3 defensive backs Saints fans should scout at the 2023 NFL combine
While the New Orleans Saints are pretty set at cornerback with Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo and Alontae Taylor all currently on the roster, the value of good defensive backs should never be overlooked. For New Orleans, their biggest need from this group will be that of safety. With only veterans Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye under contract to start the offseason, the position should be seen as a bit of an underrated need.
The Saints could also look to find an option to compete on the slot with veteran corner Bradley Roby as there are a lot of versatile players in this year’s NFL draft. After the departure of former slot safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson last year, an injection of youth at the position could be in the team’s best interest. That would make an investment there both a short and long-term one for the Saints defense. Here are three options to keep an eye on at the combine.
Texas A&M S Antonio Johnson
If the Saints want another impactful presence in the slot similar to the one they once had with Gardner-Johnson, the former Aggie is an easy option to pinpoint. Johnson plays his best football near the box and line of scrimmage. He’s an aggressive downhill tackler with solid tackling ability in those areas. He is not as efficient an asset when playing deep but is stellar in man coverage, especially with his size. Measuring in at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds here in Indianapolis, he has pro size for his position and the requisite play style to match up as a slot safety or big nickel.
That would be his role in New Orleans if selected. Johnson would be able to be a valuable depth piece early on unless the Saints decide to move on from current slot corner Bradley Roby this offseason. In which case he would transition to a starting role as the Saints’ enforcer near the line and in coverage against tight ends.
The on-field drills will be important for Johnson to prove that he has made strides in his back pedal and transition ability. Both are areas that scouts have identified as improvement needs. If he tests well in the short-area quickness drills as well, he will solidify himself as one of the class’s top safeties. Honestly, he may already be the top guy at the position on many boards.
Draft Projection: Rounds 1-2
Flordia State S Jammie Robinson
Robinson has been on my radar since his Cincinnati days. His incredible physicality has stood out most from his tape, making him a fantastic open for a slot safety or big nickel player. During his reps at the Senior Bowl earlier this year, Robinson drew attention with his violent punches at the line and his ability to stick to the hip of both dynamic and shifty wideouts as well as big slot receivers. He is a solid run defender and can line up away from the line to support over the top as well.
Robinson has shorter arms than anticipated, which limits his reach. But that does not stop him from playing a very aggressive brand of defensive back. Robinson plays through pass catchers to be disruptive at the catch point and only carries a 7.3% career missed tackle rate per Pro Football Focus. At 5-foot-11 and 191 pound, the Florida State Seminole is a compact and aggressive defender who packs a wallop with his hits and brings a lot of energy to his defensive unit.
Robinson will have to prove at the Combine that he has enough traits to make up for what some might deem negative around his size. He stands to impress with his ability to move and change direction cleanly and with sufficient agility.
Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3
Florida DB Trey Dean III
Dean is one of my favorites in this class. He already has a connection to the Saints thanks to new defensive line coach Todd Grantham, who was formerly Florida’s defensive coordinator. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Dean has ideal NFL size and is sure to impress with his raw athleticism as well. Dean is another candidate to serve as a big slot coverman that can line up with tight ends and support in the run game.
He could also get a chance on the outside at perimeter corner, too thanks to his premium notches on size speed and physicality. Dean could also be a fantastic talent in special teams as a downhill tackler that could bring a lot of energy with big hit after big hit. Above-the-shoulders-football will be the biggest hurdle for Dean as he has been inconsistent technique and eye discipline from time to time. But putting him in a clearly defined role and allowing him to play to his strengths and instincts would be a major difference-maker for him. He’s clearly a wildly talented and gifted player that would benefit from working with talented veterans like Mathieu, Roby and Maye.
Look for Dean to impress in athletic testing. On-field drills will put his growth and evolution in understanding his responsibilities and will display his movement abilities as well.
Draft Projection: Rounds 5-6