Saints-Rested Line Football

In this Oct. 8, 2018 file photo New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram, second left, celebrates his touchdown carry with offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, offensive tackle Terron Armstead (72) and center Max Unger (60) in the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in New Orleans. The Saints have all five starters on their recently banged-up offensive line practicing as they prepare for their playoff opener against the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. Terron Armstead says he was encouraged by his practice in more than two weeks. But he isn’t yet certain he’ll play as he tries to come back from a chest injury. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, file)

The Saints enter the NFL draft with six picks. Barring a trade, the Saints will have a pick in the second round (No. 62 overall), one in the fifth round (168), two in the sixth round (177 and 202) and two in the seventh round (231 and 244).

How will the Saints use those picks when the draft rolls around on April 25-27th?

Leading up to the draft, we take a look each day (from least-needed position to fill to biggest need) for the Saints.

Today, we look at the offensive line.

The Saints have drafted 13 offensive linemen since Sean Payton took over in 2006.

That's an average of one per year. In four of those years, they have drafted two. 

So expect them to grab at least one again this year, especially after striking out with their fourth-round selection a year ago. 

Rick Leonard, who the Saints drafted out of Florida State, never panned out and was cut in October. He's been on three different rosters since then. 

Fortunately for Saints fans, the miss on Leonard has almost been an afterthought because of just how good the Saints have been up front. 

The number blossomed to six this past season, another indication of why the team boasts one of the top lines in the NFL. 

Six is the number of offensive linemen on this past season's roster who have been named to either the All-Pro team or to the Pro Bowl at some point in their career.

The five usual starters up front (tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford and center Max Unger) all have now claimed one of the two accolades. And then you throw in veteran Jermon Bushrod, a backup last season who earned Pro Bowl honors in 2011 and 2012, and it's easy to see why some considered the Saints O-line, when healthy, one of the best in the NFL.

Unger announced his retirement in March and free agent Bushrod hasn't re-signed, so the Saints will likely be looking to add some pieces up front in the draft.

"Additional interior linemen would be something we'd look at," Sean Payton said in March at the NFL owners' meeting.

The team probably found Unger's replacement at center when they signed Nick Easton in free agency to a four-year, $24 million deal. Although Easton can play both guard and tackle, Payton said the plan is for him to play center.

"At the end of the season, we felt like there was a chance we'd lose Max to retirement," Payton said. "Max had a great career. Nick is someone we evaluated as a center. We saw him play guard. We think he'll fill in nicely there (at center)."

It's that versatility of the offensive line that has helped make the Saints successful. Backups like Will Clapp and Cameron Tom can play both guard and center. When Armstead missed six games this past season due to injury, Peat was able to slide over from guard to tackle.

The unit's effectiveness showed up in the numbers, both in the running game and the passing game.

The Saints averaged 126.6 yards per game on the ground, which ranked sixth in the league. The team gave up just 20 sacks all season. That was the second fewest in the league, trailing only the Indianapolis Colts, who gave up just 18 sacks.

The Saints select...

After missing out with Leonard last year, you'd think the Saints will try again to find another lineman in the draft. Ideally, the Saints could get another versatile lineman like Oklahoma's Cody Ford, a Pineville, La. native. But Ford is expected to be long gone before the Saints pick. So will other top linemen like Florida tackle Jawaan Taylor or Alabama's Jonah Williams. But there are still plenty good ones in this draft that will still be around, even if the Saints don't trade up. Kansas State's Dalton Risner, who played both tackle and center, could be the type of player they are looking for. According to a source, the Saints visited with Mississippi State's Elgton Jenkins at that school's Pro Day. The Saints did well with their last offensive lineman from Wisconsin (Ramczyk), so one like former Badgers star Michael Deiter could still be around with the No. 62 pick. There are plenty to choose from, but expect them to add at least one guy up front.

Previous Draft Previews

Saturday - Special teams

Sunday - Quarterbacks

Monday - Running backs

Tuesday - Linebackers


Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.