The New Orleans Saints allowed only 217 yards passing per game defensively during the 2020 season. They ranked 5th in the league against the pass. It was their highest ranking in that category since the 2013 season and only the sixth time in the last two decades that they held a top-10 rank against the pass.
Much of the reason for the New Orleans success over the last few years has been because of their cornerback play. Marshon Lattimore has been one of the NFL's best cornerbacks since the Saints selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft. The team added veteran CB Janoris Jenkins late in 2019. He combined with Lattimore to form one of the league's best duos at the position last season.
Jenkins was released this offseason in a salary cap move, leaving a significant need at cornerback opposite Lattimore. The team has veterans P. J. Williams and Patrick Robinson to provide depth, but they've each proven to be liabilities when left in single coverage. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a reliable option in slot coverage, but the team likes to use his versatile skills through the entire field.
The cornerback position appears to be deep in this year's draft class. At least four corners are sure to be drafted in the 1st round. As many as six others will come off the board in the second day if they don't hear their name called on the first night.
Four of the incoming rookies are sons of former accomplished NFL players. We profile one of these new generations of potential NFL stars in today’s draft spotlight.
ASANTE SAMUEL JR., CORNERBACK (FLORIDA ST.)
Pro Day 40m = 4.45
NFL.com Comparison (Lance Zierlein):
Mackensie Alexander (Vikings)
Asante Samuel Sr was a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback that intercepted 51 passes, scored 7 defensive touchdowns, and won two Super Bowls during an 11-year career with the Patriots, Eagles, and Falcons. His son, Asante Jr., was a national top-25 recruit out of famed St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida. He would only start three games as a true freshman with the Seminoles, but appeared in all 12 contests and led the team with 9 passes broken up.
Samuel led the entire ACC with 14 passes broken up as a sophomore in 2019, adding 48 tackles and recording an interception. He started eight games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season for a struggling Florida State squad. Samuel intercepted 3 passes, broke up six others, and recovered 2 fumbles while recording 30 tackles.
Samuel's size could limit him against some of the bigger receivers in the league. He gets extremely grabby in man coverage, leading to several crippling penalties in college. That undisciplined play was also a result of poor reads against opposing quarterbacks, who took advantage of his aggressiveness.
Samuel has a tendency to jump routes or commit to a wideout's break too early, leaving him susceptible to double moves. A long striding receiver with good speed can open up ground against him on deep routes.
Asante Jr. answered some questions about his athleticism with an explosive performance at his Pro Day. He turned in well above averages with a 35-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet, 4 inches along with his 40 time. Questions about his size should be somewhat eased when looking at his game tape against bigger wideouts as an outside corner.
He’s a confident and aggressive defender with a physical jam in press coverage, a role he relishes. Samuel has a quick change of direction that allows him to shadow his receiver on breaks. He is extremely combative on contested throws and has a big-play mentality against every pass.
Samuel maintains that same aggressiveness in run support, approaching a ball carrier like a safety and displaying good strength for his size. He makes a receiver fight for every reception and every inch after a catch, giving up yardage begrudgingly.
Asante Samuel Jr. is projected to be a Round 2 selection, but could sneak into the 1st round with his combination of talent and aggressiveness. Best suited for man coverage, he can be equally effective as an outside corner or from the slot. Despite size limitations, Samuel can quickly develop into a number one corner if he cleans up his penalties at the next level and improves his play diagnosis when off the ball.