% completion percentage for 326 yards and 2 scores over the first three weeks. Over the last two-thirds of the season, he was among the league's top defensive players.

After Week 4, Lattimore allowed only 41% completion percentage when targeted for a meager average of just 26 yards per game and one touchdown. He earned the second Pro Bowl bid of his career.

Lattimore intercepted just one pass on the year but led his defense with 14 passes broken up. Like most of his team, however, he suffered a letdown during the team's first-round playoff loss to Minnesota.

LATTIMORE - 2020

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) intercepts a pass intended for Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel (10). Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) intercepts a pass intended for Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel (10). Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Lattimore didn't allow a reception during a season-opening win over Tampa Bay but struggled over the next three games in losses to Las Vegas, Green Bay, and a narrow win over the Chargers. He’d make a key tackle on Chargers WR Mike Williams to seal the victory and played excellent football over the remainder of the year.

Teaming with veteran CB Janoris Jenkins and an outstanding secondary, the Saints' defensive backs rebounded after a slow start to become one of the league's best units.

New Orleans finished fifth in pass defense, their highest ranking since 2013, and led the NFL with 18 interceptions.

Lattimore contributed 2 of those interceptions and broke up 11 throws to finish third on the team. He allowed only 52.9% completion percentage when targeted on the year and earned his third Pro Bowl honor in four seasons.

The 25-year-old Lattimore is entering the last year of his rookie contract. Fellow 2017 first-round pick OT Ryan Ramczyk just recently received a huge contract extension, with the Saints franchise cornerback likely next in line.

Unfortunately, Lattimore was arrested in an offseason incident that involved a stolen handgun. Court proceedings are pending, but it seems almost certain that he will face a league suspension to start the 2021 season.

The Saints open the 2021 campaign with a home showdown against the Green Bay Packers.

New Orleans released Janoris Jenkins in a salary cap move this offseason, leaving inconsistent and unreliable depth at the position with Patrick Robinson, P.J. Williams, Ken Crawley, and Grant Haley.

The Saints spent a third-round pick on Stanford CB Paulson Adebo and will use third-year defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in more coverage packages. They’ll still need their star cornerback on the field and playing at a high level for any defensive success.

More than just a cover specialist, Lattimore provides exemplary run support at the position. He has outstanding recognition when off the ball and often locks onto top receivers in man coverage with little help.

The 6’0 and 192-Lb. Lattimore is a physical corner with the athleticism and man coverage skills to consistently shut down the league's most respected wideouts. 

His ability to shadow an opponent's top receiver allows the Saints to be more aggressive with their coverage packages and defensive scheme.

New Orleans has some excellent talent on the defensive side of the ball. Tackle David Onyemata and DE Cam Jordan highlight a deep defensive line. Linebacker Demario Davis is one of the league's top defensive players and leads a young linebacking unit. Safety Marcus Williams, another 2017 draftee, has excellent range on the back end.

New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) defends a pass intended for Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton (13). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) defends a pass intended for Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton (13). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Marshon Lattimore's ability to lock down the league's top wideouts one-on-one will allow the team to design coverage packages to better protect the other corner spot. It is arguably the biggest key to New Orleans' defensive success in 2021.


Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.

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