The 2022 New Orleans Saints will have almost a completely different look at safety than they’ve had the previous two years. Gone are S Marcus Williams, after signing a lucrative free-agent deal with the Ravens, and Malcolm Jenkins, who retired after 13 seasons. In are versatile ball-hawking safeties Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu, previously with the Jets and Chiefs respectively.
Also back is defensive star Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and P.J. Williams. All four players can line up anywhere in the secondary or be disruptive forces at the line of scrimmage. Combined with corners Marshon Lattimore and Paulson Adebo, this has the potential to be the best defensive backfield in New Orleans franchise history.
Roster spots in the secondary look like an uphill battle. Especially with the presence of veteran CB Bradley Roby and rookie CB Alontae Taylor, a second-round pick. However, don’t rule out this player battling back from a series of debilitating injuries. He too, was once a high draft choice.
JUSTIN EVANS, S
Evans was a two-year standout for Texas A&M who recorded 4 interceptions, 8 passes broken up, 5 tackles for loss, and 87 total stops for the Aggies as a senior in 2016.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft with the 50th overall pick. He was the seventh safety chosen, behind Marcus Maye (39th overall) and Marcus Williams, who went 42nd to the Saints.
A starter less than a month into his rookie campaign, Evans flashed the speed, range, and aggressive tackling that attracted the Buccaneers in the draft. He intercepted 3 passes, tied for the team lead, and broke up six others while recording three tackles for loss. An ankle injury shelved him for the last two regular season games.
Evans started 2018 strong, returning a fumble for a touchdown and recording five tackles in an opening day win at New Orleans. Despite playing in only 10 games, his 59 tackles finished second among Tampa Bay defensive backs. He also had an interception and broke up two passes during the year. Evans suffered a toe injury that caused him to miss six of his team’s final seven contests.
An Achilles injury suffered in practice cost Evans the entire 2019 season. The injury was severe enough to keep him on injured reserve throughout the entire 2020 campaign. Tampa Bay released him near the end of 2020. Evans spent last year out of football while continuing to rehab his foot and Achilles.
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Before his injury, Evans was a fast and physical defensive back able to play in a single-high alignment or close to the line of scrimmage. He’s a bit undersized, but is aggressive and packs a punch as a tackler. He also showed outstanding range as a deep safety throughout college and early into his pro career.
Evans possessed the athleticism to step effectively into slot coverage. Once the pass is thrown, he has the ball skills as a receiver. The Achilles may have affected his once outstanding change of direction. However, he should still have the raw speed to close on plays quickly.
Injuries are certainly a concern. The Saints brought Evans in on a cheap one-year deal, making him a high ceiling player with zero risk. Jobs in a deep New Orleans secondary won’t be easy to earn.
Justin Evans, who turns 27 in August, has already exhibited his passion for football just by coming back from serious injuries. If he can now approach his play of 2017 and 2018, he’d add yet another playmaker to a terrific Saints defense.