For the New Orleans Saints, the depth at cornerback is eventually going to become an issue.
Granted, it’s a good problem, but it’s still a problem. Some talented players — perhaps ones who already are being penciled into the final 53 — are going to end up on the outside, hoping another team picks them up off the heap.
Brandon Browner, Keenan Lewis and P.J. Williams are locks to make the roster. Behind them, Damian Swann, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Delvin Breaux, Kyle Wilson, Brian Dixon and Terrence Frederick will be competing for two or three roster spots.
The good news is that it’s possible that number ends up being the higher end since Swann, a fifth-round pick out of Georgia, demonstrated the ability to play both cornerback and safety in college.
“I played a little safety, a little free in college,” Swann said. “Kind of late, toward my senior year. So I’m pretty comfortable back there, and I think I can do that, too.”
Swann received most of his snaps at cornerback during rookie minicamp and drew praise from coach Sean Payton for his work covering the slot, though his ability to do multiple things can only help his cause moving forward.
It could also help the Saints figure out how to sneak an extra piece into the puzzle.
New Orleans isn’t afraid to have its cornerbacks move back and play safety. Last season, the Saints had cornerback Corey White, who played safety in college and is now a member of the Dallas Cowboys, play at safety during training camp and then again had him work at the position during practices late in the season.
If the Saints want to save a roster spot, they might have Swann check off two boxes by having him fill multiple roles. That’s a luxury — especially if the player can play both positions well.
It remains to be seen if Swann can adequately perform at one spot, let alone two. And success at one spot does not guarantee success at another.
There’s a school of thought that many corners, particularly bigger ones who might struggle at their natural position, can take a step back and instantly succeed at safety. But the transition isn’t that simple. It’s not an impossible task, but it takes a particular set of skills to make the transition.
Sitting atop the list are instincts. Cornerbacks are closer to the play and typically win or lose early the play. A safety is either required to cover the whole field, if he’s playing single high, or half the field. His job is to sit back, read the quarterback and make plays.
It’s a different perspective, and not every cornerback possesses that kind of vision and anticipation. Success and failure is determined by how well the safety reads the quarterback and how quickly he can get there. Once the read is made, the safety then has to quickly diagnose what’s happening and take the right angle to the play. Take the wrong angle, and the receiver might be off for a touchdown.
It also requires more studying, because the safety serves as the communicator of the secondary and needs to make sure everyone is on the same page and lined up properly. Cornerbacks, more or less, have to worry about only their individual responsibility within a concept and the man in front of them.
“You know, it’s different,” Swann said. “When you’re up on the line of scrimmage, everything happens fast. When you’re back a little bit, you get to see everything, you get to read the quarterback, you get to see the whole field.”
Swann continued: “ Knowing the situations that you’re in, knowing the situations you need to be a successful player, that’s the difference.”
If Swann ever plays safety — and it’s still an if at this point — he wouldn’t be the only college cornerback logging snaps at safety. The team’s starting free safety, Jairus Byrd, was a cornerback in college at Oregon. With his coverage skills and elite instincts, he’s become one of the better free safeties in the NFL.
But that comparison doesn’t necessarily work. Cornerback isn’t coming off of Swann’s résumé, at least not yet. He’s merely a possible candidate to serve as depth at two different positions.
That’s a good problem to have.