2023 Breakout Players: All aboard the Alontae Taylor hype train
The Saints' second-year corner is one of the league's best kept secrets
At the end of his rookie season, Alontae Taylor switched his jersey number from 27 to 1 to one to honor his grandmother. She has always been his reason, his motivation, to make it as an NFL player. If there’s one reason for all of us to keep an eye on New Orleans' defense next season, it’s the team’s second-year cornerback.
Yes, his name is still lying under the radar compared to some of the freakiest, most well-established, young DBs in the league. But while he hasn’t appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated like Sauce Gardner nor has he picked an absurd amount of balls like Tariq Woolen, at the end of the 2023 season Taylor will have worked his way into the conversation of up-and-coming, shutdown corners.
Training camp season is when bandwagons start getting overbooked, but there are still plenty of first-class seats on Alontae’s. So, while there are still vacancies, grab your ticket and hop on the Taylor Express!
Few NFL defenses are more complex than Dennis Allen’s. The Saints system isn’t the most exotic, except for the hell-unleashing dime package they reserve for third downs, but is definitely one of the more complex in terms of assignments in the back seven. New Orleans bases out of a two-deep shell pre-snap, but rather than playing the vanilla two-deep coverages we see from the Jonathan Gannon’s of the world they mix and match their coverages and resort to a blend of Cover 1, Cover 2, and man-match quarters. When running quarters coverage or cover-1, the Saints conceded just 5.5 yards per coverage snap in 2022, the fourth-fattest mark in the league.
Saints pass defenders are incredibly effective at leveraging routes by creating layers in the defense, putting as many varying depths in the coverage as possible to throw off the timing and rhythm of the quarterback. It’s part of why they’ve been so effective against bootlegs and play-action passes in general – the Saints ranked tops in the league vs. play-action last season, conceding just 5.5 yards per coverage snap and fourth in EPA per play.
Saints pass defenders work in unison to stymie even the more potent passing attacks by a combination of pure talent and elite communication. Allen is a quality choreographer of defensive coverages, but his great strength lies in the day-to-day teaching of the players and building a cohesive unit that works within the concept. For some, “Do Your Job” is a slogan; for Allen, it’s a lifestyle.
Combined with a pocket-crushing foursome of bullies on the D-Line, Allen’s style of defense has given fits to almost every single QB they encountered, famously downgrading Tom Brady’s QBR from GOAT levels to Hey, you might wanna give back the playbook and find a new team level. As for many match quarters defenses, the system is predicated on one simple yet essential task and on the presence of a player capable of executing the task.
As The Athletic’s Diante Lee puts it: In Allen’s defense, someone on the field will be left in a one-on-one, and that player will have to come out on top for the rest of the play’s design to matter. In Allen’s quarters and man-based scheme, that’s typically a backside defender locked into coverage against wide receivers and tight ends.
Since the second he stepped onto the field, that has precisely been Alontae Taylor’s role, functioning as a Marshon Lattimore replacement. Taylor saw his first bit of NFL action in Week 2, after the usual Lattimore vs. Mike Evans Main Event went too far and led to both players being ejected.
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