Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, Los Angeles Rams. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, Minnesota Vikings. Those are just a few of the very best CB duos in the NFL heading into the upcoming 2018 NFL season, and you can go ahead and add 2 more names to that list: the dynamic Saints CB duo of Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley.
After experiencing 3 straight years of below average CB play by names such as Brandon Browner and Corey White that made the Saints one of the NFL's WORST defenses from 2014 to 2016, last season Lattimore and Crawley combined as a duo beginning in Week #4 against the Miami Dolphins, to help lead a defensive revival in New Orleans.
As a direct result: the Saints defense finished the 2017 season ranked a respectable 15th in the League against the pass (224.8 yards allowed per game). Not too shabby for a unit that just 2 years prior, gave up the most passing yards EVER recorded.
Lattimore of course ended up being named 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and clearly proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was worthy of being the team's 1st-round pick (#11 overall) in last year's 2017 NFL Draft.
He was the first player in the franchise's entire 52-year history to earn such an honor.
As it was, Lattimore actually missed a total of 3 games while dealing with a concussion and an ankle injury; but still managed to lead the team in interceptions (5) and passes defensed (18), while recording the 7th-most defensive snaps (754) for the Saints.
But perhaps the even bigger surprise was the often-maligned Crawley, who after a somewhat-at-times shaky rookie season in 2016, had a remarkable "bounce back" season in only the 2nd year of his brief NFL career.
Crawley led all Saints cornerbacks in defensive snaps (822), which ranked 3rd overall on the team. He finished the season with 13 starts, 54 tackles (47 solo), an interception and 17 passes defensed.
Collectively as a result, the duo is now beginning to earn some national recognition for their play together as a CB tandem; and folks in the National Media such as Bleacher Report's NFL analyst Maurice Moton and Denver Post lead NFL writer Ryan O'Halloran are starting to take notice.
Just yesterday, Moton had Lattimore as one of his "biggest emerging stars" at CB for the upcoming 2018 NFL season; while making note that "when on the field, the 22-year-old proved he’s a ball hawk. The Saints have a long-term cornerstone at cornerback. The former Buckeye can set his aim at All-Pro honors going into the 2018 campaign."
That's pretty impressive stuff for the former Ohio State University All-American, and it speaks directly to just how respected that Lattimore is, League-wide.
However, it isn't just Lattimore who's getting all of the attention and recognition for his play alone,
In his recent article ranking the NFL's best CB duos, O'Halloran has Lattimore and Crawley ranked as his 5th best CB tandem in the League, behind Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye of Jacksonville, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters of the Los Angeles Rams, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes of Minnesota, and Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett of the Chargers — who has since torn his Achilles tendon in Training Camp and will miss the Chargers' 2018 season.
Here's what O'Halloran had to say about New Orleans' up-and-coming young CB duo, with the start of their 2nd year together now only 25 more days away from now at the Superdome on September 9th:
#5. New Orleans: Marshon Lattimore is already a shutdown corner entering his second year. He was the first Saints corner to make the Pro Bowl since 1995. Patrick Robinson led Philadelphia with four interceptions and returns to the Saints. He could start outside and the move inside on sub package downs.
Interestingly enough, O'Halloran didn't even mention Crawley by name; although the former University of Colorado star went on to finish the season as the #39 ranked CB in the League overall, which would seemingly suggest that at his very worst, Crawley played like a "high-end" #2 CB and was considered an above average player at his position.
While it's fair to say that the 6-foot-1, 180 pound Crawley struggled to find his footing during his rookie 2016 season two years ago, the former Washington Post D.C. Area 2011 High School Player of the Year award winner found himself "thrown to the wolves" after he was pressed into action when the Saints had lost BOTH starting CB's in Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams.
Crawley struggled at times as all rookie NFL CB's often do, and was even victimized a few times on some big plays, most notably in a Week #2 loss that year against the New York Giants.
And although Crawley's play improved throughout the season, he was no "lock" to make the Final Roster last year coming to Camp with the return of all the Saints starters and the addition to the secondary of the team's top 2017 Draft pick in Lattimore.
But Crawley bounced back strong with a phenomenal 2017 Training Camp, and here at Saints News Network we even listed Crawley as THE most improved player during the entire 2017 off-season.
It goes without saying that our projection was fairly accurate, given Crawley's accomplishments when the 2017 NFL season was finally over.
Now as the Saints inch closer towards the eventual start of what will be their 2nd year together, Lattimore and Crawley will be looking to climb even further up the rankings, among the League's most respected "shut down" CB tandems.
By all accounts, both players have had a solid Training Camp; and both appear more than ready to pick right up where they left off at the end of last year.