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Saints’ Andrus Peat Steadily Improving

It’s been a bumpy road for last year’s 13th overall pick, but he finally seems to be settling in to a groove.

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, members of the Who Dat nation were pretty down on 2015 first round pick Andrus Peat. Chosen with the Saints’ first of two first round picks, many thought Peat’s rookie year was overshadowed by fellow first-rounder Stephone Anthony. Anthony started every game, called plays for the defense, and lead the team in tackles as a rookie. Peat played sparingly and never wrestled the starting right tackle position away from incumbent Zach Strief.

Well, four games into the 2016 season, things have certainly changed. Now it is Anthony who plays sparingly and contributes little impact on the defensive side of the ball. Peat, on the other hand, has survived multiple position changes while averaging over 71 snaps per game.

Still, Peat has been far from perfect. He’s given up his share of quarterback hurries, hits, and sacks. But one thing is clearly evident. He’s improving every single game, and is turning in solidly average to fairly good grades in both run and pass blocking.

Against the Raiders in week 1, Peat lined up as left guard and played 69 total snaps (24 run/ 45 pass). According to CSC editor John Hendrix, Peat more than “held his own”. Though he gave up a couple hurries and a hit in pass protection, his play in the run game shined much brighter. Peat both pulled and released downfield well, picking up key blocks that lead to positive run plays. I wish the Saints had run the ball more than 24 times, because the Saints’ offensive line has the athleticism to get downfield and help running backs create positive yardage.

Against the Giants in week 2, Peat also lined up as left guard and played 62 total snaps (15 run/ 47 pass). We probably remember Peat’s performance most for his failure to hold his ground on special teams which lead to the block and eventual touchdown return of kicker Will Lutz’ field goal. But that important momentum swinging play aside, Peat actually turned in a pretty solid performance earning a positive grade of 76.8 from Pro Football Focus.

Against the Falcons in week 3, Peat had to change positions to left tackle as Terron Armstead missed the game due to a knee injury. He played 81 total snaps (23 run/58 pass). Peat received varied reviews for his play, but the fact that he didn't grade overly poorly is a plus since he had to switch on short notice to arguably the most difficult position on the offensive line.

Dwight Freeney had great success with his famous spin move on Peat and later in the 4th quarter, bull rushed his way past Peat for a sack on Drew Brees. But giving up three hurries, a hit, and a sack in 58 drop backs against one of the best pass rushers of all time is actually pretty damn good. In fact, during the 2nd quarter, Peat locked onto the future Hall of Famer, Freeney, and pushed him yards downfield while Tim Hightower rushed for 11 yards.

Starting to see a pattern here? Peat’s strength is in the run game. Confusingly, however, the Saints averaged a paltry 20 rush attempts compared to 50 pass attempts through the first three games. Sean Payton keeps saying each offseason that the Saints are going to have a more balanced attack on offense, but like a broken record, the Saints continue to call pass plays more than twice as much as run plays. Why not play to the players’ strengths?

Against the Chargers in week 4, Peat again filled in at left tackle for a still injured Armstead. He played 73 total snaps (36 run/37 pass). Wait…what? The Saints had an evenly distributed amount of snaps between run and pass plays? I wonder what happened? We won? You don’t say?

Sure the Saints were lucky down the stretch, but they made the most of the opportunities that the Chargers gave them in the 4th quarter by recovering two fumbles and quickly scoring thereafter. What was evident in this matchup was Peat’s strong play in the run game. He routinely overpowered blockers helping Mark Ingram pick up fat chunks of yards, and set a great edge for Ingram’s 1st quarter touchdown.

Though Peat struggled against the Chargers spin and swim moves (notice another pattern here?), he still managed to turn in his best performance of the year so far. Pro Football Focus recognized Peat’s strong play and awarded him a positive grade of 84.0. Obviously, Peat needs to clean up mental lapses like missed gap assignments. He needs to build a stronger arsenal of counter moves for spin and swim moves too.

But, despite being shuffled all along the offensive line, Peat has continued to improve. His strength is certainly in the run game over his pass protection, but the Saints can do a much better job of playing to his strengths rather than his weaknesses. I said last week that it takes at least 5 years to adequately rate a draft pick. Well, in year two, Peat is already beginning to show why he was worth that first round pick.