When brand new New Orleans Saints rookie and 5th Round Draft pick Natrell Jamerson decided to accept an invite to participate in the annual college all-star East-West Shrine Game a few months ago in his home state of Florida, he did so with the intention of not only trying to enhance his draft stock, but also with the goal of wanting to enjoy the entire experience.
“St. Pete (St. Petersburg, right outside of Tampa Bay) is nothing but two hours from my house, so I’m kind of familiar with the area down there,” Jamerson said to reporters prior to the Draft last week. “That whole week of practice and prep and just being in a the hotel with those guys, it was a great experience because some of those players could be my future teammates. It was all fun. We all connected like we knew each other already, so that whole experience was great.”
So it probably goes without saying that the last thing on Jamerson's mind that day was to end up being named the game's defensive MVP after returning a fumble 68 yards for a touchdown, an accolade he described as “just icing on the cake.”
“I wasn’t expecting to win the MVP,” Jamerson said. “I didn’t even know that was like a thing, so on the sideline they came to me and was like, ‘We want to award you for the MVP award.’ I was just surprised, like I didn’t know that it was an award that was going on, so it was all exciting.”
Jamerson's MVP-winning performance on that day was yet another opportunity that the 22-year old Ocala, FL native has had, to display the well-rounded versatility that originally allowed him to become a key contributor for the Badgers football program beginning in 2015 — a year after he had first arrived on the Madison campus.
In fact, you could even say that the newest member of the Saints defensive secondary has made the versatility to play any DB position, become his "calling card" over the past few years.
The first instance was the willingness to play wherever the Badgers coaching staff needed him to play at, once he arrived at the school.
Jamerson switched positions multiple times during his time at Wisconsin. He started off as a wide receiver on offense before moving to the defensive side of the ball for then-Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (who now holds the same title at LSU); where he then played cornerback during his sophomore and junior years before locking down a starting spot at safety and playing a pivotal role in the Badgers secondary, as a senior last season.
He started all 14 games during Wisconsin’s 13-1 campaign in 2017, registering 51 tackles, 10 pass break-ups and two interceptions — including a "Pick-6" against Northwestern to kick off Big Ten Conference play.
Jamerson's accomplishments helped the Badgers defense become one of the best units in the nation in multiple categories, including leading the nation in pass efficiency defense (96.4) while allowing less than 14 points per game (ranked 3rd in the country).
Additionally, he played a key role on special teams throughout his time as a Badger, one time even returning a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Maryland back in 2015.
Jamerson followed up the East-West Shrine Game Defensive MVP performance with an impressive showing at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine; where he recorded a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. Scouting reports noted his special teams prowess and his understanding of a complex Wisconsin defensive scheme.
His versatility to fill so many different roles within that same complex scheme is presumably why he drew the attention of the Saints scouting department. Saints scouts and the defensive coaching staff were on hand for Wisconsin's Pro Day back on March 14th, where they got some individual time to work Jamerson — whom they also worked out privately.
The capability of Jamerson to move around and successfully fill a variety of roles on defense was a sentiment that was echoed right before the Draft by current Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, a former 10-year NFL safety who believes that Jamerson’s best football is still ahead of him regardless of where ever he lines up.
“I heard lot of conversations debating whether he’s a corner or a safety, a lot of people on both sides of the fence would start him one or the other,” Leonhard said in an interview last month with SB Nation Badger fan-site Bucky's 5th Quarter.
“I think as a safety, he has more value at that level because it’s a pass-oriented game. It is physicality, it is coverage ability from the safety position is extremely valuable up there. College football is more of a run game, so a little bit different deal, so I think if he’s playing safety, his best football is ahead."
“Even at corner, he’s really. really new to defense. He played as a sophomore at corner, was hurt most of his junior year and then moved to safety, so it’s not like he’s ever really been able to just focus, ‘This is who I am, this is how I get better.’ So in my opinion, it’s a no-brainer the talent that he has. It’s just getting him that experience and figuring out who’s he going to be, what’s his role going to be at that level.”
Although he was listed as a safety throughout the length of the entire 2018 Draft process, the Saints envision Jamerson playing as a cornerback on the outside boundary; as one of the back-ups behind #1 CB Marshon Lattimore and #2 CB Ken Crawley, as well as a contributor on special teams.
Saints head coach Sean Payton said Jamerson will have an adjustment process to go through, if outside cornerback does become his full-time position.
"I think in Natrell’s case, our vision initially is outside and he is someone that tested out very well and can run. He is very quick, quick twitch — (he's) so sudden."
Payton also acknowledged that his capability to return kicks was yet another reason why he felt that Jamerson was the right pick to make at that spot.
“He's a guy that is very athletic. We had some individual workouts with some of these players so I would say both with Natrell, Kamrin, Boston those guys, we've all worked out separate and then other than a Pro Day."
"So I think most importantly as we were discussing these guys both Natrell and Cameron we discussed at that very same pick and fortunately you know around later we were able to select the other player but we'll see as they come in here and see where their weights are at, how they tackle. We do think they're both guys that are physical and both guys that fit our profile".
In Jamerson's case, his versatility to play outside cornerback, 'slot' CB / nickel corner, or even at either one of the safety positions, is vitally important; since the Saints coaches are constantly looking for players that are capable of filling multiple roles and can give the team additional options, whenever they're trying to determine exactly who to designate as their active players, on Game Days.
But he isn't worried about being asked to play on the outside.
In fact, it's actually something that he looks forward to, based on his comments with local New Orleans media via teleconference right after his selection was made.
"Initially, when I got the call, he (Sean Payton) said I'd be playing corner for the New Orleans Saints," Jamerson said. "But like I said, wherever they want to see me play. ... I'm going to put my best foot forward and give it my all."
"I even have no problem blitzing, coming off the edge," Jamerson said. "I do it all."
But for now, Jamerson's biggest impact as a rookie for the upcoming 2018 season later this Fall, will likely be on special teams.
Jamerson is an experienced blocker and has served previously as a designated "gunner" in kick coverages; and along with his notable athleticism it likely will make him a leading candidate to fill a substantial role for the Saints special teams initially, in the kick-return game.
"I've been playing special teams since my freshman year," Jamerson said. "I take it very seriously."
Serious enough, that maybe he could use that attribute as a stepping-stone to a much more critical role on defense, one where he could serve as a vitally important reserve at the outside boundary CB position, God forbid should something happen to either Lattimore or Crawley.