Last year, the offseason saw many changes in the Saints defensive backfield, with CB Keenan Lewis signed in free agency and SS Kenny Vaccaro drafted in the first round. This year, that unit gets even younger with the free agency acquisitions of FS Jairus Byrd and CB Champ Bailey, and the drafting of CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste in the second round. Lost in the upheaval is the performance and future role of one Corey White.
The former 5th round pick out of Samford was initially drafted as a safety, and won the chance to man the slot cornerback position in nickel packages in his rookie year. He played over two-thirds of defensive snaps in every game that year, up until a knee injury cut his season short.
In 2013, he played the position of the 6th defensive back in the ultra-versatile system Rob Ryan installed. Ahead of him were safeties Vaccaro, Jenkins and Bush, and cornerbacks Lewis and Greer. He initially only saw the field on dime packages (with Vaccaro manning the nickel back spot). However, as injury ravaged the secondary (first Greer, then Vaccaro, and finally Lewis), White’s role increased; from week 12 onwards, he missed only 9 defensive snaps for the Saints (including playoff games).
While his play wasn’t great – most notably the game @ Atlanta in week 12 of 2013, where he was picked on relentlessly while covering Darius Johnson – he was no worse than mediocre at his worst. At his best, he was suffocating in coverage (as displayed vs. Carolina in week 14 this past season, when he gave up no receptions into his primary coverage). His 2013 as a whole was so good in fact, that he gave up less than a yard per snap in coverage. Only 21 other cornerbacks in the league were part of that exclusive league, a feat made all the more impressive considering he played out wide through most of the year while the majority of the other 21 corners were nickel backs and thus, faced shallower routes.
Long story short, he’s an effective defensive back. But will he see the field often in 2014? At first glance, it’s hard to see why he would; he’d be behind the pecking order of Vaccaro, Lewis, Byrd and Bailey, and will have to battle it out with Bush and Jean-Baptiste to even make it onto the field on nickel and dime sub-packages. However, if last year taught us anything, it’s that you can never have too deep a secondary when the injury bug comes around. Plus, we all know that Rob Ryan likes fielding defensive backs.
If we find out that Champ’s tank is empty, and if Jean-Baptiste pulls out a Patrick Robinson-like performance, we might have White starting again. And if that were to happen, I can at least rest assured that we’ve got an adequate replacement waiting in the wings.