Playing what is among the most easily overlooked yet vital position on the field, Brian De La Puente comes in at No. 15 on my countdown of the top 25 New Orleans Saints' players for 2013. Besides having a great first name, De La Puente had a fantastic 2012 season, grading out as Pro Football Focus's second best overall center.
Sure, BDP benefits from playing in between two of the league's best guards in Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, but you still have to know what you're doing to play at the level he did in 2012. In 2012 BDP graded out as PFF's seventh best run blocking center and the 6th best pass blocking center (among centers who played atleast 60% of their teams snaps).
While run blocking was BDP's forte in 2012, that unfortunately has not been the case so far this pre-season. Through three games he's accumulated a -4.0 run block grade compared to a +13.6 grade in the 2012 regular season. Luckily, his pass protection skills have not fallen off one bit, and in fact have improved very slightly (98.5 pass blocking efficiency vs 98.2).
Before I get cursed at and reminded that this is just the pre-season -- I know, and I am not taking this apparent dip in production too seriously. The Saints obviously aren't showing much of their playbook with the first team in and I'm sure BDP's grades will improve once the regular season comes. That said, I think I speak for us all when I wouldn't have minded him grade out higher even if it is the pre-season.