The offensive line. Typically the unsung heroes of any football team. Usually the only time a lineman's name gets mentioned is when a holding penalty is called to nullify a play, or if they wind up on the highlight reel of an opposing pass rusher when their quarterback gets sacked. The reality is that they are the life blood of the success of any football team. The offensive front five of the New Orleans Saints were charged with safeguarding the health of their 38-yr. old future Hall of Fame quarterback, along with opening holes for a history-making duo at running back. Today's continuation of the 2017 New Orleans Saints positional grades takes a look at how well they fared.
One of the Saints biggest offseason free signings last offseason was guard Larry Warford from Detroit, who would step in immediately at right guard to replace the departed Jahri Evans, who signed with Green Bay as a free agent. Big shoes to fill, to be sure, but the 26-yr. old Warford delivered, providing both pass blocking and run blocking good enough to be named as a Pro Bowl alternate. The Saints used their second selection in the 1st round to draft offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin. Ramczyk was pressed into action immediately, first at left tackle to open the season to replace the injured Terron Armstead, then moving to right tackle when injuries derailed the season of veteran stalwart Zach Strief. Ramczyk played like a seasoned veteran, with the look of a future pro bowl fixture, making the NFL's All-Rookie team.
The New Orleans offensive line really stabilized once Terron Armstead returned to the lineup. Armstead is a powerful and mobile blocker considered among the top left tackles in the game, and capable of shutting down the league's best pass rushers. The only knock on him has been his durability, he has missed 15 of the last 32 regular season games with injury.
Another injury concern coming into the 2017 season was the health of center Max Unger. The elder statesman of the Saints starting linemen at 31, Unger missed the majority of the preseason with a foot injury, but started all 16 regular season games and both playoff contests. One of the most athletic centers in the game, Unger is also a sound technician that beats opponents with technique as much as brute strength.
Perhaps the most underrated among the Saints linemen this season was 3rd year pro Andrus Peat. The 2015 13th overall pick has settled into a home at left guard, able to maul defensive linemen inside, but showing the athleticism to open holes for New Orleans running backs on the second level of the defense. Peat also showed the versatility to move outside to left tackle when Armstead has been out of the lineup. Peat suffered a leg injury in the team's playoff victory over Carolina, but should be healed in time for preseason.
Senio Kelemete and Josh LeRibeus provided quality depth for New Orleans all season. Kelemete's strength is his versatility, he has capably played every position along the offensive line, and wound up starting 8 games due to various injuries among the linemen. Each are slated to be free agents this coming offseason, setting up a decision for team management, particularly if the veteran Strief is not willing to return in a back-up role.
New Orleans had the league's 2nd ranked offense in 2017, a well balanced unit that was ranked top five in both rushing and passing efficiency. Drew Brees was sacked just 20 times this year, fewest since 2009. Brees was sacked multiple times in a game just six times this season, and only once did he get sacked more than twice in one game. The Saints led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (23), and were 2nd in average yards per rush (4.7). Depth is a bit of a concern, but the New Orleans starting five is as talented as any in the league.
OFFENSIVE LINE GRADE= A
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