When the New Orleans Saints drafted former Rutgers University safety Saquan Hampton with their 6th Round selection (#177 overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft, some analysts and fans had their doubts that the 23-year-old safety and well-noted special teams stand-out would be able to remain with the team on a long-term basis.
That’s because the team had more-than-adequate depth in the their defensive secondary already when they drafted him, and especially at the free safety position where the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defensive back played for the Scarlet Knights program in college.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) April 27, 2019
With the Saints having previously cut/released both of last year’s 2018 NFL Draft late-round draft picks at defensive back with former players Natrell Jamerson and Kamrin Moore, those doubts were more than legitimate.
And when the multi-talented Hampton didn’t particularly stand out during the team’s off-season workouts, those doubts were even more enhanced.
However, since the beginning of Saints Training Camp, the Trenton, New Jersey native has more than exceeded expectations — and as the team prepares to play in their first 2019 NFL preseason contest this coming Friday night at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Minnesota Vikings, Hampton already seems to have cemented a permanent spot on the team’s final 53-man roster.
Not only for the upcoming 2019 NFL Regular Season, but into the foreseeable future as well.
In the past several days, Hampton has made an entire litany of impressive plays in pass coverage and has notably intercepted starting Saints QB and 19-year veteran (not to mention future Hall-of-Famer) Drew Brees in back-to-back days, including this play from the Saints’ practice/scrimmage at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium:
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) August 5, 2019
“He’s got good hands and he’s one of those players, the ball kind of finds him a little bit,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said to reporters after the Tulane practice session had ended. “I’ve been encouraged. He’s smart.”
Even though he was the defensive MVP at Rutgers during his 2018 senior season in which he put himself “on the map” for NFL scouts after he tied for the Big Ten Conference lead in passes defended by safeties (including a memorable individual performance in Week #9 against Big Ten conference rival Wisconsin), most draft analysts had believed that Hampton would contribute more on special teams than on defense.
Saquon Hampton says he'll have that ball. 👊 pic.twitter.com/Q2QWBNN20f
— Rutgers On BTN (@RutgersOnBTN) November 3, 2018
But clearly after two weeks of Camp, those expectations have been exceeded, and then some.
“When you read a vision for a player, you feel like he’s a developing safety and a guy that we feel confident is going to be able to come in and help right away,” Payton said. “So you’re trying to read the vision in year one. And that doesn’t take anything away from him defensively. But it’s just, as you look at a rookie making the roster and then what he can do in the first part of the season, (special teams) was the early vision.”
That was a sentiment echoed by 3rd-year linebacker Alex Anzalone, who told senior Saints writer John DeShazier that Hampton is picking up the team’s defensive scheme quickly, thanks mostly to being a quick learner and his dedication to film study in the classroom.
“He’s definitely coming around,” Anzalone said. “Obviously, he’s one of those guys that he doesn’t really say a lot. He just works, and his work during training camp is coming to fruition and you see him making these plays because of the work he’s been putting in.”
Hampton has been aided even further by the advice of defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn and fellow teammates in the secondary such as 3rd year CB Marshon Lattimore, among others. It goes without saying: those sage words of wisdom and advice are paying off in huge dividends, especially within the past several days.
“The guys that have been here playing a position I’m playing now, they help me out each and every day in the meeting rooms, I come out here asking questions,” Hampton said after practice last week. “And it’s just a brotherhood.”
— NOLA.com Saints News (@SaintsNOW) May 11, 2019
A brotherhood that also includes fellow rookie safety and 4th Round pick Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who has also made an immediate impact and had gotten off to a notably better start during the off-season workouts than Hampton did.
While Gardner-Johnson has consistently shown his play-making ability since his arrival, Hampton has quite obviously “ramped up” his level of performance to nearly match that of Johnson; together, the two rookies make a formidable defensive duo. Undoubtedly it will be intriguing to watch their further development and see how they ultimately “fit” within the Saints secondary.
Rest assured, Hampton has proven to everyone already that he’s a whole lot more than just a special teams stand-out — and he certainly appears to have exceeded expectations in a way that most likely has earned him a permanent role within the New Orleans Saints secondary going forward.
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius