The New Orleans Saints quietly had a really strong draft in 2016, and with the youth movement on the team in full effect with the exception of a few remaining veterans the Saints are going to need their second year players to step up and become more than just ‘could be’s’, but bonafide contributors. In order to do that each player will need to capitalize on the attributes that can make them special, while also covering for and mitigating their weaknesses. This four-part series will look into each of last year’s rookies who I believe can become a plus player for the Saints in 2017, and how I believe that change can be accomplished.
Vonn Bell: Safety, 5’11”, 205lbs
If you base your analysis on headlines, twitter mentions, and catchy nicknames you might be under the impression that the Saints drafted a single player out of Ohio State in the 2nd round last year. However, as it would turn out they got two, and while Michael Thomas nabbed all of the headlines (deservedly so) Vonn Bell quietly turned in a solid rookie season himself and showed great promise for the future. Bell’s rookie campaign had its ups and its downs, that’s the case for pretty much any rookie, but there were some areas where he excelled over others right out of the gate.
Bell was drafted to be a true free safety to complement Kenny Vacarro, but as it turned out he looked a great deal more like an inverted clone of Vacarro. While Vacarro is a downhill missile that tries to blow up plays and whose passion and bravado inspires his teammates, Bell is more of a steady presence in the box whose sure tackling and great instincts made him an efficient contributor in the box. Bell struggled at times playing in the deeper parts of the field and at times made the wrong read which caused a big play to happen. He showed strong coverage ability, was a notable presence in the box, and at times played well next to Byrd, but if we are basing our opinions of Vonn Bell on his rookie year, then he is going to have a bright future in New Orleans.
The ideal 2017 for Vonn Bell will require less of an evolution of his game than some of the Saints other young players, and more of just a step up in consistency and settling into the role that best suits the team. I don’t think there is any question that the plan is to have the Saints 3 safety sets be the base defense for the team going forward, and that defense is built entirely around the versatility and tenacity of Kenny Vacarro. For the Saints defense to thrive Kenny has to be free to be a force in the box, and Dennis Allen has to have the freedom to move Vacarro all over the place to keep opponents guessing and to capitalize on matchups. The only way the Saints will be able to do that is if they have an equally versatile player to complement Vacarro who ‘paints within the margins’. Kenny is a freestyler, Vonn Bell is an executor who is always where he needs to be. If Vonn Bell can become that stabilizing force for the Saints defense it not only allows them to properly unleash Vacarro, but allows them to unleash Bell as well.
Vonn Bell is a born leader, and more importantly he’s a player who wants to lead which is the most important part. His ability to compliment and mirror Kenny is definitely his most valuable asset from a schematic stand point. Bell can do nearly everything Vacarro can do, which makes it very difficult for offensive coordinators and quarterbacks to know who is coming on any given play and what they will be doing. The number 1 goal of any defensive coordinator is to create confusion and cause hesitation in the opposition, Bell’s ability to be versatile while also being a stabilizing force should help create that effect.