The Saints are facing another NFC overachiever this week in the Los Angeles Rams. Both teams are nursing injuries to important players on both sides of the ball. The Saints’ secondary will be tested as it goes against a revitalized Jared Goff without two of its top corners, rookie Marston Lattimore and second year man Ken Crawley. The Rams will have a tougher time taking advantage of the Saints secondary woes with a key shoulder injury to their top wideout Robert Woods.
The Rams’ powerful defensive line had Aaron Donald listed as a limited participant at Friday’s practice, but he is expected to play as he dealt with an illness and not a specific injury. Robert Quinn is just as dangerous and even more healthy, so an important part of this week’s game plan will be to continue protecting Brees and paving running lanes for Ingram and Kamara.
Going into this season, the two biggest question marks were the Saints’ secondary and offensive line. I’ve already written about how Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams have helped rejuvenate the Saints secondary. But with regard to the offensive line, no one has had a more important role than fellow rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
When the Saints selected the Wisconsin lineman at the end of the first round, many pundits thought the Saints had reached for an injury prone player with no defined role on the team. Draft analyst, Pete Prisco, even gave the pick a C+ grade while comparing Ramczyk’s size and athleticism to New England’s Nate Solder.
12 games into the 2017 season, Ramczyk has proven all doubters wrong in every way possible. His troublesome hip injury that lingered from college has not stopped him from playing every snap in every game. His movement from left to right tackle hasn't kept him from performing at a high level no matter where he lines up. He has never allowed more than three pressures in a game, and against the Buccaneers, Ramczyk allowed zero pressures for the first time in his young career.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ramzcyk’s overall season grade through 11 games is an above average 78.5 while playing in a whopping 675 total offensive snaps. In 375 pass blocking snaps, Ramzcyk draws a 75.5 grade. In 300 run blocking snaps, he draws an 81.9 grade. Ramczyk has a 96.7 pass blocking efficiency, which is tied for 10th-best among all offensive tackles. He was selected to PFF’s mid-season All-Rookie Team as the draft’s best tackle.
Though Ramzcyk’s overall season grade ranks him 19th among all tackles, the Dallas Cowboy’s Tyron Smith, who is thought to be the best tackle in the NFL, is currently ranked 18th with an overall grade of 78.7. Nate Solder, whom Ramzcyk was compared to after the draft, is ranked 52nd with an overall grade of 52.9.
Just 11 games into his bright career, the Saints’ “other” first round pick is playing at a Pro Bowl level as the offensive line has given up the fewest sacks (10, 3.6% Adj Sack Rate) in the league in addition to producing the fourth most rush yards (1440) and highest yards per average rush (4.8) as well.
Zach Strief was drafted in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL draft, but didn’t start in more than two games until 2011. In half a decade less of professional development, Ramzcyk is already so much better than Strief, it’s not even funny. With injuries to Strief, Terron Armstead, and Larry Warford throughout the season, Ramzyck has been an absolute god send by providing durability and efficiency as in invaluable cog in the Saints’ dominant offensive line which now ranks first in run blocking and third in pass protection.
If Ramzyck keeps playing at the same level, he will prove to be the best lineman from the 2017 NFL draft. C+, my ass, Pete Prisco.