Bringing back a series of pieces from the past two years, we’re going to check each position group on the New Orleans Saints and discuss how they improve the Saints’ chances of making a run in 2018. Let’s start with the offensive line...
Pro Football Focus ranked all NFL offensive lines following the 2017 season, and the Saints came in 9th overall:
While it was mostly the Saints defense that received praise for a surprisingly strong season, the New Orleans offensive line also performed above expectations and led the league with a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 84.6 while they allowed the fewest pressures in the entire NFL over the regular season (110). A lot has been made of the additions of Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Ryan Ramczyk has seemingly become the best player on their line and one of the best right tackles in the entire league already after his first season. The offensive line was also effective on zone runs as Saints’ backs averaged 2.56 yards before contact on inside zone runs (second in the NFL) and 1.80 yards before contact on outside zone runs (fifth).
Long-time New Orleans Saints staple Zach Strief won’t be back with the Saints in 2017, and unfortunately, the Saints were not able to retain Senio Kelemete who signed with the Houston Texans via free agency.
So here’s why they’re better in 2018:
First things first, the New Orleans Saints have a relatively young offensive line outside of Max Unger. Terron Armstead is still in his prime (albeit he remains a consistent injury risk concern). Larry Warford is only 26, and he surprised many with his level of production in New Orleans. Andrus Peat continues to develop and 2017 1st Round Pick Ryan Ramczyk was one of the steals of the entire draft last year.
The main reason the Saints offensive line should be better in 2018 is that this young core should continue to grow and improve year after year. While the losses of Strief and Kelemete could hurt, Strief was injured for almost the entirety of the 2017 regular season. Kelemete was the back-up who stepped up in 2017, so it is primarily that depth that will be missed.
The Saints re-signed long-time Saint Jermon Bushrod to come in and provide that depth on the offensive line, and the Saints drafted two intriguing offensive line pieces in the 2018 NFL Draft: Rick Leonard (4th Round) and Will Clapp (7th Round). Leonard and/or Clapp both have an outside chance of seeing meaningful snaps in 2018.
If Armstead is able to play a full 2018 season (Armstead hasn’t played more than 13 games in a single season since 2014), and we see the growth from players like Ramczyk and Peat that we expect, the Saints’ offensive line could improve from just the top half of units in the NFL, but to one of the very best.