There are hot takes, and then there is blasphemy.
Pewter Report goes position-by-position along the offensive line to determine who has the edge. They concede Terron Armstead is a better player than Tampa’s left tackle, Donovan Smith, so we’ll set that one aside. Similarly, there’s little doubt Tampa’s Ali Marpet is a better left guard than Andrus Peat. For now, we can chalk those two up as a wash.
1 - 1
Next Pewter Report compares Cesar Ruiz and Alex Cappa, saying this: “I think Ruiz will ultimately be a better player than Cappa, but as a part-time starter last year the rookie endured the expected ups-and-downs.” That’s fine. Ruiz definitely wasn’t able to hit the ground running last season due to the unconventional training camp conditions because of Covid. Even still, let’s put another into the win column for Tampa, despite the concession that Ruiz may soon be a better player.
2 - 1, Tampa
Now the fun parts.
At center, the comparison is between Erik McCoy of the Saints and Ryan Jensen of the Buccaneers. Pewter Report said this: “McCoy is a very good starter who probably has more upside than Jensen, but can he be elite? Jensen may already be at that level, as one of the top 3-5 centers in the NFL.”
To support the position that Jensen is a top 3-5 center, Pewter Report links to another Pewter Report article that just says Jensen is a “very good” center. No one is denying that Jensen is “very good,” but the issue is that Erik McCoy is just better.
Pro Football Focus grades and rankings are far from the be-all/end-all of player comparisons, but PFF recently ranked all 32 starting centers in the NFL. Erik McCoy came in 8th:
McCoy’s 2019 Saints debut went about as well as you could expect for a rookie center. His 78.0 overall grade ranked fourth among qualifying centers on the season, and he was the only player at the position to put up grades of 75.0 or higher as a pass protector and run blocker. Those numbers took a hit in 2020, but McCoy still finished the year as a borderline top-10 player at the position. The Saints will hope for continued development from 2020 first-round pick Cesar Ruiz to ensure a strong interior offensive line for years to come.
Tampa’s Ryan Jensen came in 11th:
Jensen plays the game the way you want from an offensive lineman. He’s an enforcer who consistently looks for opportunities to introduce his man to the ground. That shows up in his top-five run-blocking grade on gap runs over the past two seasons. Jensen’s overall PFF grade did take a noticeable step back from 2019 to 2020, though. That was almost entirely due to his pass protection performance, as he allowed nearly twice as many pressures in 2020 (27) as he did in 2019 (15) on fewer pass-blocking snaps.
Looking deeper into PFF’s numbers, McCoy was tabbed with three penalties and one sack allowed in 2020. Jensen? Four penalties and four sacks.
This one is a win for New Orleans.
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Time for the tie-breaker: Right tackle.
When comparing Ryan Ramczyk and Tristan Wirfs, Pewter Report said, “[T]he Bucs collect a three-win edge with Wirfs over Ramczyk. The latter is a fantastic right tackle who is remarkably consistent, but Wirfs was elite as a rookie and has more potential than Ramczyk.”
The New Orleans Saints $96 million dollar man is not just “a fantastic right tackle,” he’s one of the best in the NFL. Looking back to Pro Football Focus, Ramczyk was ranked the third-best tackle in the entire NFL earlier this year. Wirfs came in at a respectable 6.
Ramczyk’s 90.8 overall grade in 2019 ranked first among tackles, but he took a small step back in 2020, with his grade dropping to 81.6. Still, since entering the league in 2017, Ramczyk has been the most valuable tackle by a substantial margin. He has generated 1.38 WAR in his four years, over four-tenths better than second place. Among every tackle since 2006, when PFF began grading, only legendary Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas produced a higher PFF grade in his first four NFL seasons than Ramczyk.
There’s a reason the New Orleans Saints just made Ryan Ramczyk the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL, and it’s not because Tristan Wirfs “has more potential.” It’s because Ramczyk is one of the best - if not the best - right tackles in the NFL.
Sit this one out for now, Pewter Report. You still have Tom Brady at quarterback. You can have that. But you can’t sit here with a straight face and say that you have a better offensive line.