Division got bigger at receiver before the tall, long cornerback was taken by New Orleans
The New Orleans Saints watched as their NFC South rivals Tampa Bay Buccaneers added wideout Mike Evans in the first round on Thursday and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second on Friday, who are both 6-foot-5 and will be joining Vincent Jackson, a receiver of the same height.
They also saw another team in their division, Carolina, draft the 6-foot-5 Kelvin Benjamin on Thursday.
All those pass-catchers are big-bodied — Evans is 231 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins 262, Jackson 230 and Benjamin 243. If all goes to their teams’ plans, they’ll all be clashing with the Saints twice a year.
“Those are all guys of pretty good size,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
So, when it was their turn to pick in the 26th slot of the second round Friday, the Saints selected a tall, bulky cornerback who’s drawn comparisons to members of a secondary that helped the Seattle Seahawks’ defense achieve a top ranking and win a Super Bowl last season.
And he couldn’t have a more appropriate name for New Orleans: the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Stanley Jean-Baptiste, arriving by way of Nebraska.
“Hopefully,” Jean-Baptiste said in his first remarks to the local media Friday, “my role will be to help (the Saints) win games, (and I) make an immediate impact.”
His most obvious similarity to two-time Seahawks All-Pro Richard Sherman is the fact that he, too, began his collegiate career as a wide receiver.
Jean-Baptiste caught 36 passes for 580 yards at North Carolina Tech Christian Academy in 2008 before transferring to Fort Scott Community College. He didn’t play football there, but a Nebraska recruiter who went to the Kansas school to see another player spotted Jean-Baptiste and successfully encouraged him to try out for the Cornhuskers.
Jean-Baptiste red-shirted his first year in Lincoln in 2010 and started 2011 at receiver; but, after catching only one pass, he switched to defensive back.
By the time his 36-game stint at Nebraska ended, Jean-Baptiste had intercepted seven passes and returned them for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He had broken up the eighth-most passes (22) in his school’s history.
Then, at February’s scouting combine in Indianapolis, he posted the best vertical jump (41.5) among cornerbacks.
Jean-Baptiste attracted comparisons to the 6-foot-3 Sherman, a Stanford alum, and his ex-Seahawks teammate Brandon Browner (6-foot-4).
Meanwhile, the Saints headed into the draft set at safety with Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush, and Keenan Lewis was entrenched as one of the starting cornerbacks for a defense that was No. 2 against the pass in its first season under the command of coordinator Rob Ryan.
However, below Lewis, the picture was less certain; and no one on the depth chart was taller than 6-foot-1 or heavier than 214 pounds.
Champ Bailey, though he’s a future Hall of Famer, will turn 36 in June. Taking over after the since-released Jabari Greer suffered a year-ending knee injury in November, Corey White played well at times but struggled in others in what was his second campaign in the NFL and New Orleans.
Former 2010 first-round pick Patrick Robinson missed most of last season with a hurt knee, and the rest of the depth chart is relatively inexperienced.
So the Saints hosted Jean-Baptiste for a visit at their headquarters in April, drawn to his size, ball skills and athleticism shown at the combine, where he also ran the 40-yard dash in a decent 4.55 seconds.
The Saints also had plenty to attract Jean-Baptiste. “Their defense is great,” Jean-Baptiste said. “They have a great defensive coordinator and great DBs.”
When New Orleans saw Evans and Seferian-Jenkins ally in Tampa Bay with Jackson and Benjamin head to the defending NFC South champs, the Saints seized on Jean-Baptiste.
They hope he’ll supplement Byrd’s 22 career interceptions (the most among safeties since he entered the NFL in 2009), Bailey’s 52 career interceptions (the third-most among active players) and Lewis’ four interceptions, a team- and personal-best last year.
“His ball skills are something that we value,” Payton said of Jean-Baptiste.
As they did when they acquired wide receiver Brandin Cooks with their first-round choice Thursday, the Saints scooped up Jean-Baptiste and landed the highest-rated player available on their draft board.
“I think the Saints have as much potential as anybody else — including Seattle,” Jean-Baptiste said.
The Saints traded away their third-round pick on Thursday before moving up to acquire Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the first round. They head into Saturday, the final day of the draft, with a pick in the fourth round, two in the fifth and one in the sixth.