NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints can excuse first-year cornerback Delvin Breaux for beaming with gratitude each time he walks into club headquarters on the day after a loss.
Given Breaux's arduous and highly unconventional route to the NFL, the Saints could only hope he'd justify the faith they showed in him. By now, coach Sean Payton knows he was right to make sure he had the New Orleans native under contract before Breaux had a chance to leave club facility for other scheduled NFL workouts last offseason.
"Delvin Breaux is playing amazing football," Payton said earlier this week when asked not about Breaux, but the performance of the defense in general. "He has been fantastic."
A broken neck in a high school game — an injury doctors said he was fortunate to survive — prevented Breaux from playing college football at LSU, which had recruited him. He enrolled at LSU anyway, but never was cleared to play. Ultimately, Breaux got back in the game by playing semi-pro and arena football. That yielded an opportunity in the CFL, where he caught the attention of NFL scouts.
Just how good the 26-year-old Breaux has gotten through 13 NFL games was apparent to the Detroit Lions as they prepared to test him in front of a national audience on Monday night.
"He's a really talented guy. I've heard his backstory, which is really interesting. If we weren't playing him this week, you'd kind of root for the guy," Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "Physically, he looks like a lot of the really good corners in this league. Obviously, he hasn't played as much NFL football as some other guys his age, but I think he's an ascending young corner and he makes plays on the ball, he picks balls off, he covers really good receivers a lot of times."
The Saints made the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Breaux a starter because of injuries to Keenan Lewis. Breaux has been credited with 15 passes defended and has made two interceptions while also recovering a fumble. He also has been in on 38 tackles.
Meanwhile, Breaux says his perspective has helped him prevent lackluster plays or games from undermining his confidence as he seeks to prove himself in a high-pressure position.
"Each day I come in and put on my cleats, I thank God, man, that I just come to work, because it was taken away from me for a while and I don't take it for granted," Breaux said. "It has shaped me to be the best I can on every snap. I'm just thankful for the opportunity and I just want to try to be the best."
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said if not for Breaux's neck injury, "he would have been in the league and been a star a long time ago. He's fought back, and now the world is just now seeing what he Delvin Breaux do."
"(Breaux) has really exceeded our expectations of what we thought we had in him," Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. "The guy works extremely hard. He really studies his opponent to try to understand what type of routes he's going to get. ... That is where he is really kind of developing as a pro, and certainly we have a lot of confidence in putting him out there to play, and to play against anybody."
So even though the Saints' season hasn't gone as Payton would have liked, it's clear he'll still fondly remember 2015 for the way Breaux's rough road to the NFL came to fruition in New Orleans.
"His story is, I think, an inspiration to a lot of players that maybe get less significant injuries," Payton said this past week, saying he hadn't even known anything about one of the semi-pro leagues in which Breaux played. "And then arena ball here and then up to the CFL and landing with a team (in the NFL) and then playing at the level he is playing? That's unusual. It's rare."