In an age when young offensive linemen are facing a steeper learning curve than ever as they make the transition from college into the NFL, Ryan Ramczyk has a clear advantage.
For starters, Ramczyk played at Wisconsin, a school that has produced the likes of Joe Thomas, Ricky Wagner, Travis Frederick, Kevin Zeitler and Rob Havenstein, among others, over the past decade.
And now Ramczyk finds himself joining a New Orleans Saints team that has a pair of veteran tackles who represent invaluable resources: Terron Armstead, a constantly learning student of the finer points of playing tackle, and savvy veteran Zach Strief, who has already established he'll do whatever it takes to help a young player grow, even if, like Ramczyk, that young player might eventually usurp him in the starting lineup.
"It's definitely an advantage," Ramczyk said at the Saints' rookie minicamp last weekend. "You know, those guys have been around a long time, they really know what they're doing, and they're really good players. To have them as a resource, to be able to talk to those guys, it's huge. It'll be good to work with them more and learn from them."
Ramczyk is the second tackle the Saints have picked in the first round in three years, the second player New Orleans has tabbed as a potential successor to the steady Strief.
That doesn't mean Ramczyk will follow the same path as Andrus Peat, who struggled early before settling in on the left side a year ago. For starters, the Saints were impressed with Ramczyk's conditioning when he arrived for rookie minicamp last weekend — even though he's on the way back from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip.
Peat's conditioning held him back as a rookie in the summer; Ramczyk's hip initially made it seem like he'd be a candidate for a delayed start, but New Orleans was encouraged by the player that showed up in Metairie last week.
"He’s picking things up very quickly," Payton said. "He’s in good shape and much further along than really we anticipated."
Playing at Wisconsin helps.
Unlike the legions of college teams that have transitioned to a spread attack that simplifies pass blocking for offensive linemen and limits the number of techniques they're asked to use in the running game, Wisconsin still plays a pro-style, power offense predicated on an overpowering ground attack.
The early glimpse of the New Orleans offense Ramczyk got at rookie minicamp was already starting to feel familiar.
"You've got some similarities, and I think there's some things that can translate that we did at Wisconsin that's pretty close to what they do here," Ramczyk said.
Where Ramczyk fits in the 2017 offensive line picture remains to be seen. Armstead is expected to be fully healthy again, and Strief is coming off of a season where he stonewalled several of the NFL's best edge rushers.
New Orleans plans to let competition decide the playing time; Ramczyk's potential was too good to pass up in the draft. During the rookie minicamp, Ramczyk practiced on both sides of the ball, and he says he feels comfortable on the right side — an awkward feeling Peat hasn't been able to overcome.
"I've been getting reps, practicing on both sides," Ramczyk said.
Whether or not Ramczyk is able to make an impact right away will depend on his ability to learn, even with all the advantages he brought to the NFL.
An NFL offensive lineman has to be able to process a fountain of information a college blocker might never have to consider.
"A guy like him, who is graded as high as we had him graded, we're excited about," Payton said.
Hip injury or not, Ramczyk is off to a good start.