Thursday, May 28, 2009

Saints Nation: Who has the ball skills?

One thing I've complained about in past years is the Saints never seem to get turnovers. A product of playing in Gary Gibbs' defense was an extremely low number of interceptions. Fast forward to today, the Saints have added playmakers on the back end of their defense that should hopefully improve that statistic. Let's look at some numbers:

Darren Sharper (pictured left) is the measuring stick for not only players on the Saints, but anyone in the NFL. The guy has had a more accomplished career as a ballhawk than any current cornerback or safety in the league. Sharper has played in 183 NFL games, picking off 54 passes. A number of these games he wasn't even a starter. That means he averaged one interception 29.5% of the games he played in. In college, Sharper was even more impressive. Granted he faced very low quality quarterbacks playing at William & Mary in the 90's, but he had 24 interceptions in 44 games, good for one pick in 55.5% of the games he played. Wow.

stats on the other defensive backs in order of best to worst ball skills:

Jason David: 75 NFL games, 16 INT's (21.3%)
44 college games, 16 INT's (36.4%)

Tracy Porter: 5 NFL games, 1 INT (20%)
43 college games, 16 INT's (37%)

Malcolm Jenkins: 52 college games, 11 INT's (21.2%)

Usama Young: 29 NFL games, 2 INT's (6.9%)
45 college games, 9 INT's (20%)

Roman Harper
: 36 NFL games, 3 INT's (8.3%)
49 college games, 5 INT's (10.2%)

Randall Gay: 53 NFL games, 5 INT's (9.4%)
42 college games, 2 INT's (4.8%)

Jabari Greer: 70 NFL games, 4 INT's (5.7%)
51 college games, 2 INT's (3.9%)

Leigh Torrence: 42 NFL games, 0 INT's (0%)
44 college games, 7 INT's (15.9%)

Chip Vaughn: 50 college games, 3 INT's (6%)

Pierson Prioleau: 128 NFL games, 1 INT (0.8%)
48 college games, 2 INT's (4.2%)

What do these statistics tell us? Maybe not all that much. First off, keep in mind guys like Leigh Torrence suffer in comparison to others because he didn't really get many reps as a defensive back. While he's played a lot of "NFL games", a lot of that was on special teams and not spent on the field where he would have interception opportunities. What's misleading about the college statistics are that we don't know when the players became a full time starter, or the competition they faced at quarterback. For example, Usama Young at Kent St. would have an easier time posting big numbers than say Jabari Greer at Tennessee. What I think we can safely take away are 6 things:

1. Say what you will about Jason David, the guy has ball skills. The problem is he takes a lot of risks. While those risks yield a long pass play too often, they also yield an incredibly high number of interceptions. If the guy could bite a little less on play action fakes, his INT % could still be solid while costing his team less.

2. Tracy Porter is a promising young player. While his NFL track record is too small a sample size to make any definitive judgments, you can see from his college stats he's got a nose for the ball. He also takes less risks than David, so he's a guy that might be capable of putting up good numbers for us for a long time.

3. Malcolm Jenkins had a pretty good college career. He's got a nose for the ball. Maybe we shouldn't expect him to come in and post 8 INT's as a rookie, but I have a feeling he'll be a good one.

4. Jabari Greer and Randall Gay's stats were much worse than I would have guessed. That is misleading because both are very solid corners. They're not going to get you 10 picks in a season, though, or maybe even 3. Don't expect these guys to come out and outplay Larry Fitzgerald for a jumpball. I'm guessing they probably don't have as good of hands as a Malcolm Jenkins/Tracy Porter type guy, but they are just as good if not better at keeping tight coverage and breaking up passes.

5. Based on Usama's college stats, I'm actually optimistic about his ability to contribute as a free safety.

6. Based on the stats of Chip Vaughn, it's hard to deduce he'll be any better than Roman Harper.