Lately, I have taken a lot of flack for being critical of some of the moves of the New Orleans Saints this offseason. Because most of the press right now has been negative to neutral, let's all put our rose-colored glasses on look at how the New Orleans Saints have improved at each position and are primed to make a run in 2016. We can start with the Offensive Line.
The 2015 Offensive Line gave up 32 sacks last, ranking them roughly slightly above average as a unit in 2015. The Offensive Line also ranked slightly above average Football Outsiders's grading of rushing yards created by the offensive line per rushing attempt. Now "slightly above average" might sound just fine to some of you, but the Saints in the Sean Payton era have historically had one of the top offensive line units in the entire NFL.
The 2016 NFL offseason saw the New Orleans Saints release long-time staple of the offensive line, Jahri Evans. Already thin at the positions, this left the Saints with the underwhelming Senio Kelemente and Tim Lelito as the current starters. Rookie Tackle Andrus Peat, a first round pick in 2015, failed to live up to expectations, and C Max Unger and RT Zach Strief are not getting younger. Tackle Terron Armstead was a bright spot of the Saints offensive line in 2015 and looks to remain entrenched in the position moving forward.
So here's why they're better in 2016:
The New Orleans Saints signed OG Landon Turner out of North Carolina as an undrafted free agent following the 2016 NFL Draft. Turner was arguably the best Guard in the entire ACC, and the Saints have had a history of turning mid-to-late round selections (Turner came in with a 5th round grade) into productive offensive linemen (like Jermon Bushrod, Zach Strief, and Jahri Evans). Jahri Evans might be big shoes to fill, but he was nowhere near his prime at the time of his release, and Landon Turner could definitely come in and immediately provide an upgrade from the 2015 version of Evans we saw on the field.
Even though Andrus Peat underperformed in 2015, there is talk about shifting him from Tackle to Guard, where his size and athleticism might be better suited. You could argue whether or not C Max Unger is worth the money the Saints are currently paying him, but without question he is a quality player at the position. With Zach Strief set to turn 33 years old at the start of the 2016 NFL regular season, the Saints could still shift Peat back over to Tackle and insert Kelemente or Lelito in at Guard into games (hopefully rarely on rotation) to keep Strief fresh for the full season.
Terron Armstead is entering the prime of his career. Andrus Peat has now gotten his feet wet in the NFL and will be ready to contribute as a full-time Guard for the Saints. Max Unger and Zach Strief (both of which have won Super Bowls in their career) will provide veteran leadership to a young unit, and Landon Turner is set to become the next late-round (technically: "No round") diamond in the rough.