The New Orleans Saints are in an unusual position. No, I’m not just talking about the departure of Drew Brees at quarterback or Sean Payton as head coach. I’m talking about something that could prove to be even more detrimental to the Saints’ chances of success in 2022 than even Brees and Payton getting replaced with Jameis Winston and Dennis Allen. I’m talking about the offensive line.
Over the past decade-and-a-half, the New Orleans have had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Anchors like Jon Stinchcomb, Jahri Evans, Zach Strief, and Terron Armstead are gone. Instead, the Saints will be potentially turning to a rookie at left tackle in Trevor Penning, two perennial scape goats in Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz, and one player who underperformed greatly at times last season in Ryan Ramczyk.
It should come as little surprise then that Pro Football Focus has the Saints offensive line ranked as one of the bottom-third in the NFL, a tier entitled “Tier 4: At Least One Good Tackle:”
Projected Starting Lineup
LT: Trevor Penning
LG: Andrus Peat
C: Erik McCoy
RG: Cesar Ruiz
RT: Ryan Ramczyk
Starting a rookie at left tackle is a position no franchise wants to be in. There’s enough talent elsewhere for New Orleans to work around it, but Penning making the leap from FCS to the NFL isn’t going to be a walk in the park. The player the Saints brass really needs to see something from is right guard Cesar Ruiz. He’s one of the team’s rare recent first-rounders who hasn’t been an early success. He’s earned overall grades of 53.8 and 57.6 in his two NFL seasons, although he’ll be only 23 years old at the start of the 2022 season.
The other tiers listed by PFF were: Tier 1 - “Minor or no Weaknesses,” Tier 2 - “High Floor,” and Tier 3 - “High End Potential.” Tier 5 was titled “Uninspiring” and Tier 6, the lowest tier, was given the label “Problematic.”
PFF assumes Trevor Penning will be starting right away and ignores the promise and presence of James Hurst, who filled in admirably while the Saints were dealing with injuries. With Hurst, the Saints might be able to allow Penning to take his time and learn at the NFL level, but also provides the Saints flexibility to have Penning take over at left tackle and move Hurst to the right side of the line if Cesar Ruiz continues to struggle. Considering the Saints depth and upside (five first round picks projected across the line), it’s hard not to see the Saints at least in PFF’s third tier of “High End Potential.”
Elsewhere in the NFC South, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in PFF’s first tier, ranked fourth in the PFF’s total rankings. The Carolina Panthers were just a few spots behind the Saints in PFF’s fourth tier, at 24th overall. The Atlanta Falcons were among the worst in the NFL, 28th, in PFF’s fifth tier, “Uninspiring.”