In football jargon, Saints officials see tremendous “upside’’ in Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and that’s why they selected him Friday night in the second round of the NFL draft.
How quickly he pays dividends remains to be seen.
For now, the former high school and junior-college wide receiver with one full season as a starter in the Cornhuskers secondary remains a work-in-progress. The 24-year-old college graduate is anxious to get in the classroom and on the practice field to begin smoothing out the rough edges.
The sooner, the better.
“His path (to the NFL) is much different,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked to contrast the 24-year-old Jean-Baptiste with the team’s first-round pick: Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks, a 20-year-old junior who bypassed his final year of college eligibility.
“He’s mature. He’s soft-spoken. He’s someone who’s very confident. Yet I’m encouraged with his time at the position and where he’s at in the football game. He’s someone who will still have a lot of growth and we feel like is a guy with a higher ceiling that needs development time at the position.’’
Translated, that means the evolution is ongoing.
But he possesses the physical qualities Saints officials seek at the cornerback position.
At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, he’s big and rangy and possesses excellent ball skills. Initially, the Saints plan to play him at one position (either on the outside or in the slot in nickel and dime packages) so he can become comfortable in his new surroundings.
He will have the luxury of learning the NFL ropes from future Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl performer in his first season in New Orleans.
“Hopefully, (Bailey) can take me (under his wing) and teach me what he knows,’’ Jean-Baptiste said. “My role is to help them win games and help make an immediate impact.
“I love Rob Ryan — a great defensive mind. You never know what kind of defense he’s going to bring or what kind of defense he’ll come up with. He’s a great defensive coordinator.’’
Some observers see Jean-Baptiste as a stud athlete in search of the right position. He played wide receiver initially at Nebraska before in 2011 switching to cornerback, where he made key contributions in the Huskers’ last nine games.
As a junior, he started in five of 14 games and finally cracked the starting lineup in 2013. He was voted to the second-team All-Big Ten squad by the league’s coaches after making four interceptions for a combined 134 yards with a team-high 11 pass breakups.
A good performance at the Senior Bowl and solid workout at the NFL combine, plus a productive visit with Saints coaches and officials at the team’s facility — all worked in his favor and ultimately led to his selection with the 58th pick.
“Being a fifth-year senior has helped me mature and helped me understand the game more, especially in my position playing DB for 21/2 years,’’ said Jean-Baptiste, a native of Miami who’s of Haitian descent. “Playing receiver helped me with my ball skills and helped me read the formations and helped me break down receivers’ tendencies. It’s helped me a lot.
“I’m happy the Saints picked me up. I kept hearing everything from (going in the) first round to third round. It was out of my hands. I’m just glad the Saints selected me in the second round.’’