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.
At No. 3 is cornerback Keenan Lewis:
Last year’s rank: 5th
Analysis: Lewis was my co-MVP for the Saints’ 2014 season, and he easily could have earned that honor in 2013 as well (when I thought he should have made his first Pro Bowl).
Lewis, who began his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has emerged as a true No. 1 cornerback since signing with his hometown Saints two years ago. He has six interceptions in that span. More importantly, the long and lanky 6-1, 208-pounder has routinely held his own while being matched up against the opponents’ top receiver.
Last year, Lewis had primary coverage on the likes of Dez Bryant (three catches for 44 yards and a TD), Jordy Nelson (three catches for 25 yards), Alshon Jeffery (one catch for 18 yards through three quarters before a late TD vs. a backup corner) and Kelvin Benjamin (a total of four catches for 42 yards and a TD in two games).
Of course, an argument could be made that opponents ignored Lewis because they had so much success picking on the rest of New Orleans’ secondary. And Lewis wasn’t perfect: He gave up red-zone TDs to Bryant, Benjamin and Roddy White.
But I completely disagree with Pro Football Focus’ negative rating of Lewis overall last year (I have to imagine that’s based on some sort of plus-minus grading on each snap, in which Lewis was hurt by the overall failures of New Orleans’ secondary).
Around midseason last year, FOX analyst and former NFL safety John Lynch said no corner in the NFL was playing better than Lewis. And I’ve heard nothing but praise for Lewis from talking with several Saints coaches and teammates, as well as scouts and coaches from other teams, both publicly and privately.
ESPN scouting analyst Matt Williamson’s take: “[No. 3 on this list] seems high. But then you think, ‘Boy, consistent.’ He’s a big corner, and that is a premium position. I mean, imagine where their secondary would have been last year without him.
“I think in a perfect world, on a stud defense, he’s your No. 2 guy. I don’t think you want him being Revis or playing man coverage against Calvin Johnson all day. But how many of those guys are there in the world? But he’s very solid, he’s very consistent, he has size, he has tools. I’m here in Pittsburgh, and they could have sure used him.
“The other thing about Lewis is that some corners really struggle against size, some really struggle against quickness, some really struggle against speed or technicians. And I don’t know that he has one glaring type of receiver that really, really gives him a hard time.”