Everybody, and I mean people who don’t watch football too, in New Orleans is talking about CGJ. While their attention is over there, I’ll talk fellow Saints rookie DT Kenny Bigelow.
Bleacher Report ran a piece this morning from Gary Davenport titled “Every NFL team’s surprise rookie gem.” It’s a fun title and a fun topic because of the player they chose for the Saints. CGJ, or Chauncey Gardner-Johnson as people with all the time in the world call him, is undoubtedly the correct answer. Just for the sake of counter-point, I’m going to throw another name into the ring, former West Virginia Mountaineer defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow.
There are so many reasons for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to be undisputed here. He’ll likely be the Saints dime corner heading into the regular season and that means he’ll have more playing time than any other defensive rookie. And, of course, there is his dynamic play itself. Only in New Orleans could the fans have higher expectations for their team’s fourth-round draft pick than for big named veteran free agents.
But CGJ shouldn’t have been available in the fourth any more than Alvin Kamara was available in the third in 2017. If Kenny Bigelow had done things a little differently on his first go around in college, we might be saying the same about him.
As a high school senior in Wilmington, Delaware, Bigelow was on one of the nation’s top 25 prospects at defensive tackle. At 6-foot-4 and 307-pounds, he was an unstoppable force with Red Lion Christian Academy. Choosing to go Hollywood, Bigelow chose an offer from the University of Southern California and started his assault on the NCAA.
His time in Los Angeles turned out to be a disaster. in his freshman year, he never got on the field dealing with a severe knee injury. With limited playing time in 2015 as a redshirt sophomore, his stats were sparse but one number does stick out, three sacks.
On defense, the players who can produce sacks and turnovers have always been at a premium but never more so that now. And the ability to create that pressure up the middle will get everybody’s attention.
Suffering another devastating knee injury though, Bigelow was earning his degree in sociology from Southern Cal and talking about retiring from football and pursuing a master’s degree. But the NCAA offered Kenny Bigelow a rare sixth year of eligibility and he decided to take his talents from the big city glare of Los Angeles to the hills of Morgantown, West Virginia.
Getting integrated into a new defense and being able to showcase what you can do in just one year of eligibility is a tall order. But Kenny Bigelow had a solid double redshirt senior season in 2018, 21 tackles, five for loss and a sack while showing how adept he is at keeping quarterbacks on the hot seat with pressure up the middle.
He fell through the seven rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft as any player would with two major knee injuries and with limited college production. The Saints, with all of the issues surrounding the team on the interior of the defensive line, were happy to offer him an undrafted rookie free agent contract and bring him in.
There’s not much more to talk about with Kenny Bigelow than the numbers he put up at West Virginia’s Pro Day. There’s really not much to look at there other than two numbers that definitely grab your attention when looking at a defensive tackle: a hand size of 10.25-inches and 31 reps of 225 on the benchpress. Strong pecs and big hands are essential in shedding blocks and forcing pressure for a three-technique. And that’s where Bigelow will get reps for the Saints.
Just like Taylor Stallworth was able to work his way onto the 53-man roster from being an undrafted rookie in 2018, Bigelow will get his chances in training camp and preseason. Working with a coach the caliber of Ryan Nielsen won’t hurt.
For young players at defensive tackle in training camp with the Saints, there will be innumerable opportunities to crack the roster, if not this year, then certainly in the future. Whoever the player is who secures a spot on the practice squad, will have ample opportunity to convert that into playing time in the regular season.
The answer is still Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, but, if you want another name to watch because you can’t stomach the thought of rooting for a former Florida Gator at any level or just to be a contrarian, Kenny Bigelow is the name for you to watch.