2020 Season Review
The Saints offensive line has been one of the most consistent position groups on the team since 2017. The addition of Right Tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and Center Erik McCoy to go along with Pro Bowlers Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat have made the Saints offensive line one of the best in the NFL. The Saints offensive line allowed 29 sacks in 2020, good enough for 12th in the NFL, despite changing quarterbacks in the middle of the season. Alvin Kamara also recorded his highest yards from scrimmage total of his career, helped primarily by the Saints OL in both the run and screen games.
The most notable addition to the offensive line was first-round pick Cesar Ruiz. The Michigan product was drafted as a center but played primarily at Right Guard, replacing veteran Larry Warford. Ruiz started 9 games and appeared in 15, sometimes splitting time with Nick Easton. Ruiz will need to show improvement and consistency next season if he is to live up to his expectations on draft day, but with a full offseason and a year under his belt, I believe he should make great strides in 2021.
The Saints primary backup lineman has been the only major departure from the offensive line thus far. Easton was released two years into a four-year $24 million contract signed in 2019. The move saved the Saints $6 million in cap space, and cemented Cesar Ruiz’s place as a starter on the offensive line. Easton was a good backup, but with the addition of Ruiz, was not worth the money the Saints were paying him, especially with their cap issues. Losing Easton will hurt the Saints depth on the offensive line, but the main starting five on the OL looks to remain intact heading into 2021.
Potential Free Agent Targets
The Saints will not be in need of a new starting offensive lineman in 2021, as the top-5 players in snap count will all be returning in 2021. With most of the top quality talent gone from the free agent market, the Saints could look to improve the depth of the offensive line by bringing in veterans on team friendly deals. Former Texan Nick Martin could be one of those players. Martin has barely missed a snap since 2018, playing in 100% of the Texans offensive snaps in both 2018 and 2020, missing no games and committing only seven total penalties over the last three seasons. Martin could be an affordable and quality option to bolster the depth of the Saints offensive line.
Potential Draft Targets
Both Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk will be in need of new contracts next offseason. Reports indicate that Armstead is nearing an agreement to restructure his contract, meaning he could be around past next year if the negations go well. Ramczyk however is another story. It is entirely possible the Saints will be forced to choose between Ramczyk and Marshon Lattimore next offseason, meaning the Saints may be in the market for a replacement for either player. I believe Ramczyk would be the priority, but if the Saints see a prospect at tackle in this draft that they like, they could go the route of drafting one and letting him develop during what could possibly be Ramczyk’s last year in New Orleans.
The best tackle within striking distance for the Saints projects to be Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw. The former Hokie was named to the Freshman All-American team in 2018, and has started every game since 2019. He was named an All-ACC player at the end of his junior year, and is the second or third highest rated tackle on most big boards. The Saints would likely have to trade up into the high teens or early 20s to have a chance to grab him, but if they are looking for some insurance to mitigate the idea that Ramczyk might not be around past 2021, Darrisaw would likely be the best option available.
If the Saints are looking to bolster the depth of the interior line, they should take a hard look at Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis. Davis is a two-time All-American, and was named Big Ten offensive lineman of the year in 2020. The Saints would likely be able to grab him in the first round without trading up, as he is currently the third highest rated guard in many pre-draft rankings. I believe Davis is going to be a solid player in the NFL, but I also do not see the Saints using their first round pick on a backup interior lineman. If the Saints are desperate for depth, or are just not confident in Andrus Peat or Cesar Ruiz, Davis would be the best interior lineman they could grab without trading up.
The 2021 Saints offensive line will look almost identical to the 2020 version. All five starters are under contract this season, and have seemed to have survived the salary cap moves. The questions in 2021 will come in the form of Cesar Ruiz’s development, and how the line will adjust to protecting a different Quarterback. If the next QB is Jameis Winston, the offensive line will not have much of a difference in protections from Brees to Winston, as they are both pocket passers with limited mobility.
If the next QB is Taysom Hill however, some adjustments will need to be made up front. Taysom Hill was actually sacked more times than Drew Brees in 2020, despite starting just four games at QB. Hill is much more mobile than Winston, and steps into pressure a lot more as well. If Hill is named the starting QB, the Saints offensive line will have to adjust to his mobility in the pocket, otherwise we may see a good deal of sack fumbles from Taysom Hill this season.
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