Over the past several seasons, the New Orleans Saints have had arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. They pave the way for one of the league's most dynamic rushing attacks and have provided exemplary pass protection for now-retired QB Drew Brees.
Offensive tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead form the NFL's best duo at the position.
Third-year C Erik McCoy is rounding into a Pro Bowl-level interior lineman.
Guards Cesar Ruiz and Andrus Peat are a pair of former first-round draft picks that give the Saints muscle in the middle.
One of the keys to the success of the offensive line has been strong depth, which has kept the unit playing at a high level despite injuries to starters.
Terron Armstead has never played a full season in his eight-year career. Between 2016 and 2018 he missed 21 of a possible 48 games with injury. Armstead has missed just three of the last 35 games, but his durability has always been a concern.
Like Armstead, Andrus Peat has never played a full season in his six-year. Peat has missed 12 games over the last three years with various injuries.
An ineffective or injury-ravaged offensive line can derail a team’s season, making depth a vital factor on the game’s most underrated position groups.
The Saints parted ways with veteran G Nick Easton this offseason. Easton started 15 games and added crucial depth up front in his two years with the team. However, New Orleans managed to re-sign another member of its offensive line who was a key reserve in 2020.
JAMES HURST, TACKLE/GUARD
Hurst entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie from North Carolina, signing with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. He not only beat the odds to make the roster, but started five games and appeared in all 16 contests as a rookie.
Never missing a game over his first four seasons, Hurst started every contest and played every offensive snap for the Ravens in 2017.
Over a six-year career with Baltimore, he appeared in 90 of a possible 96 games and started 44 for a Raven offensive line that annually ranks among the league's better units.
Hurst saw time at both tackle spots and both guard positions with Baltimore. He was suspended at the end of the 2019 season for violation of the league's substance abuse policy; a four-game penalty that would be served to start the 2020 campaign. The Ravens released him at the end of the year.
New Orleans signed Hurst to a one-year deal in the offseason of 2020. In just his second game back after serving his four-game suspension, Hurst played 84% of the offensive snaps at left tackle in relief of an injured Armstead.
Hurst appeared in every game for the rest of the year after the suspension. He started five contests and played 35% of the offensive snaps for the year.
Even when he wasn't filling in for one of the regulars up front, Hurst was often used as an extra lineman on jumbo packages in short yardage and goal-line situations.
The 29-year-old Hurst adds not only starting experience, but valuable versatility to the New Orleans offensive line. He’s a mammoth presence at 6’5” and 310-Lbs., but also has good agility for his size.
Hurst can struggle with his footwork outside, especially at left tackle against speed rushers. His height can leave him vulnerable to players that play with good leverage inside.
Hurst fires out decisively at the snap. He’s a power player, but has shown the agility to handle linebackers and speed rushers in space.
Good enough to start for many teams at either tackle or guard, the presence of James Hurst insures that the Saints can continue to have an effective offensive line even if a starter goes down.
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