Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the safeties of each NFC South team. Today: New Orleans Saints.
Malcolm Jenkins, a 2009 first-rounder, entered the league as a big cornerback. He is a bit stiff in the hips for the aggressive schemes the Saints use -- they ask a lot from their cornerbacks -- and has now found a home at free safety. With more seasoning at his new position, Jenkins has a chance to be an excellent free safety. Gregg Williams will ask him to do a little of everything. He will cover slot wideouts, blitz, play the run, play man coverage against tight ends, play the deep half and act as a true centerfielder. He isn’t a thumper in the run game or a great tackler, and his angles and recognition need work. But he hasn’t played the position long, and these things could really improve as soon as next season. A breakout season could be in the cards for Jenkins.
Roman Harper is remembered for having a terrible game in the Saints’ playoff loss in Seattle, but he is a solid player who has a substantial role in this defense. Coverage has never been Harper’s strong suit and he takes too many penalties, but he is a very good complement to Jenkins. He will never be special, but Harper is a solid starting strong safety who makes big plays as a run stuffer and blitzer. He shows a consistent ability to change a game. Harper simply makes plays. He is a free agent, but it seems likely that he will return to New Orleans. The front seven looks to be vastly improved. He could have another big statistical season for the Saints in 2011.
Darren Sharper, Pierson Prioleau, and Matt Giordano will become free agents. Sharper has had a wonderful career and was absolutely instrumental in New Orleans’ Super Bowl run two seasons ago. A student of the game and very intelligent on the field, Sharper reads quarterbacks and gets his hands on the ball about as well as anyone in recent memory. But to think that Sharper is still the same player that he was in his prime would be foolish. Still, it would be surprising if he weren't brought back. If he returns, Sharper could still play a centerfield role on passing downs while Jenkins is used more in a joker role -- like Charles Woodson -- while New Orleans has extra defensive backs on the field. Sharper also could be a terrific mentor to Jenkins.
Prioleau was nondescript roaming the secondary, but does know what it takes to succeed at this level. He just doesn't have a lot of play-making ability at this point of his career. Prioleau also isn’t a great player on special teams, which clearly limits his value at this point. Giordano is smart and tough but is a limited athlete. Losing Giordano would not be a big deal, but the depth at this position could really be hit hard with free agent defections.
Usama Young was an early third-round pick in the 2007 draft. Young remains a bit of a corner/safety tweener and really didn’t show up on tape last year when he did see the field. He and Chris Reis should also be eligible to test the market when free agency inevitably hits. Among Prioleau, Giordano, Young and Reis, Reis seems like the best candidate to be brought back.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL