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Ken Crawley becoming primary in the New Orleans Saints' secondary

'I know I was a diamond in the rough'

It's not totally accurate to say that New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley came from nowhere.

He played in 47 games at Colorado, and started 24 of 25 at right cornerback in his junior and senior seasons.

But, possibly, Crawley could see nowhere from where he was situated – an undrafted rookie in 2016 who entered training camp with a team that listed eight cornerbacks among its camp invitees, a number which didn't include the players simply listed as a "defensive back," of which he was one of five.

"It was rough," he said. "My college wasn't as good – right now, they're up and coming. (But) it was a rough road, dark nights at that time."

Last season, when Crawley got the chance to stand under the lights, he didn't disappoint. After starting five of 15 games during an understandably uneven rookie season, he started all 13 regular-season and both playoff games last season.

Starting in the same secondary as cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year who had a team-high five interceptions and 18 passes defensed, Crawley was a more-than-capable complement with an interception, 17 passes defensed and 54 tackles after being inactive the first two regular-season games.

He was the kind of "other" guy that was a lot better than "other" suggests.

"I didn't give up," Crawley said of his ascension. "I just came out here and took it one play at a time and competed."

That helped him overcome odds that sometimes seem insurmountable.

"Crawley came a long way," secondary coach Aaron Glenn said. "From an undrafted rookie to being able to start in this league, that's not easy to do. Guys that come in and play like that, there's something about them that lets you know that they'll be around for a long time.

"So I see Crawley playing in this league 10-plus years, regardless of whether it's a starter or not a starter. His work ethic, his will to win – he's going to play in this league for a long time."

For his part, Crawley is looking to make Glenn's prediction right.

"Ten or better," he said. "I feel like I can do it. Stay healthy and just maintain. I feel like a lot of us can do it. We're just that type of group, we have that type of mentality."

It was critical for Crawley to have that mentality, after receiving his first break of being recruited and signed by the Saints after the '16 draft.

Glenn said that Crawley possessed traits that were intriguing to work with – length (6 feet 1) and speed. And although his college team didn't have success, that didn't mean Crawley's abilities couldn't transition to the NFL.

He has shown that they can, and now is preparing for a bigger challenge. Because as the cornerback not named "Lattimore," he could draw interest from opposing offenses.

"I'm looking forward, most definitely, soon to be hoping to take the role and taking the No. 1 (receivers), also," Crawley said. "That's just me competing with those guys. I know I'm set for the task and I know I can do it.

"I'm not sure (if he'll be challenged more because of Lattimore). That's what they say, but I know they're going to try to test him, too. So he can't be lacking, too. Both of us are just steady grinding. We hope those balls come our way, to make plays on them."

Crawley is looking forward, because he understands exactly where nowhere is.

"I know I was a diamond in the rough," he said. "I came in, I didn't go in the draft. I feel like I came here and set a standard and deserved my spot on the team. I can't lack on doing that, I've just got to keep going and try to keep my spot."

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