The New Orleans Saints history of success under head coach Sean Payton didn't fall completely on Drew Brees, but it was the men protecting him and the other quarterbacks who should share most of the glory - the offensive linemen.
You may have heard these names - The Hogs and the Dawg Pound.
These are famous offensive lines from the Washington Football Team and Cleveland Browns during their championship years.
These guys get down and dirty in the trenches protecting their quarterbacks and open lanes for the running backs.
They are the 'all guts and no glory' men who wouldn't reach championship levels without them.
Sean Payton knew building the New Orleans Saints into a winning franchise would be an inside job.
Keeping Brees and his surgically repaired shoulder upright and healthy was essential to have a chance at winning in the NFL.
SAINTS OFFENSIVE LINE DRAFTING HISTORY
Since 2006, New Orleans drafted the following offensive linemen:
- Jahri Evans (2006, 4th rd),
- Zach Strief (2006, 7th rd),
- Jermon Bushrod (2007, 4th rd),
- Carl Nicks (2008, 5th rd), Charles Brown (2010, 2nd rd),
- Marcel Jones (2012, 7th rd),
- Terron Armstead (2013, 3rd rd),
- Tavon Rooks (2014, 6th rd),
- Andrus Peat (2015, 1st rd),
- Ryan Ramczyk (2017, 1st rd),
- Rick Leonard (2018, 4th rd),
- Will Clapp (2018, 7th rd),
- Erik McCoy (2019, 1st Rd),
- Cesar Ruiz (2020, 1st rd),
- Landon Young (2021, 6th rd).
New Orleans did not draft an offensive lineman higher than in the second round until Andrus Peat at No. 13 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.
SAINTS SUCCESS DRAFTING OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Typically the Saints would strike gold in the mid-to-late rounds with guys like Evans, Nicks, Armstead, Strief, and Bushrod.
A few draftees on the line never made it out of camp as a viable option for the Saints - Rick Leonard, Tavon Rooks, and Marcel Jones.
New Orleans has a 86% success rate in drafting offensive line talent who become key contributors on the team's roster for several years.
A LINE OF QUESTIONS?
Fans and analysts have criticized the Saints for the Andrus Peat pick after his first season.
Fortunately for Peat, Sean Payton switched him from the tackle position to left guard.
The pairing of left tackle Terron Armstead with Peat at left guard has been successful for the offensive line.
Peat, 28, has faced questions regarding his durability, availability, and production.
After re-signing with New Orleans for five years, $57M in 2020, the injuries and production were a concern.
His contract included a $13M signing bonus and $33.85M guaranteed.
His 2022 compensation became fully guaranteed on March 9, 2021.
New Orleans has a potential out in 2023 to make it a three-year, $33.86M deal with $9.2M in dead cap.
PFF rated Peat's 2020 season at 61.9 and ranked him No. 46 of 80 at the guard position.
New Orleans' 2020 first-round choice Cesar Ruiz was rated at 53.8 and 64th of 80 at guard in his first season.
To be fair to Ruiz, he was a rookie playing an extended schedule without participating in a rookie minicamp and other training sessions before the main training camp began in July. He needed time acclimating as a professional football player.
The guard play must improve if either quarterback Winston or Hill will have an opportunity to keep the Saints' offense humming for the 2021-22 regular season.
SUCCESS IN THE TRENCHES
Peat and Ruiz are the weak spots on a usually strong o-line with Armstead, Ramczyk, and McCoy playing at elite levels.
Payton reflected on his offensive line's performance, "I think they've played well. I thought for the most part we've run the ball well, our protection numbers have been good. I think (the offensive line) is one of the strengths of our team and I feel like it's such an important position group relative to the whole team. We've got good leadership there. We've had a few different lineups, but I think that we've been able to function with different players in different spots."
Pro Football Focus ranked Ryan Ramczyk (3rd) and Terron Armstead (4th) among the league's top offensive tackles - the only pair in the top five for 2021.
Blocking for Drew Brees and 20 seasons as an elite quarterback is a distant comparison to what Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill will provide for New Orleans.
This season, expect Payton to rely on his squad's rushing attack with Kamara and Murray.
Success on the ground will alleviate the pressure either signal-caller would face against the opponent's defensive units.
The line allowed 29 sacks last season. On a good note, they opened lanes which accounted for a 141.6 yards per game average.
Does this indicate a change in philosophy for New Orleans into 2021?
Coach Payton took a more patient and systematic approach during the previous two seasons, while Drew Brees was on the mend from injuries.
The offensive line has and will always be the cornerstone of success for New Orleans.
Do the Saints have required depth to back up one of the o-line starters should they fall to an injury?
Can New Orleans guards show an improvement from a year ago?
Most of all, can the big men stay healthy and fortify the line for Winston or Hill?
We shall see.