Is The Saints Offensive Line A Glimmer Of Hope In An Otherwise Dark Season; I Think So

October 26, 2022

There are a lot of negatives surrounding the Saints at the moment, especially regarding the future. I completely understand why, they are one of the oldest rosters in the league, especially at vital positions.  No future answer at QB and no first-round pick this year

However, I think there is one unit on this team that should be giving fans hope for the future.

Saints Offensive Line

The Saints are building a group of players at an incredibly vital position that could dominate for many years to come, the offensive line:

  • James Hurst (30)
  • Andrus Peat (28)
  • Erik McCoy (25)
  • Cesar Ruiz (23)
  • Ryan Ramczyk (28)
  • Trevor Penning (23)

I’ve listed the current starters on the o-line above in bold. The current starting line has an average age of 26.8 so call it 27. When first-round pick Trevor Penning eventually succeeds James Hurst at LT, that average age drops to 25.4.

Generally, an o-lineman can play at a high level well into their 30s, Jason Kelce who’s widely considered one of, if not the best center in the league is 34. Trent Williams, who’s widely considered the best LT in the NFL is 34. Zack Martin who’s widely considered the best guard in the NFL is 31 and will be 32 next month.

I think you should be getting the drift here, even with Hurst at starting the Saints have a very young group, with a lot of their best years ahead of them. Add Penning to this mix and the Saints have three starters 25 or younger.

Youth is not always a great sign though, ultimately play on the field is what matters most. Well, the Saints have that covered as well. 

Right Side Of The Saints O-Line

The right side of the line including the center is elite, Erik McCoy is playing like one of the best centers in the league, showing why he was a priority for the Saints to extend. Per PFF he has not given up a sack yet this season and has only given up six total pressures.

We all know by now who Ryan Ramczyk is by now. The main concern with him is his knee, its been reported that he will be on a ‘load management plan for the rest of his career due to a knee injury he suffered last season, so far Ramczyk has played every snap for the Saints this season and is ranked as the ninth best tackle in the NFL per PFF’s offensive grade.

The last piece to this elite right side? The much-maligned RG Cesar Ruiz has taken an astronomical leap this season from a massive first-round miss to one of the better players at his position. So far this season Ruiz has only given up 5 total pressures in the passing game if you average that out over a full 17-game season that would equate to 23.8 pressures, Zack Martin gave up 23 pressures last season per PFF.

Ruiz seems to have massively improved his play strength and is winning far more decisively in both run and pass blocking.  More on Ruiz’s improvement here from o-line analyst and former NFL o-lineman Brian Baldinger.

It’s not just the passing game where this side of the line excels, frequently you can see massive holes being opened from the right side of the line in the run game. Especially the interior pair of McCoy and Ruiz. You can see in some of the clips above Baldy has used and it’s clear on many other good gains the Saints have had in the run game this year. 

More on Ruiz and McCoy from Brandon Thorn (link below) Thorn is widely regarded as one of the better o-line minds in the media, he posted this threat after the Saints’ Week Two game against the Bucs.

Saints

Left Side Of The Saints O-Line

The left side is a bit more of a question mark.

LG Andrus Peat is still struggling to remain healthy and is still struggling in pass protection. Peat is the lowest-rated player on the o-line in PFF’s pass-block efficiency stat and is joint second on the line for the most pressures given up, despite playing 130 fewer pass-blocking snaps so far this year.

However, Peat remains one of the team’s better run and screen blockers. Peat remains a force as a pulling guard and when the Saints get him out in space in the screen game. With the way the Saints play with such an emphasis on the running game, Peat is still a solid asset for the Saints.

At LT currently, you have James Hurst, bearing in mind he Is playing on a contract that pays an average of around 3 million a year, Hurst has played excellently for the Saints. Especially in pass protection, he’s not as mobile as the Saints’ usual prototype so has struggled a little bit more on the move in the running game than a Saints o-lineman would usually but for the money he has been a great bargain so far for New Orleans.

The bigger reason for optimism on the left side of the line is first-round rookie Trevor Penning. Sadly, Penning is currently on IR, all reports suggest he could make his return to action very soon.

Penning will likely start as the team’s sixth o-lineman in heavier sets, a role he should excel at. His run-blocking tape in the preseason was excellent and he already looked like a dominant player in this phase of his game.

Pass protection was where Penning needed the most work and by the end of the preseason, he looked to have made drastic improvements that would have likely seen him start at LT early into the season.

Penning is an athletic freak at the position and would provide the Saints with a massive (literally) building block to add to an already young o-line group.  

The biggest question mark for Penning? Will he continue his rapid improvement once he returns from a nasty Toe injury that’s kept him sidelined since the end of the preseason? If he does this Saints line at four of the five starting spots has the potential to be elite for years to come.

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