Playing cornerback in the NFL is hard in a league that places an emphasis on scoring and explosive plays. It is a position that often places them out on an island, as they are asked each and every gameday to prevent big plays and touchdowns. Playing cornerback, already among the most difficult positions to play in all of sports, has become even more challenging due to rule changes and the quality of athletes they cover week in and week out. To play the position takes a certain type of mentality and competitive nature: a no fear, dominant mind-set that can match that of the league's finest receivers. For Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, his mind-set and competitiveness are two of the main keys to his early NFL success.
"Just being an alpha. You've got to go in there like you know you are the best, and I feel like I am the best regardless," Lattimore said. "You just need to have that alpha mentality on and off the field so it's not really hard to change when you come off the field. So I just take it every day through life. Just have that mentality and, I mean, it is working. That's what works in the NFL. You've got to be a dog. You've got to be the best at what you do."
Lattimore is in the midst of another highly productive campaign in New Orleans. Now in his fifth season, Lattimore continues to prove why he's regarded as one of the NFL's best defensive backs. His reputation as lock down defender is warranted. Through 13 games this season (game program went to press on December 27), he's tallied 59 tackles, two interceptions and 18 passes defensed, for the third most in the NFL. His 73 pass breakups since 2017 are the most in the NFL during that time span.
Each week, Lattimore is tasked with guarding the opposing team's top receiving option, often times one on one, a task he performs at a very high level. This season alone, the Cleveland, Ohio native has covered the likes of Davante Adams, Mike Evans, A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Devonta Smith.
While playing with a cast on his right hand for the first eight games of the 2021 season, Lattimore has continued to make plays for the defense.
"It is frustrating. It is like leaving plays on the field," Lattimore explained, feeling freed from the restriction now with the cast removed. "It's frustrating, but there's a lot more football to be played. I had a cast on, so it's really hard to evaluate what I've been doing all the way (to this point) for me. I don't know for anybody else, but for me, now that I got the cast off, I want to see how I really go."
Despite the cast, in Week 5 at Washington, primarily guarding standout receiver and former college teammate Terry McLaurin, he recorded a career-high six pass breakups, tied for the most in one game since 1992. Lattimore's performance in Washington earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, the first such honor of his career.
Through 70 career regular season games, Lattimore has posted career numbers of 289 tackles (239 solo), 12 interceptions, 73 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He has also opened all seven postseason contests he has appeared in, recording 23 tackles (22 solo), two picks and ten passes defended.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection (the most selections for a defensive back in New Orleans history) and 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was rewarded for his stellar play with a five-year contract extension at the beginning of the season. Grateful for the opportunity to continue his career with the Saints, Lattimore explained that the chemistry with his teammates and the trust they have in each other has led to the team success they've achieved since coming to New Orleans.
"I'd just like to finish what I started with the people I started with," Lattimore said. "I've still got teammates that have been here since I've been here on day one. They're like my brothers. Just being with them, I trust them, and they trust me. We've got the chemistry going, and our defense has been one of the best defenses in the league for many years. So it was really a no brainer."
The Saints secondary as a whole has been playing like a well-oiled machine in 2021, despite a recent foot injury to defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Lattimore, together with safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams, Gardner-Johnson, safety/nickel corner P.J. Williams, and outside corners Bradley Roby and rookie Paulson Adebo, have registered 11 interceptions as a group with six members of the defensive backs group recording at least one pick so far this season. New Orleans' 15 interceptions as a team are tied for fifth most in the NFL.
Great cornerbacks are perfectionists. They expect to not give up a single catch knowing that the task is close to impossible given the talent of the NFL's best receivers and the rules that favor them. Lattimore is no exception, as he continues to seek to improve any way he can to prevent giving up a single catch.
"I really don't want to give up any catches," Lattimore said. "I really want to go games with giving up no catches. Zeros across the board. I've done it before in previous years so I just want to get (back) to that level."