What a phenomenal year that it's been so far for rookie and 2017 top Saints draft pick Marshon Lattimore. Now just 4 games into his very 1st NFL season, the former All-Big Ten CB out of Ohio State has re-defined the phrase "immediate impact" — and might just end up being THE best draft pick of the entire Sean Payton Era when all is said and done.
In last Sunday's wild 52-38 win over Detroit in the Superdome, the 21-year old Cleveland, Ohio native made one big play after another big play after another; and his "Pick 6" interception 27-yard return for a TD off of Lions QB Matthew Stafford was the crown jewel of an unbelievable day for the 11th overall selection of this past April's 2017 NFL Draft.
He was given a game ball by Saints head coach Sean Payton after the contest, and later in the post-game press conference Payton acknowledged the "immediate impact" made by the rookie made against Stafford to New Orleans Adovocate beat writer Joel A. Erickson.
"He's contesting throws, competing on every throw," Payton told Erickson. "He's got good instincts, good balance, and I think his length is something that shows up."
On the day, Lattimore finished with 5 tackles, 2 passes defended, the "Pick 6" interception and a fumble recovery; in perhaps one of the more memorable performances EVER on the defensive side of the football by a rookie, in the team's entire 51-year history.
Lattimore's 'elite' cover skills made him the consensus top-rated cornerback on most NFL teams' draft boards, and with the Saints having struggled at covering the pass in recent seasons, his selection by New Orleans was generally regarded as a "no-brainer" by most observers and analysts that cover the NFL.
But now after that performance against the Lions, Lattimore's name is on the lips of every NFL journalist that covers the League as a very serious candidate for 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
According to Pro Football Focus, Lattimore ranks 18th among all cornerbacks, either by rookies or veteran players; having allowed just a 57.8 passer rating into his coverage through the NFL's first 6 weeks of the 2017 regular season thus far.
As a result of last Sunday's peformance, PFF says that Lattimore now has made the narrow gap that separated him and Buffalo Bills rookie CB (and former LSU star) Tre'Davious White practically non-existent.
PFF has Lattimore currently tied with White with the 4th-highest overall grade among all cornerbacks (either rookies or veterans), with White getting the nod due to his higher snap count.
They currently have Lattimore ranked as the 3rd best rookie PERIOD (either on offense or defense) behind White and the League's #1 rookie at the moment: Kansas City Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt.
Both White and Lattimore are ranked slightly ahead of Cincinnati Bengals rookie defensive end Carl Lawson, (coincidentally whom the Saints passed on selecting in the Draft's middle rounds a few different times), who has been sensational so far for the Bengals and has emerged as the one of the League's best young pass rushers.
As PFF also notes: Lattimore has finished three out of four games this season with a grade of at least 83.0.
"(He's) Exceptional," fellow cornerback Ken Crawley told Erickson in the team locker room after the game.
"I just keep telling him, he's been playing like he's (always) been here."
With 11 more games yet to go including this Sunday's game at Green Bay against the NFC North Division-leading Packers, the Saints will need Lattimore to continue showing maturity well beyond his years as he has done up to this point.
Despite missing QB Aaron Rodgers, whom Green Bay may have lost for the entire season with a broken collarbone last week at Minnesota, the Packers are still a formidable offense; and they'll no doubt try to test Lattimore's resolve by having new starting QB Brett Hundley throw at his side with passes to WR Davante Adams — who will provide another challenge for the talented Saints rookie.
But if anyone is up to the task?
It's Lattimore, and his impact upon the success of the Saints defense in the past 3 weeks has been completely immeasurable.
In all of my years of following and now covering the Saints professionally, the ONLY other rookie that I personally can recall making this type of an impact was Rickey Jackson, the team's 2nd round pick in the 1981 NFL Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh.
Jackson, an underrated and overlooked defensive end on the opposite side of his teammate, Pitt All-American DE Hugh Green, of course was taken by then-Saints head coach / General Manager Bum Phillips; who converted Jackson from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Jackson made an immediate impact on a rebuilding Saints team that had finished (1-15) the year before; and along with sensational New York Giants rookie linebacker Lawrence Taylor, was considered one of the top rookie defenders of that 1981 season.
Jackson would go on to become a member (and the undisputed leader) of the legendary Saints "Dome Patrol" defense under the team's next head coach Jim Mora in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2010.
Jackson is also the only Saints player on defense to be elected into the Hall of Fame.
However, Jackson might get some company on that list someday; and it might just be from the young rookie who has made an impact unlike any other player since Jackson himself did, upon the current 2017 season.
There aren't enough words to accurately describe just how much that Lattimore's presence has meant to the Saints defense this year.
Marshon Lattimore is playing "lights out" football right now, and it's the reason why that's he's pushing hard for the eventual recognition as the NFL's 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
If he can continue with the level of play that he's provided for the past few weeks for the Saints defense, don't be surprised when he actually pulls it off...........