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Saints rankings: No. 5 CB Keenan Lewis

7/10/2014

I’m ranking the top 20 New Orleans Saints players leading up to training camp. It’s based on their current value -- meaning both past accomplishments and potential are taken into account. Think, who would you want on the field most in Week 1 this season?

At No. 5, it’s cornerback Keenan Lewis.

Profile: Year 6, Age 28, 6-foot-1, 208 pounds

Analysis: Lewis is the only player in the top 6 who did not make the Pro Bowl last year. But he should have. I would rank him as the co-MVP of the Saints’ resurgent defense last year, along with defensive end Cameron Jordan. Not only were they the Saints’ two best defensive players, but they play the two most important positions in today’s pass-happy NFL. And Lewis was the main reason why New Orleans ranked No. 2 in the NFL in pass defense.

Lewis quickly emerged as a true No. 1 cornerback for his hometown Saints after signing as a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Saints matched the physical, long-armed corner against opponents’ No. 1 receivers every week, and he routinely shut them down. Unfortunately he wasn’t truly appreciated until the playoffs -- when he got knocked out of the Saints’ playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles with a concussion. Before the injury, Lewis silenced dynamic receiver DeSean Jackson. Afterward, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles immediately started targeting Jackson again.

Lewis had four interceptions, one forced fumble and nine passes defended last season. He continued the growth he started to display in his final year in Pittsburgh, when he didn’t have any interceptions but ranked second in the NFL behind Seattle’s Richard Sherman with 23 pass defenses. Now that his reputation has grown around the country, that first Pro Bowl shouldn’t be far behind.

Previous rankings:

No. 20 (tie) RBs Mark Ingram/Khiry Robinson

No. 19 WR Kenny Stills

No. 18 S Rafael Bush

No. 17 LB David Hawthorne

No. 16 CB Champ Bailey

No. 15 P Thomas Morstead

No. 14 OT Zach Strief

No. 13 RB Pierre Thomas

No. 12 DE Akiem Hicks

No. 11 S Kenny Vaccaro

No. 10 LB Curtis Lofton

No. 9 G Ben Grubbs

No. 8 OLB Junior Galette

No. 7 WR Marques Colston

No. 6 G Jahri Evans