CB Keenan Lewis on short list of Saints' most irreplaceable players

Keenan Lewis to have hip surgery

ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton says Keenan Lewis' hip surgery is just the latest setback for the Saints' defense.

METAIRIE, La. -- My thoughts on the report that the New Orleans Saints could be without cornerback Keenan Lewis for at least a month:

Wrong guy to lose: Lewis, left tackle Terron Armstead, receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Cameron Jordan trail only Drew Brees as the Saints' most irreplaceable players. Lewis is on that short list because of his tremendous skill set, the importance of his position and the lack of proven depth behind him.

Lewis should have made the Pro Bowl in 2013. And though he took a slight step back last season, I still ranked him as the team's co-MVP along with Brees in 2014. Lewis routinely matches up against the opponent's top receivers and has thrived against the likes of Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson, Alshon Jeffery and Kelvin Benjamin (though the Houston Texans had success going at Lewis twice with emerging star DeAndre Hopkins this past Sunday).

I shudder to think what the Saints' woeful secondary would have looked like last season without Lewis. Which leads me to ...

Lots of questions at CB: Fortunately for the Saints, they appear to have upgraded their talent at cornerback this offseason. But everyone comes with question marks.

Veteran Brandon Browner gives New Orleans a stable presence at the No. 2 cornerback spot -- assuming he's healthy. Browner has been sidelined with an unspecified knee/leg injury since the preseason opener, though he was back doing individual drills with the team in Tuesday's practice during the portion that was open to the media.

Browner, 31, has some limitations against faster receivers, but the Saints specifically targeted him to be a big, physical press corner at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds. He brings an intimidating presence to the position, as well as great veteran leadership. I love the fit as far as him being a much-needed stabilizing presence.

The other Week 1 starter should be Canadian Football League transfer Delvin Breaux, who has been one of the stars of the Saints' summer. Teammates have marveled at Breaux's physicality as well. Safety Kenny Vaccaro went so far to predict Breaux will be a "superstar." All of that sounds great, but chances are he'll still face a steep learning curve, especially if opponents decide to test him early and often.

After that, rookie fifth-round draft pick Damian Swann appears to have the edge on the nickel job ahead of second-year pro Stanley Jean-Baptiste and veteran Kyle Wilson. Swann has shown some nice flashes, and Jean-Baptiste has looked more comfortable than he did last season. But all three of those guys have shown inconsistency this summer, so teams will target whichever is in the game.

Vaccaro could potentially cover slot receivers as the nickelback -- something he has excelled at. But the Saints' safety depth also has been hit by injuries.

Chemistry problems? Losing one player shouldn't cripple the Saints' defense. But this is now a series of issues for a secondary that suffered because of chemistry issues last season. Safety Jairus Byrd has missed all of training camp with an unspecified knee injury. Coach Sean Payton said recently that the team's goal was to have Byrd back by the end of preseason, but he hasn't even begun practicing on a limited basis yet. Browner missed nearly three weeks of training camp. And rookie cornerback P.J. Williams, a third-round pick from Florida State, was placed on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury.

Everyone was healthy, including Byrd and Browner, during all of organized team activities and minicamp this summer. But they'll still be getting a feel for one another as players rotate in and out of the mix in September.

The Saints need to ensure that things aren't as disjointed as last September, when the secondary was plagued by assignment errors and missed tackles.