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John DeShazier: Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore sweep Rookie of the Year honors

Posted Feb 3, 2018

Kamara wins offensive award, Lattimore defensive award


The New Orleans Saints were really, really good in the 2017 NFL Draft, and just a bit lucky. The combination helped the franchise select the two players who became the league’s top rookies on defense and offense.

The smidgeon of luck? Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was a projected top five pick who somehow tumbled to No. 11, one spot behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. Mahomes very well could have been picked to serve as New Orleans’ quarterback of the future at No. 11, but when the Chiefs selected him at No. 10, the choice of Lattimore was an easy one for the Saints, who needed help in the secondary.

The brilliance? Fearing that running back Alvin Kamara would come off the board before they had a chance to get him, the Saints gave San Francisco a seventh-round pick in the ’17 draft and a second-rounder in ’18 in order to pluck Kamara in the third round, No. 67 overall, the fifth running back selected in the draft. On the flight to another city following Kamara’s workout, Coach Sean Payton said he recalled telling his traveling party that the Saints had to draft the multi-faceted back.

The former was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and the latter was named Offensive Rookie of the Year on Saturday at the NFl Honors Show in Minneapolis, the first time teammates have swept the awards since Lions running back Mel Farr and cornerback Lem Barney did so in 1967.

The last Saints player to be named rookie of the year was running back Rueben Mayes in 1986. Lattimore is the franchise’s first defensive rookie of the year.

“This is one of the greatest honors I can receive on the defensive side of the ball, especially as a rookie,” Lattimore said. “I can’t thank my family, friends, teammates and coaches enough. They have been a huge part of the success that we experienced as a team, which leads to honors like this.

“I have been lucky enough to have had great coaches and teammates through my whole playing career, from youth football up to my year with the Saints now. All of them have played a role in helping put me in position for success.”

“As a rookie, I wanted to be able to contribute to our team’s success,” Kamara said. “I felt that I had this in me, but it’s truly a combination of hard work both on the practice field and in the meeting room, as well as the help of Coach Payton and his staff, and the leadership of my teammates both in the running back room and throughout the team.

“To be chosen for these awards as a rookie is something I will remember for the rest of my life, but there is still a lot ahead to accomplish both individually and for us as a team.”

After one season, Lattimore and Kamara have the look of being two of the better draft picks in franchise history. Lattimore was an opening-game starter and while Kamara didn’t earn that distinction, he played a starter’s snaps and provided a starter’s impact.

“Their play spoke for them,” Saints running back Mark Ingram said. “The impact that they had on their team, how they improved their team just through their play and through the swagger that they brought. Our entire rookie class did a great job and those two, leading the way, definitely deserve the award.”

They led the way in many ways, and were named to the NFC Pro Bowl team as rookies.

Lattimore, who was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in December, led the team in interceptions (five, including one returned for a touchdown) and passes defensed (18), while forcing a fumble and totaling 52 tackles. As a rookie, he gave the Saints a missing element on defense: a No. 1 corner, capable of covering the league’s best receivers one-on-one and taking away more space than he gave.

Kamara, a second-team All-Pro at the “Flex” position, led the team in touchdowns (14), a franchise rookie record that surpassed George Rogers’ 13 in 1981; Rogers was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in ‘81.

Kamara totaled 1,554 yards from scrimmage (728 rushing, 826 receiving), averaged 7.7 yards per touch and gave the Saints the longest play in franchise history, a 106-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale.

Also, he joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers as the second rookie in league history to score five rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and a special teams touchdown in their first season. He was named Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year (he won the weekly honor seven times during the regular season) and was NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month in November.

At no time during the season did the moment, or their respective responsibilities, overwhelm them.

“Their maturity is extremely rare,” Ingram said. “It’s extremely rare. But I feel like those guys were prepare and nothing was too big for them. They were willing to listen, willing to learn.”

The listening and learning, combined with a dash of luck and draft-day aggressiveness, provided the Saints with a pair of jewels. The best ones, it turns out, of the 2017 draft.

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