Bringing back a series of pieces from the past three 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 2019. Let’s start with the offensive line...
Pro Football Focus ranked all NFL offensive lines following the 2018 season, and the Saints came in 8th overall:
The Saints were similarly built to the Packers this season with two dominant tackles, but they struggled more when injuries struck. None of their starters on the interior had top 80 grades among all linemen, and Jermon Bushrod only earned a 62.2 overall grade in Terron Armstead’s place for much of the year.
The Saints were ranked 9th in pass blocking efficiency:
2018 pass-blocking efficiency: 87.4
The New Orleans Saints fell to ninth place a year after they finished first on this list thanks to subpar play along the interior and the injury that forced stalwart tackle Terron Armstead to miss the second half of the season. From 547 passing plays, they allowed just 124 pressures, the second-fewest among teams.
Pro Bowl center Max Unger surprisingly decided to retire after the 2018 season. Two-time Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod is likely to follow Unger into the sunset. The remaining core, including Terron Armstead, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, and Andrus Peat are all slated to enter 2019 fully healthy and ready to go.
So here’s why they’re better in 2019:
Terron Armstead missed his usual amount of time in 2018, playing in only 10 games for the Saints for the second year in a row. This saw Jermon Bushrod take a more pronounced spot on the Saints offensive line, and later nagging injuries to Andrus Peat and Ryan Ramczyk really strained the depth on the Saints’ line.
This year, even with Unger gone, the Saints should be able to see improvement on the line as Unger seemed to wear down as the season came to an end. The Saints signed former Minnesota Vikings lineman Nick Easton early in free agency, and Easton has experience both at at center and left and right guard. All signs seemed to indicate Easton would be the replacement for Unger, but the Saints swerved us all by drafting plug-and-play center Erik McCoy late in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M. There were many NFL analysts who pegged McCoy as a first-round talent, with Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN and NFL.com’s Chad Reuter each mocking McCoy to the Baltimore Ravens 22nd overall.
McCoy primarily played as a center for the A&M Aggies, but also has a little experience playing guard. We all know Andrus Peat has experience playing both left guard and left tackle, so between Peat, Easton, and McCoy, the Saints have a versatile trio that can shift around the line as needed in the event of injury.
Behind those three, the Saints also have Will Clapp, who can play both center and guard, and Michael Ola, who can play tackle and guard (although with the additions of Easton and McCoy, it’s likely only one of Clapp and Ola - if any - stick on the roster by Week 1).
With 33 year old Max Unger and 34 year old Jermon Bushrod being replaced with 26 year old Nick Easton and 21 year old Erik McCoy, the Saints offensive line just got a shot of youth injected in its veins. Pair that duo with young veterans like Terron Armstead (27), Larry Warford (27), Andrus Peat (25), and Ryan Ramczyk (25), and you’ve got a great core who should be able to wreak havoc in the trenches.