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Why the Saints could win it all, Part I - Offensive line

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Let’s look at the team position-by-position.

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San Francisco 49ers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Bringing back a series of pieces from the past four 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 2020. Let’s start with the offensive line...

Pro Football Focus ranked all NFL offensive lines following the 2019 season, and the Saints came in 5th overall:

Prior to this season, we listed the Saints as having the top tackle duo in the NFL between Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Not much changed this year that would knock them down the list. Going back to 2017, Armstead and Ramczyk rank second and third, respectively, in pressure rate allowed among 86 tackles with 500 or more pass-blocking snaps. Drew Brees‘ quick release certainly helps in that area, but no team has allowed a lower pressure rate in 2.5 seconds or less than New Orleans (16.5%). The combination of a quick passing game with one of the NFL’s best pass-blocking lines has given Brees the lowest pressure rate in the NFL (24.9%).

After the 2019 season, the Saints still had questions on the offensive line. Left guard Andrus Peat struggled with injuries and was set to hit free agency. Right guard Larry Warford made the Pro Bowl, but was repeatedly manhandled by opposing defensive linemen late in 2019.

So here’s why they’re better in 2020:

Army v Michigan Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Andrus Peat was re-signed with the Saints on a five-year, $57.5 million dollar deal. With their line seemingly intact, the Saints then drafted C/G Cesar Ruiz out of Michigan with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The selection of Ruiz spelled doom for Larry Warford, who was subsequently released by the team and has yet to find a new home. With Ruiz, Peat, and Erik McCoy, the Saints have a solid - and young - interior. On the outside, the Saints have a pair of tackles that could be the very best in football in Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk.

It should come as little surprise then that Pro Football Focus moved the Saints from the 5th-best offensive line to end the 2019 season, to the 2nd-best offensive line in football as we prepare for the 2020 season:

The Saints finished with the No. 5 offensive line last season, and they’ll be right back in the mix at the top with four returning starters. They have the best tackle duo in the league in Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, who rank sixth and second, respectively, in grade since 2017 among tackles. Armstead’s 89.9 pass-blocking grade over the past three years is second only to David Bakhtiari, and he has the power and quickness to make any block in the run game. Ramczyk has a 90.2 grade in his first three years in the league, a mark bested only by Joe Thomas and Jake Long during the PFF era (since 2006). Ramczyk also boasts a 90.2 run-blocking grade since 2017 that ranks second at the position.

The Saints’ interior features a few more question marks, especially after Larry Warford‘s release this offseason. Warford will be replaced by first-round pick Cesar Ruiz, who played center at Michigan and shined in pass protection, earning an 86.5 grade and allowing only nine pressures last season. Ruiz looked like a luxury pick during the draft, but Warford’s release shows just how much the Saints believe in Ruiz’s ability. New Orleans had great success last season with rookie center Erik McCoy, who posted a 78.0 grade that ranked fourth in the league and a 77.6 run-blocking grade that ranked third.

Left guard Andrus Peat is coming off the two lowest grades of his career, and his 48.5 mark last season ranked just 79th out of 90 qualifiers. Peat had three straight 68.0-plus grades to kick off his career, and if he can get back on track, the Saints will be competing to rank as the best offensive line in the league.

If Andrus Peat and Terron Armstead can both stay health - which is admittedly a huge “if” - the Saints could be absolutely dominant in the trenches on offense. And if the Saints could extend Ryan Ramczyk, they could remain dominant for years to come.